Sir Leeds

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    Sir Leeds

    Hi @emily-waldorf , I’m thankful we can all continue this conversation, even amidst the strong opinions. I think your idea about the heart and soul of poetry would line up well with John Keats: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” (from the last lines of “Ode on a Grecian Urn”).


    Now I don’t necessarily disagree with that definition, but it is pretty vague, and when we dig into beauty vs ugliness, there’s a lot of room for subjectivity and change. Take, for example, Van Gogh’s art. A lot of people today absolutely love it, but in his day, it was widely regarded as ugly. In fact, in the recent biopic about him, “At Eternity’s Gate,” someone asks him, “Can’t you see that this is ugly and unpleasant?” So is it ugly or is it beautiful? I think it’s beautiful, but I’m sure there are people out there who still think it’s ugly.

    Another example. I once wrote a poem about zombies (I know, super original) but what I did with it was show the zombies taking advantage of the world we’re too busy for (they have potlucks in the parks nobody goes to, their kids play in the yards nobody plays in, they sit on the front porch rocking chairs nobody sits on, etc.). And by taking two unlikely, fairly cliched ideas (zombies and seizing the moment) and combining them, I thought I made something pretty unique and thought provoking that would make readers think about how they may just be the ones acting like zombies with their mind-numbingly routine lives. However, a student in one of my professor friend’s community college classes didn’t think so. She thought the poem was dumb, said it sounded like it was written by a 12 year old, and said poetry should never have zombies in it. Of course my professor friend and I disagreed, but I think that goes to show how subjective the idea of beauty can be sometimes.


    As for the essay I wrote a couple of years ago, I don’t think I worded it as a lack of authenticity of voice at the time. It appears I worded it as sounding cheesy, overly sentimental, and afraid to address the world around it, which I would argue often leads to a seeming lack in sounding authentic. Anyway, here’s the link to the essay I wrote on the topic of mediocre contemporary Christian poetry for anyone who would like to read it:



    And thank you for your compliments as well. Your poem reminds me of Longfellow’s “The Rainy Day.” Thanks the encouragement you share through it and thank you for being willing to share it with us!


    I think you’ve got it 🙂 Welcome to the world of short Japanese poetry.

    "We are far too easily pleased." - C. S. Lewis

    Sir Leeds

    Thanks for the compliments @anne-of-lothlorien !


    And yes, it is in reference to “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Here it is. Hope you enjoy it (and that the forum formatting doesn’t mangle it too badly)!


    Boo Radley

    By Cainon Leeds

    Some of my poems have adjusted well.
    They can tie their own shoes and walk out the door
    and down the streets of Maycomb
    or some other American small town.

    Some can even hold conversations
    with strangers: speaking their minds when spoken to,
    maintaining eye contact, and not once looking back
    to me to coach them through.

    They have gone on
    to grace the pages of magazines and journals,
    to baptize themselves into the church of publication
    and receive praise and worship with each spring or fall issue.

    But I have other poems
    that have not left the “Work in Progress” folder house
    in years. I don’t pass through the neighborhood often,
    but when I do, I see my imagination playing with my memory
    on an open front porch,
    making up stories about why
    my other poems stay pent up in there,

    and how one poem got its hands on a pair of scissors,
    cut out magazine photos of Boston in autumn,
    and when I stepped into the room and looked down
    at what it was working on,
    it casually stabbed me in the shin
    and then went back to cutting,

    splattering blood on the leaves, the trees,
    the old New England houses
    and cobblestone streets.
    It’s been locked up ever since.

    And in that time, they’ve grown
    pale, sensitive to lights, overly suspicious,
    but mostly lonely.

    Every now and then, they’ll leave a stick of gum
    or a marble in the knot of the oak tree
    just outside the house
    in an attempt to befriend my imagination,

    help it remember
    that my children still live there,
    still cry themselves to sleep at night.

