Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Some Thoughts on Poetry

· There is metrical, formal, syllabic, free verse, language, and prose poetry.
· Most poems can be classified predominantly as either lyrical or narrative poems. Epic poems are usually narrative.
· One key choice for the poet writing a poem is whether the poem will be in past or present tense.
· Another key choice for the poet is whether the poem will be in first person, third person, or second person.
· What form will the poem be in? For example, a traditional form like a sonnet or villanelle, or free verse.
· So much depends upon the line break. You can break the line with these considerations in mind: a key word or emphasized word that lends itself to the theme(s) or message(s) of the poem, a word with energy such as a verb, for musical reasons, for line length in comparison to other lines in the poem, and for visual reasons (using the page as a canvas). Some poets believe that line breaks are like musical notation and are one of the main ways a poet can convey his or her unique voice in a poem (Denise Levertov). Generally it is best to break a line on a noun, verb or adjective rather than other parts of speech such as a preposition or article.
· It’s important to choose dramatic moment or peak experience for the moment or moments in a poem.
· “There is one rule for poetry. There are no rules.” --William Patrick
· “Make it new.” --Ezra Pound
· Make the real unreal and the unreal real. This lends interest and credibility to a poem.
· Generally, formal verse forces you to be more meditative, big picture, and make sweeping general statements. Free verse allows you to be more conversational and more specific.
· Prose proceeds and poetry turns.
· Think of a poem as content you draw a circle around and intensify through heightened language what is within the circle.
· Poetry has its roots in the oral tradition, so I believe it is meant to be musical and read aloud.
· One way to make your language sound more poetical is to cut words that you would normally include in prose.
· Poetry should be eloquently said or beautiful, even if the content of the poem is about ugly things.
· Diction: nitty-gritty monosyllabic or dissyllabic Germanic words versus polysyllabic Latinate words. Ex: dark, hammer versus ephemeral, cognition.
· Nouns and verbs are the workhorses in poems. Particularly verbs.
· No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader. –Robert Frost?
· There are witty poems. Meditative poems.
· Tone can be one of the greatest pleasures in a poem.
· Consider modulating your tone in a poem.
· There is so much magic and the essence of what is poetry to be found in imagery and specificity. Generally, the more specific the better.
· Poetry, like any art, is a vast ocean. There is always more to learn.
· Poets lie and steal. Don’t think you have to have allegiance to the truth of what actually happened. If it makes a better poem to alter the facts, do so.
· Always revise according to what’s best for the poem. Be ruthless.
· Don’t despair over cutting well said sections of your poem if they need to be cut from the poem. Don’t treat those words as precious things you can’t part with. If you wrote those words, you will be able to write plenty more like them in the future. If it makes you feel better about cutting them out of your poem, save all of your well said orphan words in a file somewhere lest you fear they will be lost forever.
· Poetry does not always translate well out of one language and into another. Translators have to choose between literally translating meaning or striking a balance with other considerations like tone and music.
· There is an art to titling poems.
· Art is about finding that just right balance among competing considerations.
· When revising a poem, you often have to make tough choices among competing considerations such as sound, sense, line length, look on the page, perfect or slant rhyme, etc.
· The objective correlative of T.S. Eliot. There’s a kind of imagery that corresponds to a specific emotion or mixture of emotions.
· Do you play it safe and write the “academic poem” that’s politically correct and examines fairly all sides of an issue, or take a stand and present it forcefully. I argue for the later. You can always write subsequent poems to adequately present the other aspects. Advice from Gerald Stern.
· When giving feedback on another person’s poetry, remember that we all have our aesthetic biases and try to make the other person write like we do. Try your best to keep this in check and instead see what the poem is trying to be on its own terms. Look for the hints it is giving towards what it wants to be. Try to take on the other poet’s aesthetics and imagine how the poet can best revise the poem from that point of view.
· “No ideas but in things.” --William Carlos Williams
· Write about what you know. Generally, yes, good advice, but you should also learn about things you don’t know and write about them. Write about what you know can be bad advice for young poets who don’t know a lot. It is better to send them to the library to learn about things that they can bring into their poems. Good and interesting poems can come from research.
· “Write as if a train is bearing down upon you.” With a sense of urgency. Advice given to Joshua Poteat in a Poteat interview.
· Tony Hoagland’s idea of how many poems suffer from not having enough things going on in them. Tony talks about angularities in a poem. How you should import other content into the poem, often random or out of left field content.
· Writing a poem well and easily is often about how well you can slip into a kind of trance mode when it feels like the poem is coming from a place other than you and you are just listening and taking dictation.
· You have to get to the unconscious and use the unconscious as your ally. You have to consciously give your unconscious marching orders to follow and problems to solve. The unconscious will work behind the scenes and if you are patient eventually come up with a creative solution.
· Be stubborn and patient when it comes to poetry. From Phillip Levine.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Life ain't nothin' but a funny, funny riddle

--From “Thank God, I’m a Country Boy” by John Denver


Hard work without talent is a shame, but talent without hard work is a tragedy.

