Good Poems: “Poet Warning,” by Jim Harrison

The best poems often involve compression. They create their emotional response with as few words as possible.  The poem “Poet Warning,” written by Jim Harrison, is one of them:

Poet Warning

He went to sea
in a thimble of poetry
without sail or oars
or anchor. What chance
do I have, he thought?
Hundreds of thousands
of moons have drowned out here
and there are no gravestones.

If you’ve received any number of rejection slips (and if you write poetry, no doubt you have), the metaphor is perfect–lost as sea with only your poetry to save you from drowning,  knowing what you are writing will never matter to the world.  At least, that’s how it feels.

Technically, the poem has two to three stresses per line, but it’s secondary to the simple metaphors.  But sometimes, that’s all a poem needs.

The lesson: find the right metaphor, find the right poem.

Find Harrison’s poem in the excellent collection of poems Songs of Unreason.


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