    "We are far too easily pleased." - C. S. Lewis

    Sir Leeds

    Hey @anne-of-lothlorien , cool poem, and congrats on publication! It kind of of reminds me of one of my own titled “Boo Radley”.


    As for the tanka, it’s a short Japanese style of poetry that’s defined by its use of syllables, as well as certain themes if you’re being strict about it. It has 5 lines, with the 1st and 3rd lines consisting of 5 syllables and the 2nd, 4th, and 5th lines consisting of 7 syllables. No rhyme or meter required. It’s similar to a traditional haiku, except a haiku is a tanka that’s missing its 4th and 5th lines.


    I’ve found writing a tanka on an idea helps keep my free verse poetry on the same idea from getting too wordy or going off in too many directions. Here’s one of my own favorite tankas. The Story Embers editorial staff even thought it was good, but too short for publication, so alas, it sits unpublished for now:



    By Cainon Leeds

    A maple shivers

    and tries to cover its mouth

    when it coughs leaf blood.

    But death’s bedside helplessness

    leaves red stains on the sidewalk.

    "We are far too easily pleased." - C. S. Lewis

    Sir Leeds

    Also, I would like to hear about one of these topics or themes that cannot or should not be found in poetry. I do enjoy a good challenge 😉

    "We are far too easily pleased." - C. S. Lewis

    Sir Leeds

    Hey @emily-waldorf , welcome to the discussion! I think you raise an interesting topic for discussion. What is the heart of poetry? I think it’s a good question to be asking ourselves and I’ll pass the question along to anyone else in this thread as well.


    I don’t know as though I would say that genuineness is the heart of poetry; but I have heard complaints that there seems to be an apparent lack of authenticity of voice in today’s Christian poetry (I wrote a fairly lengthy paper on this for one of my master’s degree courses), if not other areas of Christian literature in general (which it seems the overcoming of which is one of Story Embers’ stated missions), so that’s why I brought the topic up for discussion. To be clear, the majority of contemporary Christian poetry may be authentic, but the complaints are that it doesn’t sound authentic, and one of poetry’s traditional strengths is its sound. So what makes for a more authentic sound? I tend to think an everyday cadence, a certain vulnerability, and a healthy dose of specificity could go a long way, but I didn’t start this thread just to hear myself type. So, to anyone who reads this, what do you think makes for an authentic sounding poem?


    Now in defense of free verse, I’ll appeal to those more experienced and respected than myself in laying out its standing as poetry as well as its roots in the Bible. From Edward Hirsch’s “A Poet’s Glossary” in the section on free verse:

    “[Free verse is a] poetry of organic rhythms, of deliberate irregularity, improvisatory delight. Free verse is a form of nonmetrical writing that takes pleasure in a various and emergent verbal music…The term free verse is a literal translation of vers libre, which was employed by French symbolist poets seeking freedom from the strictures of the alex­andrine. It has antecedents in medieval alliterative verse, in highly rhythmic and rhymed prose, in Milton’s liberated blank-verse lines and verse para­graphs. But the greatest antecedent is the King James versions of the Psalms and the Song of Songs, based in part on the original Hebrew cadences.”

    In other words, free verse finds a relative in the poetry (unless of course you would argue that it isn’t actually poetry based on the fact that it doesn’t follow English metrical or rhyming norms) of the Psalms and Song of Songs. So I think a legitimate question would be “should the Psalms and Song of Songs have been written as prose when they were translated?” If not, then what makes them poetry when translated into English and what value is added in their being structured as poetry in English translations?

    "We are far too easily pleased." - C. S. Lewis

    Sir Leeds

    Hey @anne-of-lothlorien thanks for joining the conversation here! And I totally agree with you on a personal level because free verse has become my preferred poetry writing style for some of the same reasons as you shared. Free verse offers a lot of freedom of expression, and when it’s handled artfully, it can express a LOT in a very poetic way. I’ll admit some free verse poetry seems like it just randomly breaks the rules for the fun of it, but my favorite free verse poems are intentional about their line breaks. They use them to control the rhythm, emphasize certain words or phrases, create branches of meaning, etc.


