Why I’ll Never Be Asked To Be NPR’s NewsPoet

A poet’s job—to find the words to say
To translate into meter, into verse;
To write about the stories of the day

Of course, there ought to be a better way,
But there it is—a blessing or a curse,
A poet’s job—to find the words to say.

To find the turn of phrase to best convey
(Though poets’ minds are sometimes too perverse
To write about) the stories of the day—

So editors are heard to softly pray
“Please, find me someone else who can traverse
A poet’s job—to find the words, to say

So much.” The job description reads, “You may
Be asked to fill in here and there, or worse,
To write about the stories of the day”

It’s only one of many roles to play;
The part is yours—it’s time now to rehearse
A poet’s job—to find the words to say
To write about the stories of the day.


So NPR’s second NewsPoet is up and running; Craig M. Teicher’s villanelle about smartphone-capable eyeglasses went up Friday. And as anyone familiar with NPR’s comment threads could have predicted, it drew complaints that it was not a true villanelle; the repeated lines were not actually repeated, and some of the rhymes were not true rhymes. (Another commenter reacts to this criticism by asking whether the point of a poem was to follow the particular form, or whether the form is simply a means to an end, that end being good poetry?)

And that, in a nutshell, is why I am not a poet. My villanelle does repeat the lines, and does rhyme, and I could no more bend the rules of the form than I could fly. For me, the metric form, the rhymes, the feet, of specific verse forms, is to be obsessively followed. The specific constraints force us to write creatively; breaking the rules is the easy way out. Mind you, there’s plenty of unconstrained poetry forms out there; there is no need to deconstruct a highly structured form simply for expression’s sake.

I am not a poet, firstly, because I lack the skill or the will (or both) to unshackle myself from my forms. I am not a poet, secondly, because (or so it seems to me) those who decide who are real poets do not accept those who accept the shackles. Take a look at the past several years of “Best American Poetry”, and count how many verses actually rhyme. Or (a few more) are in a recognizable form. No, I am a doggerelist, a versemonger, a cuttlefish (note that I am actually used as an example in “doggerelist”, thanks to one of my commenters). And I am quite happy to be.

I do love good poetry, but I do not write it. As my book says, I write commentary in verse. (hey, wow–it’s available for nook? How did I not know that?)

Somebody has to.


  1. niftyatheist says

    :) How I would love a daily or even every other daily verse about the news of the day (or other interesting topics) from the Cuttlefish on NPR! I wonder if they take suggestions…? I do believe I would be inclined to increase my donations!

  2. says

    I most enthusiastically second the notion that you, Cuttlefish, should be NPR’s resident poet. I’m sorry to disagree with you, but you ARE a poet. You undertake, and excel, at the (more difficult, in my opinion) task of sticking to the poetry’s forms (instead of free-writing) AND making it rhyme AND (I might as well say it) doing a damn good job at expressing whatever you want to express.

    And you’re funny!

    And brilliant too!

    NPR really should be looking at YOU.

  3. Cuttlefish says

    Nifty and Rebecca, I thank you, but honestly, that would be a slap in the face to real poets. What I do is not what they do, and what they do (when done well) is much, much more difficult. I am happy with the situation as it is!

  4. Scott F says

    Dear Cuttlefish,

    What I do is not what they do, and what they do (when done well) is much, much more difficult.

    I believe that would be your Dunning-Kruger effect talking. True, what you do is not what they do. But, what you do do is incredibly difficult for almost anyone else. Just last night talking with my wife, I was comparing you to Shakespeare. And by definition, I do believe that what you do is not doggerel. It may be “comic or humorous”, but it is never “crude” (in form at least :-) and AFIAK never “irregular”, and is never “lacking in artistry or meaning”.

    Modesty is very becoming, but in this case you have every reason to not be modest.

  5. says

    Formal verse forms exist. Poets have followed them for FSM knows how many millenia. Since both of these sentences are true, your “poets laugh at rigid form” notion cannot be anything like the iron rule you seem to be thinking it is. Me, I’m going to file your “gosh, I’m not a poet” notion in the same mental category as Jerry Coyne’s insistence that his website is not a blog, and ERV’s quixotic War On Apostrophes…

  6. Cuttlefish says

    Millennia, there’s the rub. Mere centuries ago, I’d have fit right in. A Model T, while still technically a “car”, would today be more accurately described as an “antique”. It’s certainly not what the modern world is driving.

  7. rikitiki says

    re: Cuttlefish @ #10 –
    I see your point, sir. But even Shakespeare is lovely and
    inspiring and relevant today. Face it,
    you are a poet. Methinks the lad doth protest too much.

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