Is it Poetry or is it Verse? — Part 3

February 16, 2023
Is it Poetry or is it Verse — Part 3

3. Verse, I have come to think, is poetry written in pursuit of limited objectives: to entertain us with a joke or tall tale, to give us the inherent pleasures of meter and rhyme. It is not great art, nor is it trying to be. Verse, as Orwell says, tells us something we already know […]

Is it Poetry or Is it Verse? — Part 2

February 2, 2023
Is it Poetry or Is it Verse — Part 2

2. Efforts to define the difference between poetry and verse (like efforts to define the difference between poetry and prose) have been with us for a long time. Verse is often a term of disparagement in the poetry world, used to dismiss the work of people who want to write poetry but don’t know how. […]

Is it Poetry or Is it Verse? — Part 1

January 18, 2023
Is it Poetry or Is it Verse? — Part 1

1. Question: What do the following poems have in common? ******** It seemed to me a simple thing since my socks was showin’ through: Turn my old boots out to pasture, and buy a pair – brand new. Well, they built this cowboy K-mart outa town there in the Mall, Where I parked my Studdybaker […]

The Importance of Being Wrong — Part 2

January 5, 2023
Importance of being wrong part 2

What fascinates me about Aristotle, in his writings on natural science, is the wonderful mistakes he made. He asserted that men have more teeth than women. In those days before the scientific method he did not bother, presumably, to ask his wife to open her mouth and take a count. (Or perhaps he did but […]

The Importance of Being Wrong — Part 1

December 21, 2022
John Barr with arms crossed

Poetry’s main chance, it seems to me, the best of its possible futures, lies in not being buffaloed. You have just returned from a workshop in which your poems, the manuscript of a first book, were the subject of discussion. It was a summit meeting of eyeglasses, cleared throats, and nodded assents. One of your […]

How Should a Poem End?

December 7, 2022
John Barr sitting at his desk in his studio

A narrative poem, whether an epic as long as the Odyssey or an ancient ballad like Sir Patrick Spens, has a tale to tell. And when the tale is told, it stops. The progress of a lyric poem is quite different. Robert Frost describes it memorably in “The Figure a Poem Makes.” Like a piece of ice on […]

The Reader Completes the Poem

November 23, 2022
John Barr Photo

Recently I realized that when a poet has finished writing a poem, the poem is still not complete. The poem’s act of completion is when someone else reads it. And so I wrote this poem. The Book There is no Frigate like a Book to take us Lands away. Emily Dickinson I find you in […]

The Permanence of Poetry

November 9, 2022

They may be the oldest books in your library, having come down from your mother or father or a favorite aunt. They are different from the Stephen King paperbacks, the Danielle Steel romances, the flotsam and jetsam of books from past elections. Bound in limp leather and printed on the best paper, they may be […]

What is a Poem?

October 26, 2022
John Barr Photo

Welcome, and thanks for stopping by. These occasional short essays, of which this is the first, hope to show that poetry is that rare place in contemporary experience where legitimate magic can still happen. So, what is a poem? Allow me to riff. It arises out of the ordinary, out of the gravitation in whose […]

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