    Probably the first time I admitted to the power of free verse was in a free verse poem my creative writing teacher challenged me to write. Two lines stood out to him in particular, and through those two lines, he helped me see the value in it all. They went something like this:

    “And there is no air

    conditioning this black Crown Vic”

    My instructor told me it was really cool how I’d created a double meaning, and how both of those meanings complimented each other well.


    Now that’s not to say that some of these same things can’t be accomplished in traditional form. I think Frost, Yeats, Owen, Dickinson, etc. stand as testimonies to that. But I will acknowledge that I believe that the impact of a poem should come first and its form should enforce rather than detract from that impact. So if I can write a very impactful poem in free verse and a moderately impactful poem around the same theme with verse, I’ll go with free verse, and vice versa. In fact, some of my tankas (they’re like haikus but a smidge longer) are more impactful than my attempts at free verse with the same idea in mind. There’s always room for experimentation with poetry 🙂


    Now that we’ve had some good discussion on what makes for good, authentic poetry, @dakota , @sparrowhawke , @anne-of-lothlorien , what do you think about each of us sharing one of our own poems that we think is really authentic in this thread and using it to discuss what we find authentic about it or what others have said about it? No pressure and no fear of judgement about any autobiographical details in said poems. I just figured it could be a good way to give some concrete material to this discussion.

    "We are far too easily pleased." - C. S. Lewis

    Sir Leeds

    Hey @dakota and @sparrowhawke , again, thanks for continuing the conversation here.


    Dakota, I think you’re onto something there. By no means do we want to condone or encourage the kinds of dark things in our lives or the lives of our characters. But at the same time, what will the light be triumphant over if we glaze over the darkness or pretend it isn’t really there? It’s like those movies or books where you have a really weak, one-dimensional villain and it makes the hero seem weak by contrast, no matter how strong or courageous the hero actually is. Do you have any ideas for how to walk that line?


    And Bethany, no, I haven’t read any of Cowper’s poetry. I’ll have to look into it. And congrats on your The Scarlet Letter project! I hope you’re able to get it to the place you want it to be. I’ve heard the same thing about finding poetry boring from college students when I do poetry readings. They were forced to figure out all the rules behind poetry and then they were told to go and find out what it all means before they were allowed to just enjoy it. Imagine if we applied that same logic to other art forms. That’s why one of Billy Collins’ poem, “Introduction to Poetry,” will forever be one of my favorites to bring up in conversation:


    “I want them to waterski

    across the surface of a poem

    waving at the author’s name on the shore.


    But all they want to do

    is tie the poem to a chair with rope

    and torture a confession out of it.


    They begin beating it with a hose

    to find out what it really means.” – Billy Collins (“Introduction to Poetry”)


    I used to be solidly in the “if it doesn’t rhyme, it’s not poetry” camp until I had a humbling experience with a professional poet who wrote almost exclusively free verse. Now I enjoy good verse poetry every now and then, but I tend to lean toward the ones that make it look and feel effortless, like W. B. Yeats, Robert Frost, Wilfred Owen, etc. Some of their poems are written in everyday language, and sometimes you don’t notice that it rhymes unless you’re really paying attention. In fact, I think Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” is a great example of a poet who isn’t afraid to dig deep into the gritty details of WWI, yet still manages to follow a rhyme scheme. The rhyming reinforces the poem rather than making it feel awkward or forced. It feels raw and real, but it doesn’t glory in the gore. Quite the opposite, it warns against trying to glory in the gore of war.


    And I’ve heard songs (Christian songs, even) that dig deep into the specific realities of the dark world we live in that don’t come across as “preachy,” detached, or indulgent. They’re somehow able to come across as authentic and compassionate even in the midst of some really messed up stuff that’s going on in the world. Most of the ones I can think of that get really specific though are older, like 1990s and early 2000s old. And a lot of what I hear on Christian radio today is more feel-good worship music or vague “going through a struggle, but I remember God’s got this so it’s all good” music (which totally has its place, don’t get me wrong). It’s just that I wish there was more depth there. You know what I mean?

