Posted by: birdmaddgirl | 6 June 2014

favorite poem fridays #1 – “Advice to Young Poets”

for the summer, i’m going to try writing a brief something once a week on a poem that i love. whether or not i keep up with it every week, at least i’ll be going back to some brilliant literature when i do. and we’re off!


“Advice to Young Poets”

Never pretend
to be a unicorn
by sticking a plunger on your head

Martín Espada, from The Republic of Poetry



mid-way through my MFA program, this poem circles around in my brain quite often. Espada captures worlds of humor, anxiety, wisdom, and longing in deceptively casual language. how can you not love this image?

and the quirky “advice” provokes a number of questions: beyond the obvious why try to be a mythical creature with the most mundane of tools?, there’s why get involved with someone else’s shit? what is the job of a poet? what are the tools of a poet’s craft? how should they be employed and to what ends? does a poet have an obligation to reality? is this advice serious despite its playful tone? or does the poem undermine itself with its levity, asking, in fact that one do the opposite? is it truly merely banal and silly to “pretend / to be a unicorn” or could this “sticking” somehow be performed as an act of deliberate and thoughtful rebellion? what does that “never” attach to: being a unicorn or using a plunger or both? should one be a plumber instead of a poet if a plunger is what one has to hand? or should one say fuck the plunger and find some more authentic way to “be a unicorn”?  can i be a poetcan i be a poet? these are, of course, my questions. your mileage will vary.

what i love about this poem is that i spin off in a million directions. “Advice to Young Poets” is, among other things, somehow a window into my head. and yet despite all of the scattered and varied thoughts it engenders, i consistently return to the body of the poem itself. not only because it remains startling after countless visits, but because of the language play. “pretend” and “plunger” are beautiful words to encounter in proximity.


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