Friday, February 03, 2006

Struggling with a Poem’s First Lines & Observations about Ornithologies

I’m still struggling with the opening lines of a new poem. I can see in my head the images that I want to convey and kind of know some of the words I want to use and kind of know the progression of the first stanza or two of the poem. Yet, I keep writing opening lines that I’m unhappy with. So far the best I’ve managed is that I’ve settled on the first three words of the poem. You would think with those first three words that I would be able to make progress from there. Not yet.

I don’t think that I’ve fully learned the lesson of patience when it comes to writing. I want to always write well when I schedule time to sit down and write. It just doesn’t work that way. Another way of solving the problem in the above paragraph is to lower my standards. I write some crap and let it stand and go back and revise later. I don’t think this approach works as well on the beginning of a poem, however. What you write at the very beginning sets up what is to follow. You begin creating a world very quickly in a poem with the first few words.

I plan to do some writing after work today. Maybe I’ll have a breakthrough. In the meantime, I can also revise older poems while I’m working out this opening lines issue. On those opening lines I should probably try again writing a series of opening lines on paper rather than trying to write them in my head or typing out possibilities on the computer screen. I find that the physical act of writing on paper engages my brain differently and helps me get unstuck.

I’m about half way through Joshua Poteat’s Ornithologies. While progressing through his book I often feel that I am reading continuations of one long poem. It is like he is approaching the same subject matter from different angles from poem to poem. I don’t mean this as a criticism, just an observation. My poems are often variations on a theme or a few select themes. A hodgepodge of vastly different poems would make it difficult for a poet to pull a collection together.

Some things Poteat does that’s different from my writing:
· He prefers longer titles, more complex titles, or he will group several poems together using common words in the poem such as “Meditation……..”
· History or allusions to history appear much more in his work.
· We both live in the South, but he draws upon the history and connotations of living in the South.
· So far my greatest generalization about his poems is that they contain a sad beauty.
· City and sometimes suburban landscapes are referred to more in his work.
· The way he will combine words to gorgeous effect creates surreal little jewels of imagery here and there in the poems.
· He writes mostly in the meditative lyrical mode rather than narrative.
· I see self-deprecating humor in many of the poems.
· He likes to refer to the scientific names of animals and plant life. It comes across as an appreciation of language and an urge for exactness or cataloguing among so much loss and ruin.
· I see a knowledge and appreciation for the visual arts in his poems.
· I wonder how much of an influence our teacher Larry Levis had on Poteat’s work. I sense Levis’ last two books in the approach of Poteat’s poems.

Can you tell that I’m enjoying what I’m reading?

I wouldn’t mind interviewing Poteat after I finish his book. Not sure where the interview could be published though afterwards. You don’t usually see first book poets with interviews in literary magazines. Maybe Blackbird would be interested or some other online literary magazine. Someone may have already offered to interview Poteat.


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