--From a 7/16/2007 fortune cookie


Laughter is an instant vacation.

--Milton Berle


Poetry's project is to use every aspect of language to its maximum effectiveness, finding within it nuances and powers we otherwise could not hear. So the poet needs to be a supreme handler of the figurative speech we all use everyday, employing language's tendency to connect like and disparate things to the richest possible effects. In poetry, figuration is at its most sophisticated: condensed, alive with meaning, pointing in multiple directions at once.

It's a kind of perceptual signature, a record of a way of an individual way of seeing. This is one of the central things which poetry is: a vessel of individuality, a distillation of the way one person experiences the world, knows herself in time and in place.

--From “Speaking in Figures” by Mark Doty

Thursday, July 12, 2007

There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke.

--from “All along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan


Light comes out of black.


wis·dom (w¹z“d…m) n. 1. Understanding of what is true, right, or lasting; insight: “One cannot have wisdom without living life” (Dorothy McCall). 2. Common sense; good judgment: “It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things” (Henry David Thoreau). 3.a. The sum of scholarly learning through the ages; knowledge: “In those homely sayings was couched the collective wisdom of generations” (Maya Angelou). b. Wise teachings of the ancient sages. 4. A wise outlook, plan, or course of action. 5. Wisdom. Bible. Wisdom of Solomon. [Middle English, from Old English wºsd½m. See weid- below.]

--American Heritage Dictionary

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Poetry Dream

I dreamed this morning that I was the guest poet slated to read during an arts festival at a small college. The organizer of the events was around my age or maybe a little younger, and he was looking forward to my reading. I was being treated as an honored guest around the students, and there were some leather armbands that were made and distributed to the festival attendees that had words from one of my poems weaved in gold-colored thread into the black armbands. I remember feeling a bit nervous about the reading, but I knew that I would do a good job. I was going to read my very strongest work and work that works the best when read aloud. There was some sort of complication with the arts festival that was going to delay my reading an hour or so. In the dream I never got to read my poems.

Friday, June 29, 2007

If there existed no external means for dimming their consciences, one-half of the men would at once shoot themselves, because to live contrary to one's reason is a most intolerable state, and all men of our time are in such a state.

--Leo Tolstoy

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Fortune Cookie Wisdom

Do not seek so much to find the answer as much as to understand the question better.

Great things are accomplished only by the perfection of minor details.

Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley.

Ideas not coupled with action never become bigger than the brain cells they occupied.

How can you have a beautiful ending without making beautiful mistakes?


I haven’t been posting regularly for quite awhile. Some news updates. The publication of my villanelle “For a Wreath on a Live Oak, Route 22” in Poetry Southeast was supposed to appear in the spring issue. It has now been deferred until the summer issue. For reasons I won’t go into here, I’ll be curious to see if my poem appears in the summer issue.

I received my contributor copies of SLAB a couple of weeks ago. The tercets of my long poem “Drive” with its long lines came out all wrong. It looks like ragged prose on the page. At least one of the editors took the time to include a card apologizing for the errors and assured me that the poem will be in the correct format when it appears online. It will probably be August or early September before the new issue of SLAB appears online.

I recently received an acceptance for my poem “Unacceptable” from Niteblade.

Yesterday I received my contributor copies of The Akros Review that contain my pantoum “Buona Notte.”

I’ve received around a half dozen rejections during the last couple of months. Notable among the rejections was a handwritten note on the rejection slip from Boulevard. They indicated that they liked “Thoor Ballylee” and “When We Met,” but they receive so much great work and can’t find a place for all of it. That’s probably the nicest rejection that I’ve received.

My enthusiasm for poetry has been absent for the past two months. Part of it has to do with how busy my 8 to 5 job has been (which has calmed down now). I think I’m also in one of those fallow periods where I don’t have much to say. I’ve also gotten out of the habit of writing regularly. I’m just now beginning to feel the poetry embers glow again.