Day Two: Metapoetry

Metapoetry is poetry about poetry, especially self-conscious poems that focus on objects or items associated with writing or creating poetry. These might include puns on the word "feet" for example, referring on one level to the body part, and on another to the metrical feet of a poem.

Inner Chimes, edited by Bobbye Goldstein and illustrated by Jane Breskin Zalben, offers a wonderful introductory selection of 20 poems that investigate the creation, joy, frustration and delight to be found in the poet's craft. Zalben's illustrations, like cameo miniatures, are intricate and tightly designed ornaments that evoke the poem's likeness without overwhelming its imagery. For example,

  • Gerda Mayer's suggestion that the poet carries a poem "carefully, / nervously, / in his head / like a saucer of milk" is illustrated with a blue willow cup.
  • Poet Naoshi Koriyama compares a poem to a water-lily bud, which, like the book itself, will allow readers to see a poem "gradually unfolding / Revealing its rich inner self / As one reads it / Again / And over again."
  • Below X. J. Kennedy's "A jumbled sight,/ The sheets I write!/ High time for paper clips/ To take a bite/ And grip them tight/ Between bright bulldog lips'' is a picture of two bulldogs, a scattering of paper clips, and a small pile of crumpled paper.

Also check out Poems on Poems or Metapoetry for a broad selection of metapoems. Other types of metapoetry involve self-conscious commentary on the poem's own genre or on the process of creating the poem.

A fine example of such metapoetry is Jimmy Santiago Baca's "I Am Offering This Poem":

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I Am Offering This Poem by Jimmy Santiago Baca

I am offering this poem to you,
since I have nothing else to give.
Keep it like a warm coat,
when winter comes to cover you,
or like a pair of thick socks
the cold cannot bite through,

I love you,

I have nothing else to give you,
so it is a pot full of yellow corn
to warm your belly in the winter,
it is a scarf for your head, to wear
over your hair, to tie up around your face,

I love you,

Keep it, treasure it as you would
if you were lost, needing direction,
in the wilderness life becomes when mature;
and in the corner of your drawer,
tucked away like a cabin or a hogan
in dense trees, come knocking,
and I will answer, give you directions,
and let you warm yourself by this fire,
rest by this fire, and make you feel safe,

I love you,

It's all I have to give,
and it's all anyone needs to live,
and to go on living inside,
when the world outside
no longer cares if you live or die;
remember,

I love you.

 
     
 

Baca's poetry mingles his experiences of rage and dispossession as a former convict with poetic narratives of spiritual regeneration and renewed connection with his community and ethnic heritage. In this poem, Baca uses a series of similes to demonstrate what poetry is to him. He offers this poem, hoping it can do for the reader what poetry has done for him. In numerous interviews, Baca has talked about being transformed from an illiterate prisoner to a celebrated poet who delights in the discovery and expression of language.

Jimmy Santiago Baca, Hispanic poet with an amazing life story, was the Tenth Poet in the Annual Thatcher Hoffman Smith Poetry Series that the Center for Interpersonal Studies through Film & Literature sponsors each spring. Baca was also interviewed for Oklahoma Humanities (November 2008).

Check out Baca's official homepage. He also has pages at Modern American Poetry, with an interview and critical essay, and at Poets.org. On a PBS NewsHour, Elizabeth Farnsworth talks with Baca about two new books, "Healing Earthquakes" and "A Place to Stand" (also available in streaming video).

 

Your Turn: Write and illustrate your own metapoem. Be prepared to present to the class.

Listen to Baca read this poem.

Back to Poem-a-Day.