March 3, 2020

Maintaining Control of Our Poetry

Sara Robinson

This is not about ownership or authorship. This is not about how our poetry is like driving a car, per se. This is about stopping the runaway train of our writing. We’ve asked ourselves in the past, is this poem any good? Will anybody read it or like it? Do I even like it? Yes, we write many a line where we argue with ourselves about whether or not the writing is any good.

So, how do we maintain control and how do we know when our poetry has gotten away from us? We don’t want to turn off the electricity that is our writing but how do we keep this electric train on the track? Don’t you love metaphors? Poetry is the craft of using metaphor as a control element in our poetry. (See an earlier column on metaphor and simile).

Here are some considerations for us to maintain control, without domination:

*Precise and concise language

*Effective use of line space and position on the page

*Leaving room for readers to insert their own interpretations through use of “white” space

*Word and/or syllable stresses to create emphasis

*Punctuation that directs breathing and/or reflection. Or absent punctuation, again with space showing the reader where to pause

Often, deciding who ultimately gains control of the poem is major concession for both writer and reader. How innovative should we be? Do we experiment with grids, balloons, or word pictures (i.e. John Hollander’s Swan and Shadow)? Some writers are experimenting with crossword type formats. While in past columns I’ve presented topics like custody of poems and authenticity, my goal here is to show that all of these continue to intertwine with each other and as time evolves, so does our writing.

William Stafford, in his poem, You Reading This, Be Ready, asked, “Starting here, what do you want to remember?” That’s it! That’s the point of control: Give the readers what they want to remember. You’ve given up nothing, but you gave your audience everything.

You, the poet as quarterback. Your readers as wide receivers. Both have control.

I began my creative writing career after retiring from industry. I would love to talk to readers about my writing and the memoir, as well as my short stories and poetry. My latest poetry book, Sometimes the Little Town, is based on the photography of Hobby Robinson. I have 3 other published poetry books and a memoir. I live in central Virginia and enjoy all the wonders that abound in the local area. Much of my writing focuses on these experiences as well as reflecting on how I am evolving as a poet and writer. In Fall 2014, one of my poems about my Jewish heritage appeared in Poetica MagazineLooking for places to buy my books? Check out:, Barnes & Noble, Solace 


  1. Thank you Sara. I have tried numerous times over the years to write poetry...for my eyes only. Since I am not experienced in writing poetry don't want to show to others, but your post has given me confidence to share with special friends. Thank you.

  2. This is not only for poets but all writers. Thank you!