poems as puzzles (& not in the way you think)

Okay, I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking that I share the opinion of seemingly every high school English teacher: that poems are riddles, that they’re scattered pieces of information that we must then puzzle out through ample analysis and biographical research.

None of that! Poems are not puzzles that we must “solve.” What I’m talking about, really, is poems as collages—or the act of pastiching yourself.

But we’ll get into all that in a minute.

First, some news and standard housekeeping:

I have a new poem out! Yay!

My e-book Publishing Poems: An Easy Guide is still available (and on sale!). Use code “FRIYAY” at checkout for 25% off through the weekend.

As always, I’m selling books to fundraise for The West Review’s contributor fund. You can get 5 for $30. And they’ll be good books because I have exquisite taste. But feel free to let me know your preferences in the comments on your order, if you want me to curate your selection with those in mind.

Poems as puzzles

Okay, time to explain. All writers, I think, jot down notes when inspiration strikes. Historically, writers used a pen and paper—or little scraps of trash, gum wrappers, napkins, hankerchiefs—but, in our modern age, I typically use my phone or email.

In any case, I have been writing for a long time—and thus taking little notes for a long time, amassing hundreds of pages. And—when I’m in a rut, or find myself unable to write due to stress or sadness or something hotter—I am able to go back to my notes and use them to scrape together a new poem.

The exercise is similar to writing a cento—a poem made up of lines from other people’s poems (here’s one I like)—but, instead, you take a bunch of your own unpublished lines and somehow assemble them into a poem.

It’s a lifehack, really. In the past week, it has allowed me to create seven new poems and—though they are not my favorites that I’ve written—they’re pretty decent, really, and they make me feel like a person again.

I always think back to this quotation in Beth Pickens’ Your Art Will Save Your Life:

You have to make work, above all else. You are an artist—as opposed to, say, a person creatively expressing yourself—because you need to make art in order to lead a contented life. […] In my estimation, artists need to be active creatively in order to be alive, processing the world and other people. I find that artists who have been away from creative engagement for a long period of time frequently describe feeling depressed, agitated, anxious, disconnected, and empty. Making art is an essential form of self-care in their lives.

So, for me, a meh-poem still feels better than no poem, because that act of creating is vital to my well-being and—even if it’s not my favorite—I have faith that art always speaks to someone, even if that someone is not the writer themselves.

With that in mind, I challenge you all to try a poem-as-puzzle: take a bunch of disparate lines you’ve collected and compile them/arrange them into a whole picture—something beautiful or at least meaningful.

What else?

What to read:

I wrote about how to be a good literary citizen last week—from my point of view. Here are a few others writing about it:


That’s all for today, folks—though I did add to my list-of-journal-nemeses this morning, if that’s up your alley. We can hex them all together.

Have a great weekend. Thanks for being here.