the good poem project
In my public high school, every English student dreaded “the poetry unit.” Even I – the weird girl who went to writing camp – found our study of poetry out-dated and uninteresting. When my classmates bonded over a shared hatred of the genre, I didn’t blame them. I, too, hated answering multiple choice questions about John Donne’s “The Flea.” I began to wonder why I dreaded analyzing poetry in class, yet loved the poems that my internet friends posted on Tumblr. What made a poem good, anyway? Would my classmates enjoy poetry if it wasn’t posed as an obstacle on the SAT?
These questions stuck with me. As a teenage poet, I doubted whether my work was meaningful or good if it wasn’t getting published in prestigious magazines. As a college student, I wondered why I was more curious to learn about flarf poetry (poems designed to be “bad”) than Shakespearean sonnets. I wrote a creative writing honors thesis titled “How to Write a Good Poem,” which explored how and why we assign literary value to poems, and how the assessment of literary “goodness” relates to broader questions about what ethical code writers follow, the relationship between the art and the artist, and how socioeconomic privilege dictates who engages with poetry.
Spoiler alert: my research did not actually reveal how to write a good poem (I never intended to do that), but I remain deeply invested in these questions. How do poets reconcile the role of prizes and prestige in their career advancement (fellowships, MFAs, publications, etc.) while maintaining a healthy relationship with their own artistry? Do our poems even matter if they’re unintelligible to anyone without a degree in literature? How do we make people feel more comfortable reading poetry?
I don’t have answers, but I’m not looking for answers – I’m looking for discussion, collaboration, and creativity. And that’s where you come in!
- Amanda Silberling
I want to collect as many responses as possible to my big question: what is a good poem? Whether you love or hate poetry, I want to hear from you!