December 2, 2021

Engagement with Poetry (or how to propose to your friends)

Sara M. Robinson

There is a widely popular rock song in which the singer says to someone else, “Put a ring on it.” Now how does this relate to us and poetry? Well, both suggest a proposal and a follow-up commitment. But how do we get friends and acquaintances to commit? To poetry?

Let’s look at some of the ways our poetry can present the “ring.”

Metaphor is a great starting place as that is one of the main tasks of a poem. I’ve written about this in earlier Southern Writers’ columns but let’s take a brief review. Metaphor, by definition, is where one thing is likened to another. From a poetic perspective, we could say an implied comparison where a word or phrase is taken out of its usual context and given a new meaning.

A famous example is John Donne’s “No man is an island.” In one of my columns, I started out by writing, “On a sunny, unremarkable day, I see poetry lying in an ordinary ditch.”

Similes are often used as another type of comparison. In using simile, we often use the words, “like,” and “as.” For instance, “my body is like an old, battered bourbon barrel.”

What about passion and intensity as rules of engagement? Can we be so devoted to poetry that we channel our enthusiasm into words convincing our audience that poetry is passion?

I love it when someone says, “I don’t like poetry.” When I ask why she/he always responds about hating it in high school or even college, where studying poetry was part of the English requirement. I tell my friends to forget all that. I didn’t prefer the old poets either. But now, we have such marvelous writers that cover the entire spectrum of topics. Tired of listening to any politician or pontificate? Read an activist’s poetry. Start with our current U.S. poet laureate, Joy Harjo. Rejoice in her amazing wordsmithing. Try to write like her!

Share your other favorite poets with your friends, then talk about the uniqueness of their writing.

Other poetry can influence your own. (More on that in a later blog!)

After the engagement party is over, what is next. Keep writing and keep looking for more inspiration. Here is a line from Morrigan McCarthy that sums up everything: “…poetry allows for beauty in the messiness and mystery of being human.” I wish I had written that; but what I can tell you is that poetry will transform your friends. And if any one of them come back to remark about one of your poems, and what it meant to them, then the engagement proposal was a success!

Until next time…

Sara M. Robinson, founder of the Lonesome Mountain Pro(s)e Writers’ Workshop, and former Instructor of a course on Contemporary American Poets at UVA-OLLI, was poetry columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and inagural poetry editor for Virginia Literary Journal. She has served as guest lecturer at UVA’s College at Wise, Wise, VA. Her poetry has appeared in various anthologies, including We Grew Wings and Flew (2014), Scratching Against the Fabric (2015), Virginia Writer’s Club Centennial Anthology (2017), Blue Ridge Anthologies and Mizmor Anthology (2018). Journals include: Loch Raven Review, The Virginia Literary Journal, vox poetica, Jimson Weed, Whisky Advocate, and Poetica. She is poet and author of Love Always, Hobby and Jessie (2009), Two Little Girls in a Wading Pool (2012), A Cruise in Rare Waters (2013 Stones for Words (2014), Sometimes the Little Town (2016), a finalist for the Poetry Society of Virginia’s 2017 Book Award. In 2019, Needville, her poetry about effects of coal mining on SW Virginia was released and in 2020 debuted as play in Charlottesville. Her most recent publication is Simple River (2020, Cyberwit).


  1. Sara, I love this statement you made: "Here is a line from Morrigan McCarthy that sums up everything: “…poetry allows for beauty in the messiness and mystery of being human.”"

    There is something unique about poetry, especially now when I read it with everything that is going on in the world. I read Catherine Wagner's poem, "Everyone in the room is a representative of the world at large."

    In it there is a sentence that for some reason reminds me of what is going on in the world, it goes,"The seaweed says:

    This is a river; I am river-weed.
    Which of these/my clumps do you want me to be (say)?"

    Reading your articles has given me a new perspective on poetry.

  2. Your post is very good. I got to learn a lot from your post. Thank you for sharing your article for us. it is amazing post.