“How to Write a Poem,” introduction

My copy of Tania Runyan’s new book, “How to Write a Poem,” came in last week. And since I was in between cycles for the magazine, I decided to put myself through a poetry workshop, one chapter at a time. It’s a book to be worked through, not simply read.

Each chapter begins with a poem, and I highly recommend taking time to sit with each one. Read it silently, then aloud. Journal it. There’s a lot to discover.

The book is titled “How to Write a Poem,” and I’d put the emphasis on “a poem.” In chapter 1, Tania has you do a freewriting exercise, and from that, begin a poem. The rest of the book gives you opportunities to revise that poem, looking at it from different angles.

I chose a topic I’d started on October 4, 2014, after my cousin Ashley Meagher died in a car accident. I’d made notes for a poem, especially following her funeral, but those words never went anywhere. Still, it felt like a poem that needed to be written. Following Tania’s guidance, I did seven drafts.

Since my poetry usually begins in experiences, actual life scenes, I have trouble making the sort of changes that would improve the poem and take it out of its original context in some way—maybe a different speaker or a different color of the sky. It’s a poem, not memoir.

So for any family members reading this poem, it is no longer an exact chronicle of what happened the day Dylan planted the cross beside the highway. For that, I have a photograph.



  1. […] with an emphasis on line breaks. Something is happening at the end—something not based on the day we planted the cross, other than the fact that it is always windy in the Panhandle. It’s something that snuck in […]