I always advise students to be wary of workshopping a poem like a checklist. Still, there are keys to a successful poem: arresting images, attention to metaphorical and sensual language, a wariness of abstraction, an awareness of sound and form, effective line breaks and an unpredictable ending. But what writers of poetry often overlook is the unique place of argument in poetic craft. (Note: an argument is not inherently negative; it can be a monologue about one’s feelings, or the weather.) A poem is the speaker’s argument with the self, or the world. Argument creates tension, and tension — whether ambivalence, mystery, wonder, doubt, or irony — drives a poem.
Ellen Elder was born in New York City, raised in Cincinnati, and educated at The University of Chicago, Miami University of Ohio and The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in About Place Journal, Banshee Lit, Bird’s Thumb, DMQ Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Tampa Review and elsewhere. Recently, she taught at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf and in Charleston, South Carolina.