Part 10, cont - What Is a Good Poem (conclusion)


What seems key to a successful piece of writing is truth. In Reading Like a Writer Francine Prose quotes Ernest Hemingway when she discusses the writing of good sentences, “’All you have to do is write one true thing. Write the truest sentence that you know,’” (61) but goes on to say that she did not know exactly what Hemingway meant by this (but for years pretended to); that what he probably meant was one beautiful sentence. However, she state that thinking about the true sentence and keeping it as a goal to care about beautiful true sentences is a “means of sustenance”, a way to keep yourself in check as a writer. The notion of writing the “truth” is also discussed in “How to Read”:

One ‘moves’ the reader only by clarity. In depicting the motions of the ‘human heart’ the durability of the writing depends on the exactitude. It is the thing that is true and stays true that keeps fresh for the new reader (22).

This does not mean that clarity is achieved through plainness, though. Clarity means “exactitude”; it means writing the exactly right or true thing to best express “the motions of the human heart.” That is the 'compass' to use as a writer seeking to write good poems.