    "We are far too easily pleased." - C. S. Lewis

    Sir Leeds

    Hey @sparrowhawke , thanks for keeping this conversation going. I’d rather hear from an amateur (someone who does something for the love of it) than a professional any day of the week. One of my favorite contemporary poets is an amateur. So if you’ve got any insights, I’d love to hear them.


    I really enjoy the works of Billy Collins, T. S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Ted Kooser, Joy Harjo, Robert Frost, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Simic, Roise Curran, etc. And in the Bible, I can’t get enough of the last few passages in Job where God throws down some serious poetry with Job or John 1 where John perfectly sums up the Gospel in just a few poetic sentences.


    Here’s something I like to ask students whenever I do readings at college campuses: what has your experience with poetry been like? Did you first learn about it in school? Was it frustrating or enjoyable for you? Why did (or didn’t) you dig deeper into it and keep up with it?

    "We are far too easily pleased." - C. S. Lewis

    Sir Leeds

    Hey @dakota , this is definitely uplifting in a worship music song lyrics kinda way. Is that what you’re aiming for?

    "We are far too easily pleased." - C. S. Lewis

    Sir Leeds

    Hey @emma-starr, I can’t say I’ve ever attempted a word count goal as a poet. To me, word count goals aren’t bad for prose writers so long as they’re editing too, but for poets, the closest thing to NaNoWriMo I’ve heard of is the poem-a-day challenge (where you try to write one poem every day for a month). Poetry is a different beast than prose and I think it should be treated like it is.


    Anyway, that’s enough of my opinion on word count goals for poets; here’s my advice. Find a mentor who writes poetry to help you edit and keep you accountable to your goals if you can. If that’s not possible, try reading your poems aloud to yourself before each edit and give yourself plenty of time between when you wrote the poem and when you edit it. My mentor usually recommends a month or so. Also, I’d allot yourself time in every day to read other people’s poetry, go for a walk or something else where you’re alone with your thoughts, like prayer time or something, and write/edit your poems. It’ll be rough after the first few days, but routine and discipline will get you through.


    Hope that’s helpful to you. Please let me know if you’d like any clarifications on anything I said or if there’s any way I can help. I’m pretty busy these days but I’ll respond and read posts and poems when I can. God bless!

    "We are far too easily pleased." - C. S. Lewis

    Sir Leeds
    1. Yes, I think it’s important to read literature outside of the recent development of the Christian subgenre. A lot of good literature doesn’t come with the label “Christian,” and if one does confine oneself to only those works that explicitly fit into that label, then I suppose even Tolkien’s works would be off the table since they’re not, nor were they intended to be, explicitly religious.
    2. I’m going to echo Taylor’s response here. Our consciences, maturity levels, and sensitivities toward portrayals of certain sins are all different. I believe you can find some little “t” truths in secular literature that may be beneficial to you, just keep a lookout for any lies that like to disguise themselves as half truths.
    3. Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with Taylor’s response here.
    4. Yes. I consume quite a bit of secular and non-Christian art, far more than the “Christian” art I consume, actually. Like I said earlier, the contemporary Christian subgenre has come about pretty recently (1960s at the earliest according to my research), and it excludes a lot of secular and non-Christian art, and even then, it’s kind of blurry as to how it chooses what to accept and reject. For example, many Christian bookstores will sell (and therefore welcome into the contemporary Christian subculture) Tolkien’s works even though they are secular by all accounts, but I’ve never seen John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl,” which is a non-Christian book that tells a similar story about the dangers of greed sold in Christian bookstores. I’ve also seen plenty of praise and worship songs sold at Christian bookstores, but I have yet to see a poetry book by T. S. Eliot, a famous Christian poet who wrote about Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, the sacrament of Communion, etc., as well as paganism and secular concepts like middle age crises and the horrors of war.

