To the Poetry Lady … from Japan

The Poetry Lady received this query from a correspondent in Japan:

The poetry lady sure seems to know how to help in times of need.
So, here’s a question for her, from a fan in Japan.
My friends just don’t seem to share the poetic interests that I do. Lately I am finding myself lonely for more poetic friends. Any advice on how to go about finding them?

 Dear Fan in Japan,

Your question, which on the surface seemed easy enough to address, is complicated by the fact that you live in a culture where language … the very essence of poetry … is for you a barrier, rather than a means of connection.

You see, my standard advice to a question like yours is that to find poetic souls, go to places where poetic souls gather: Join a writers group, attend poetry readings, peruse the poetry shelves in bookstores and libraries and see who else is spending time there.

But the easy answers don’t hold in your case, because I imagine that no matter how fluent you have become in the language of your adopted country, having enough facility to understand poetry and converse about it is likely a whole different matter.

As is often the case, being forced away from the easy answer leads directly to the most honest one. That is, I believe that everyone has a poetic soul. In many of us it is covered up by our need to contend with the prose of daily life, and even by our fears of expressing and exploring the deeper emotions and existential questions that poetry brings to the surface.

So, my advice to you would be to go beyond looking for new friends who share your love of things poetic, and instead start by looking for the poetic in the friends you already have. Share a favorite line from a poem, speak of the poetic issues of the soul, carry your favorite poem in your pocket and show it to someone you care about. My prediction is that in doing so you will invite from them expressions from their poetic souls.

Let me know how your experiment turns out …

Poetically yours,

The Poetry Lady

photo by Aja Riggs

Dear Poetry Lady Gets Help

Recently, Dear Poetry Lady, the advice column for the Lonely Hearts of the Literary World, received a cry for help. It went something like this:
Dear Poetry Lady,

Help! I have been reading more and more poems lately and now I want to write one of my own. The problem is: I’ve never written a line of verse in my life, and I don’t know where to begin. Can you tell me how to write a poem?


— Poetic Soul in Search of a Poem

Dear Poetic Soul, 

The Poetry Lady pondered your question and promptly found herself bogged down by the nuance and complexity of the problem. Then, today, one of her students zoomed in on the answer.

Monica wrote this poem and gave me permission to post it to you. I think it contains the instructions you are searching for:


A Poem
by Monica
When you write a poem just let it flow.
You don’t need to think
just grab a piece of paper
and a pen or pencil and just let
your hand do all the work.
It would be like going to the beach
to relax and not think about anything.
Just let your mind go.

 The Poetry Lady  couldn’t have said it better herself.

 — PL

 P.S. Like all of my students, Monica is a teen mom. She just started her own blog where she has posted some of her recent poems. Check it out to see for yourself whether she knows what she’s talking about.

Dear Poetry Lady …

I recently received this email from a friend, whose son is in grade school: 


I’ve been looking for short things to read to H. at night (a tradition we still carry out) and tried out some poetry on him. I read some selected poems from Garrison Keillor’s book Good Poetry. He seems to like the accessible ones, and if they have a humorous flair, that’s even better. I was wondering if you have any suggestions of poetry books or poets that he would like that would be appropriate for his age. He really likes Shel Silverstein but I want to expose him to poetry that makes him think about things a little differently (instead of pure humor). …. What poets do your students appreciate?


Rather than answer my friend’s email right away, I first had to sit and ponder the joy of her missive! In it I sensed the promise of a whole new genre of advice columns. Imagine: The Dear Abby of Poetry! The Miss Lonely Hearts of Verse! A trusted bibliophile everyday people could write to with their tales of poetic woe. I can see it now:

Dear Poetry Lady,

After years of searching I finally found the woman of my dreams. On her birthday, I wrote her a poem, believing that words from the heart are more valuable than any bauble I could purchase with cold cash. But rather than swoon, she frowned and asked if I was kidding! Can this relationship be saved? 

Dear Poetry Lady,

I’ve published two chapbooks of poetry, and have had a poem accepted to the New Yorker. Sounds like the life every poet dreams of, right? But I have a deep dark secret and I live in fear of having it exposed: I don’t know what iambic pentameter is and I’ve never written a sonnet in my life … What’s a fraud like me to do? 

Dear Poetry Lady,

My mother-in-law writes bawdy limericks and insists on reading them to my four-year-old whenever she baby sits. I work full-time and can’t afford to hire a nanny — but I don’t want my child to be exposed to such inappropriate nap-time reading either! What’s a working mother to do? 

In the meantime, I guess I’d better get back to my friend’s email. Once I compose a list for her, perhaps I’ll post it here. And I’ll keep waiting for those plaintive pleas for poetic advice to appear in my inbox!