Heart Above an Open Book

Some Questions to Ask of Your Poem

Jack Ridl

I taught the composing of poetry for thirty-seven years at the college. Here is a little note and a list I sent out before each class began.

Let's make poems for some real reasons to enter art—to bring worlds to one another that we otherwise would not have, to create a place where you are safe to be you, to give your inward self the care and validation it needs and deserves, to write in order to have moments IN the writing that bring to you what you most cherish, care about, that connect you to the meaningful parts of your life, those that you are distracted from most of the time.


Here's a question I am often asked: "Is my poem any good?"

Here are some other, I hope, better questions:

Is my poem a place you were glad to be in?
Is my poem one that connected you to something that matters?
Is my poem one that brought you a smile? Moved you to realizations? To feeling like crying or sighing? To laughing out loud?
Is my poem one that took up your time and you're glad it did?
Is my poem like an honest friend, a good pal?
Is my poem one that enlarges your world, your heart?

Is my poem SINGING the blues?
Is my poem like a faithful mutt?
Is my poem useful to your spirit?


Is my poem useful?
Is my poem larger than Canada?
Is my poem smaller than a snowflake?
Is my poem one that enlarges the temple?
Is my poem one that comforts?
Is my poem one that shames the oppressive?
Is my poem one that redeems? Reconciles?
Is my poem so tiny and important to you that you want to keep it in your pocket or a locket?
Is my poem one that points you toward what you want to have time to care about?
Is my poem one you would give to someone?
Is my poem one that makes you so mad you want to fix the world?
Is my poem making a wonderful fool of itself?
Is my poem a means to healing?
Is my poem wonderfully silly, whimsically heart happy?
Is my poem risking what's worth risking?
Is my poem a Saturday?
Is my poem a turtle crossing the road?
Is my poem trying to speak to one human heart?
Is my poem glad and grateful to have come into the world?

Jack Ridl

Jack Ridl’s latest collection, Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (2013, Wayne State
University Press.), was named one of the year’s two best books of poetry by Foreward/the American Library Association/Independent Bookstores. Broken Symmetry (Wayne State) was named best book of poetry by The Society of Midland Authors in 2006, and Losing Season (CavanKerry) was named by the Institute for International Sport as the best sports related book for 2009. He is co-author with Peter Schakel of Approaching Literature (Bedford/St. Martin’s). Ridl was one of twelve writers invited by the Fetzer Institute to a weeklong conversation on compassion and forgiveness. The Carnegie Foundation (CASE) named him Michigan’s Professor of the Year. More than eighty-five of his students are now published authors. Jack is featured in issue 296.3, Summer 2011.

Illustrations by Anthony Tremmaglia, an Ottawa-based illustrator, artist, and educator. His clients include WIRED, Scientific American, Smart Money, HOW, and San Francisco Weekly. Anthony is featured in issues 299.1, Winter 2014 & 299.4, Fall 2014. Find more of Anthony's work at http://www.tremmaglia.ca/