like having a drink then getting into bed.
Juxtapositions like dogs, cats, white clouds, black clouds
or an oxymoron like forgotten memories works well too.
If it’s somewhat plaintive or nostalgic, that’s good.
Even better, something purporting to be universal –
how about treachery or the nature of women?
Follow your opening by slipping into something a bit
more obscure. Write about attics or islands or
anything dark—dubious childhood calamities
provide excellent fodder. So does prison, poverty
and evil tyrants. Psychological trauma is highly
effective as long as you don’t actually say
you’re writing about psychological trauma
Next, insert an enigma. It’s best if it sounds simple
but upon reflection becomes incomprehensible
like the obscure shroud of nocturne gleaming.
The New Yorker reader will invariably project
their own interpretation over whatever you write
and think themselves clever and erudite for figuring it out.
In lieu of an enigma, place a preposition
at the end of a line. Then italicize it.
Just before wrapping things up add some irony.
Death is an excellent source of irony. So is stupidity.
Also, anything to do with bureaucracy. The opposite
sex as a source of irony no longer works on either coast
and in some parts of Minnesota. Stick with death.
Finally, round things out with an epiphany.
Rhetorical questions are good—even if they
have nothing to do with the rest of the poem.
Or, make an obvious connection to the enigma,
in effect chastising the reader for being a total
illiterate idiot if they hadn’t gotten it the first time.
Most importantly sign your poem with a familiar name.
This should be the least obscure thing on the page.
If your first name is more complicated than Thomas, Paul or
Meghan you’d best use an initial. Last names like O’Rourke,
Williams, or Warren are good. Unpronounceable or
foreign-sounding names are only acceptable if you’ve
been persecuted, wrongly imprisoned or have
suffered astounding horrors, or better yet, death at the
hands of the evil tyrant mentioned in the second stanza.