Jill Alexander Essbaum

Jill Alexander Essbaum

Excerpted from Jill Alexander Essbaum’s “A Poem Should Not Be Mean But Behave: Good Breeding for Poems”

Fashion and beauty have little in common, though fashion has wiles enough to mimic what’s beautiful.

A remarkable hat will not suffice when paired with a hideous ensemble. Never waste a peerless title on a frumpy or unkempt poem. The inverse of this rule also applies.

The woman of irreproachable style will always veer slightly from current fashion. The poem of genuine brilliance will be consistently misconstrued.

When in doubt, choose the plainer dress, the simpler word.

Beware of faddism, flummery.

How dashing, a tuxedo tailored to fit! What elegance, the made-to-measure gown! In the matter of formal poetry, the practice of altering a traditional pattern to achieve an exclusive, inimitable fit is customary. 
Here, a (hem) line taken in. There, a qua(train) added on. For, as the simple rhyme instructs us: When garment of poetry bespoke be / Your verse shall be spoken most radiantly!

The best suit is always the one that suits best the body that wears it.


The fashion police for good poetry writing are out in full force! In the latest issue of Poetry magazine contemporary poet Jill Alexander Essbaum adopts metaphors of fashion and etiquette to produce a list of do’s and don’ts for writing poetry.  Witty food for thought. See my post on Nabokov to see the flip side: how comments about literary style can be applied to fashion. Thanks to  Zachary Ludington for bringing this piece to my attention. Visit this link to read the whole list of “Good Breeding for Poems.” For more on Alexander Essbaum‘s poetry, visit her site.

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3 Responses to Concerning Dresses and Stresses

  1. Claire says:

    Wonderful advice for all writers! And yet so hard to do, as Essbaum perhaps suggests in her poem “4:13 a.m.”
    The shift of sleepwalks and suicides.
    The occasion of owls and a demi-lune fog.
    Even God has nodded off

    And won’t be taking prayers til ten.
    Ad interim, you put them on.
    As if your wants could keep you warm.

  2. Alice says:

    This is a brilliant post!

  3. Alice says:

    Thanks for the brilliant post!

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