From the Mad Mind
of Anthony Watkins
How Do I Know?
I have been writing poetry since I was five years old. I have been setting words down together a long time. When I started, I loved that I could write whatever I wanted and call it a poem, and no one could tell me I was doing it wrong. At first, I mostly worked in four-line verses with a heavy rhyme scheme, but over the years, I let the rhyme go, finding it both annoying to hear as well as too compromising of my original intent. For a while, I was an anti-rhyme evangelist, like a former smoker, trying to get the whole world to stop.
Eventually, I realized rhyme wasn’t for me, but it could be fine for those who chose it. In fact, we have a rhyming/formal section in Better Than Starbucks, with our Editor-in-Chief as the section editor.
I do not consider which is best, free verse or formal poetry. Neither. I wonder about the broader question: not only what is poetry, but also the much tighter question: do I write poetry? And related: why is it poetry? What makes it not just words in lines?
I wonder if others who ask the first question are more often trying to get at the second (and third and fourth) questions? I know Emily Dickinson, godmother of all modern poetry, was clear on what poetry was not, and most of us who study her are certain she wrote poems. I also have heard the clever, tired answer, best words in best order, but that always takes me back. Having read many of the masters of fiction, it seems to me the best fiction is also exactly that. And while many passages in the writings of Faulkner, Joyce, Welty, Cather, and others are almost poetic, they surely are not poems.
I have found no one who will tell me my words are not poems, but for the life of me, I cannot tell what makes them so. I am hoping to hear from you the reader, not that you love my poems, but if you can tell why they are or are not poems.