    "We are far too easily pleased." - C. S. Lewis

    Sir Leeds

    Hi @emma-starr,

    So glad to hear that our feedback has been helpful to you! Can’t wait to see the next draft of this poem. And here’s the poem you asked for. Like I said earlier, Story Embers turned it down mostly because it wasn’t embellished enough, but I really didn’t want this one to be overly embellished. I liked the straightforward language of the poem because it sounded like how a kid would retell the story. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it:



    One day, I want to say it was November,

    My friends and I played a game

    Of hide and seek in the city park

    And I’m pretty sure Billy was it.

    I found a leaf pile far from the slides

    And swingsets and burrowed in

    Until all was brown and gray

    And smelled like ladybugs and corn dust.

    I heard Billy yell, “Ready or not, here I come!”

    All muffled in the distance. I held my breath

    As long as I could and waited

    For him to come find me.

    Between crinkles and silence,

    I heard Billy shout, “I got you, Milly!”

    “No fair! I was first last time,” She whined,

    And one by one, he found all my friends,

    But not me. I waited and waited

    And waited, but nobody found me.

    They called out for me and said they gave up,

    And Milly even said she was worried about me,

    But nobody found me. I’d finally won

    And everybody knew it. It felt so good,

    I just stayed down in the itchy, warm leaves,

    And I guess I must’ve fallen asleep

    Because when I popped my head out and shouted,

    “I win!” to no one but the night sky

    And the lonely lamp posts, the only trace of my friends

    I could find was the emptiness around my bike.

    "We are far too easily pleased." - C. S. Lewis

    Sir Leeds

    Hi @emma-starr,
    <p style=”text-align: left;”>Okay, I can kind of see your theme now. Hmm…alright, these are just my thoughts, so take them or leave them, but I think that if your goal is to portray healing over the course of a year, you could experiment with the narrator struggling with an actual physical ailment that either gets better over the year (like a broken bone or something) or changes with the seasons and weave that physical healing in with the mental/emotional/spiritual healing. Does that make sense?</p>
    And I’d tend to agree with you, fall seems a bit back and forth at the moment. I think you could either move fall to the beginning of the poem and make summer the end (which would break the whole calendar year thing going on) or represent fall as a bit less gloomy.

    And the last stanza…it makes sense, yes, but to me at least, it’s still very sudden and in your face. It reminds me of that famous “Footprints in the Sand” poem. Now if that’s what you’re going for, then by all means go for it. Nobody can tell you how you should or shouldn’t write your poem, otherwise it wouldn’t be yours. I’m just saying that it seems a bit abrupt and heavy handed for my taste.

    And as for embellishment, I guess I’m not entirely sure what they meant either. For full context, I sent them a poem about kids playing hide and seek in a park. The narrator hides in a leaf pile far from the park. I was very descriptive about the smell of corn dust that we can’t escape in the fall here in Iowa, the cracks of brown and gray light, how itchy the leaves were, etc. In the end, the other kids give up and the narrator basks in his victory for so long that he actually falls asleep in the leaf pile. When he wakes up and gets out of the leaf pile, it’s dark and his friends are all gone. Story Embers’ response was that it needed embellishment, rhyme, or meter. I added rhyme and resubmitted, but they asked for more embellishment. I think they wanted more metaphors, similes, fanciful language, etc., but I didn’t want that for my poem. I thought more flowery language (the kind I tend to see in Story Embers’ poetry) would weigh the poem down and take away from its child-like simplicity, so I pulled the submission.

    If I were you, I’d dig through what Story Embers publishes for poetry and keep the word “embellishment” in mind. Think about how each poem is embellished. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to look at how many rhyme or have meter vs. how many are more free verse. If what you find seems to match the feel of your poem or what you’d like it to be, I’d say go for it. If not, maybe submit a different poem for the contest or take a look at other publications/contests for this poem. http://www.submittable.com has been a great resource for me.

