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Published: Mon Jun 24 2019
Eva Lundsager, A Pause (detail), 2021, oil on canvas
Online 2019 Mysteries On Poetry Writing Process
A Poet’s Quiz

Choose Never, Occasionally, Often, Always; Or Choose True, False, Maybe; Or Just Keep Reading

  1. I start a poem by commenting on a philosophical question and then change my opinion halfway through.
  2. When I write, I am running away from something, not toward something.
  3. I feel murderous when a relative tells me my poem doesn’t even rhyme.
  4. The day I almost left teaching in the middle of the year was when a student said, “My poem has to have a title?”
  5. Novelists are failed poets who are no longer writing poems.
  6. Iambic pentameter is how I naturally speak when using my own heartbeat as metronome: Da-DUM, Da-DUM, Da-DUM, Da-DUM, Da-DUM.
  7. All my poems have lists of nouns and copula only, indicative of my commitment issues with verbs.
  8. Cocktails should be named after famous poems.
  9. I might be vibing for semicolons even though John Ashbery called them “corrupt” in a poem and I wrote that down.
  10. I write most of my poems in my head while other people are talking to me.
  11. When I was a child, I titled my first book The Collected Works. It was ten pages.
  12. I’m still pissed off at kindergarten teachers who tell children that the word they think they are spelling is not even a word: it is a nothing. “Nothing, nothing, nothing, you’ve spelled nothing. Now if you had added an ‘e’…”
  13. The sound of one hand clapping is a failed poet, plume in the other hand.
  14. I identify as a depressive megalomaniac.
  15. In the past three decades, I have been in love with at least a hundred protagonists of various genders.
  16. I have been told by someone I respect that my new poem is not poetry.
  17. I have tripped while writing a poem inside my head and running twenty miles at the same time. I called my knee in the sidewalk the “caesura.”
  18. I remember the current title of my poetry manuscript.
  19. My son told me he wanted a new mama with blue hair. I think my children are more creative than I am.
  20. I feel like I cannot breathe when I am in the aura of my poetry mentors.
  21. A poem that takes ten minutes to write could be better than a poem that takes twenty years to write: today this is a problem, but tomorrow it is a solution.
  22. I worry that I will even apply Rachel Zucker’s “poetics of wrongness” in the wrong way.
  23. I value “meaningful ambiguity” more than “the narrative’s so clear I can film it.”
  24. I can find the exit sign in a poem.
  25. I love epitaphs, prologues, notes, footnotes, acknowledgements, and dedications—almost more than the poems themselves.
  26. I think something might be wrong with me.
  27. I can clearly distinguish between poetry and prose.
  28. I hate that I am a writer.
  29. I lose interest in people and things all the time.
  30. I recently read a poem until I cried over it, just so I could say a John Ashbery poem made me weep. The end got me. “Please come back. I liked you so much./ Dandelions, thistles, what do we care?”
  31. I have started, stopped, or stayed in relationships not for the person but for “the story.”
  32. I ignore the feedback of other writers when I can tell they are secretly jealous of me.
  33. I have trouble using the first person comfortably.
  34. When I complained about the scenic route because it was cows for hours, my mother said, “How can a poet not like nature?” and I thought my poetry career was over at fifteen (having begun at fourteen).
  35. The most important advice from my beloved poetry mentor, who died this spring, (“April is the cruelest month”), was “You’re in the business of rejection. Get used to it, kiddo.”
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Hannah Baker Saltmarsh is the author of Hysterical Water (University of Georgia Press, 2021). Her poems and essays have appeared in The Yale Review, Kenyon Review, The American Poetry Review, AGNIFeminist Studies, and elsewhere. She lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (updated 10/2022)

Read Monika Cassel’s review of Saltmarsh’s “Little Theories of a Fly Ball” in the folio “AGNI 96 Reviews AGNI 96

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