In Praise of Failure

Poetry. Cliché.

Engagement. Broken.

Watercolor. Amateurish.

Sales. Bungled.

Singing. Off-key.


With all due respect to Yoda,

Try, try again.


Writing exercise: This poem was triggered by an exercise in Kim Addonizio’s book Ordinary Genius. Start with a title (she suggested this one as well as many others), and write a poem. My writing group added another constraint: 20 minutes.

Et voilá! Well, not quite so easy…

My initial attempt started out very prosy, describing two types of failure: 1) failure to accomplish something you attempted, and 2) failure that comes from not trying at all. Immediately Yoda’s quote came to mind: Do or do not; there is no try. And I kind of wanted to start an argument with him!

My thinking shifted to examples: When had I made an attempt that failed but did not deserve to be abandoned? A prosaic list.

Knowing my time was short (panic!), I asked myself how I could make my existing ideas more impactful. I stripped down the dull sentences into Noun. Adjective. and added the last line to juxtapose Yoda’s quote with the old maxim “If at first you don’t succeed…”


Speed exercises may not turn out world-class poetry (although you may surprise yourself), but they sure get your brain going. One of my writing partners–not a poet–came up with a fabulous poem with vivid imagery that even included a solid (not simplistic) rhyme scheme. Another writing partner created the beginnings of a fabulous essay about who defines what failure is–I can’t wait to see the polished version.

Now that I’ve spent more time describing the process than I did writing the poem…back to your regularly scheduled programming!


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