    "We are far too easily pleased." - C. S. Lewis

    Sir Leeds

    Hi @emma-starr,

    There are some good lines here. I especially enjoyed:

    “It isn’t so heavy

    When it’s quiet.”

    And “The limp leaves are still dripping

    In the after-silence.”


    It seems like this poem is trying to show mood changes through the seasons. Is that right? If so, you seem to be doing well at showing instead of telling and engaging the senses, but I know Story Embers likes a little more embellishment than what I’m seeing here (at least that’s the feedback I’ve received from them). I might try using more seasonal metaphors and similes to explain the narrator’s mood.

    Also, I’d check the tone of your words. Words like “liquid” and “aroma” set the mood for a formal poem but “cartoonish” sounds like a scratch on a Beethoven record.

    And I’d try revising the end. It comes on a little forcefully and possibly a little preachy. I’d try either intertwining talking about/to God throughout the poem or cutting the last stanza out altogether. Whatever seems best to you.

    Take all of this with a grain of salt. Story Embers’ editors and I don’t seem to see eye to eye much these days when it comes to poetry. I hope this helps though!

    "We are far too easily pleased." - C. S. Lewis

    Sir Leeds

    Thanks @kb-writer ! This is great feedback!

    1) I’m split on keeping the wording as it is because I think it stands out a bit more and makes the reader think a bit more concretely about some of the horrors of martyrdom than otherwise, but I also don’t want to come across the wrong way. I really appreciate your input on this.

    2) Yeah, I hear you. I guess I was wondering if it was getting too wordy or not and if the wordiness was weighing the poem down. Sorry I didn’t make that clear at all!

    3) I think maybe this new revision (below) will make what I was trying to be clever about more evident. While I was trying to be clever about mixing up space and time, I was really trying to connect the common phrase “dying to tell you” (like, excited to tell you) to evangelism and martyrdom.

    4) Looking back on it now, I tend to agree with you. Thank you for pointing out the clunky parts to me!

    This new revision seems to take an entirely new direction, but I think it’s a lot more honest and drives home the connection between “dying to tell you” and martyrdom better. What do you think?

    Btw, I don’t tend to check stuff out on SE unless I’m specifically mentioned or responded to, so please feel free to mention me in anything if you’d like feedback on something! Thanks again!



    I’ve come all the way here to talk to you.

    Here, in an empty McDonald’s corner booth

    Around nine in the evening,

    Just a few years west of Eden

    Down the road on Roman Empire Street,

    Right across from the American Revolution.

    I have come from birth

    And teething rings and standing up and falling down and

    Stealing toys and riding bikes and building forts and

    Telling lies and driving cars and texting friends and

    Rebirth all the way to you, here, and now

    I should be dying

    To tell you

    The same thing

    Those who came before me,

    Who were tortured but refused release,

    Who were beaten and spat on and thrown in prison,

    Whose hands and feet were chained together,

    Whose faces were smashed in with rocks,

    Whose belly and legs were sawn apart,

    Who died

    To tell those who came before you:

    That a Man who was also God

    Lived and died but also lives

    So that you and I can be free.

    It’s simple enough and I do believe,

    But I’m not dying

    To tell you, and it’s killing me

    Because I know I should be.

    I should be dying

    To sit down across from you,

    To look you in your bewildered eyes,

    To use words like “sin” and “death”

    Like they’re normal words

    To bring to a conversation,

    To casually bring a two-edged sword

    To a knife fight,

    To tell you that there is one way out

    And that He is that way.

    And though I’m not dying

    To bring this evening to its climax,

    I set my tray down across from you

    And introduce myself.

    "We are far too easily pleased." - C. S. Lewis

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Learn What the Bible Says about Engaging Plots

Learn What the Bible Says about Engaging Plots

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