The more I read the more I realize that I have many miles to go as a writer and as a poet. I’ve said it before, but poetry is so much like baseball it’s uncanny. Baseball is a head game. You can get in the hall of fame for having a 70% failure rate. My favorite baseball player was Tony Gwynn, an outfielder for the San Diego Padres, one of the few baseball players to have a career batting average over .300. Gwynn was consistent  as a hitter and humble as a stud baseball player. Somehow, he never managed to get in his own head (at least for too long anyways).

I’ve gotten in my own head. In being intentional about writing 2-3 poems a week, I’ve lost sight of something so important to poetry: openness. An open poem is one that ends, well, openly rather than closing off and forcing a conclusion onto the reader. A closed poem is the result of a poet trying too hard to force his/her conclusions into the poem, rather than allowing the poem to breath and exist on its own. A strong poem can and will exist on its own, in the mind of the writer, and in the mind of the reader. I’m finding that I’m trying to force my poems, trying too hard to be poetic. I won’t hit a five-run home run with every poem. Some are simply destined to be pop flies and strikeouts, especially when they are closed down. Open them up, Jacobson, and relax. Here’s to worrying less about the long ball and more about making each poem open, and as strong as it can be.


8 thoughts on “Openness

  1. This is an astute post, Joel. Problem is, I think, the fundamental analogy: poetry is not really like baseball. The point of a baseball game is to win or lose—i.e., achieve closure. Even a tie is closure! Some poems want closure, and our problem as poets is to find the right closure; some poems want openness, and our problem is to find a form for that openness. That’s the poem-view. The poet-view, I think, should always be open. Even when you set out with a form in mind—a sonnet, let’s say—you need to open to the iconoclastic impulses: those that bend, twist, even shatter the sonnet form. Let me give two examples, both by Bill Knott (from his big fat Collected Sonnets: 1970-2010):


    “… here thy generations endeth in accord.”

    I physically resemble my mother
    And father and therefore must have been
    Adopted, because on my TV screen
    The role-children rarely share a feature
    With either parent. The fact they’re actors
    And I’m not is what makes me misbegot—
    Watch that matched world of monitors 2-shot
    The mirror daily where I pray these stars

    Come: cancel everyone of us whose names
    And clans have sundered human unity—
    Descend always among daughters or sons
    To live still, beyond the Web’s trivia games,
    Till their faces cloned shape ours. Family.
    From android to ape, we’ll be Thy reruns.

    The Petrarchan formality is essential to the core irony, it seems to me. Then there’s this one:


    they say if you can hum
    you can dance
    if you can live
    you can die

    guide-graphs on the floor
    may draw our soles
    toward a ballroom grace
    in the first case

    but with the other
    each time we look down
    there are no paths
    no ways no wonder

    we’re always stepping
    on our own graves

    To write both and be one Knott, he had to give himself enough rope to hang his talent on!

  2. I see what you’re saying. I do think that being a writer is like baseball, but when it comes poetry specifically, I see how there’s a bit of a breakdown because there is always a breakdown comparing sports to art. It’s a fine line writing a poem. A pot won’t throw itself on the wheel, but a heavy hand will fling it to smithereens. What in the world. Can I only speak in simile and metaphor now?

  3. Oh yeah. 🙂 I was experiencing this yesterday when working with sonnets. The closed nature of the form seemed to shut me down. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to work successfully with them. We’ll see! 🙂

    Nice to see your poem at Every Day Poems today 🙂

  4. I didn’t see the Every Day Poems poem. Can you send me the link?

    The trick with sonnets, I think, is handling syntax and being open to slant rhyme—often very slant! Sometimes you break a longer sentence into two or three to get the syntactic flexibility you need. Sometimes you let a rhyme/slant rhyme take the poem in a direction you may not have had in mind. A fun/challenging exercise is to restrict yourself to the same rhymes for whole stanzas, as in:


    The second hand sweeps;

    the minute hand merely creeps;

    the hour hand seems to sleep,


but no: the hours like slow
tears fall; the sweet days go;
years flow away

    words whose truth runs deep:

    the watch shall never keep
what we want it to keep.

    [Not great poetry, but then—as Ed Baker likes to say—what is?]

  5. Thanks for the exercise idea, Joe. LL Barkat selected Willy Loman, a poem I published on my blog several weeks ago, for a daily poetry emailing called Every Day Poems. (Here’s the link to sign up for the email: ). It costs $ .99 a year to subscribe but the email links to prompts, exercises, as well as presenting a poem. The poems range from classic to contemporary. There’s also a monthly theme, etc. TS Poetry, the publishers that host the twitter collaborations I’ve been a part of, publishes the email. They’re good people and the poetry community is pretty incredible. They also post the Every Day Poems sometimes on facebook. If Willy Loman makes it there, I’ll post a link!

  6. Joel – I loved your post. I have been feeling the same way in my own writing, though it is prose. There is something about being able to fail that helps us in our art and craft, isn’t there. I think writing so publicly on my blog keeps me from feeling that freedom.

    I linked up with your post on my blog today, a little thing I do every week to get to know other bloggers in the High Calling network. It’s been great getting to know you a bit here. I’ve read some of your poetry before through tspoetry. You are a great poet!


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