Monday, August 14, 2006

Riddle Me This

I’m trying to solve a problem in one of the poems I’ve revising. Below are some notes that I’ve written to myself. If you have any additional ideas or solutions, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Scenario: I have two poems that are companion poems. The first called “The Vicissitudes of Desire” is in the voice of a fortyish male literature and composition professor. The second poem called tentatively “What If” is in the voice of a nineteen-year-old female college student. The professor is highly intelligent, a good teacher, honorable, and somewhat unattractive as he is balding and a little hairy. The college student is attractive, intelligent, and keenly observant. The two poems give two different first-person accounts of the same slice of time/events. Essentially, the professor is attracted to this student for her intelligence and beauty but wants to do the honorable thing and not get involved with her. The college student is aware of his attraction and during an office hours meeting tests him/teases him for her own amusement. She is not attracted to him much physically, but she is attracted to him subconsciously due to his intelligence, knowledge, and sense of humor. The professor poem is believable and successful as a poem, but I am struggling with the young woman’s poem.

Question: How do I make a poem in the voice of a nineteen-year-old female college student interesting and also achieve verisimilitude so that readers believe this is the voice of a nineteen-year-old college student?

Problem: The way a typical person of this age group speaks/thinks is not very interesting rendered as poetry for a literary audience. More mature/interesting language so far makes her sound too much like the professor.

Possible Solutions:

· The young woman is somewhat of a prodigy or old/mature for her age. This justifies making her language more interesting, more mature sounding. Have to be careful here that she doesn’t sound too similar to the professor.
· Achieve verisimilitude not with HOW the young woman says things but with WHAT she says. Make her particular concerns and preoccupations more typical of her age group. The WHAT will have to carry the weight of being interesting over the HOW it is said.
· Recognize that a poem for the young woman is unavoidably an artifice (as all poems are) and represents her truer core thoughts and feelings rather than how she might express them to a friend or even to herself in her conscious mind. Readers may not buy this as a defense and say it doesn’t sound like a young woman’s voice.
· Give the young woman an extra dimension that occupies her in the poem like a book, movie, quote, or some other interest or activity that she thinks about in relation to the professor or in juxtaposition/apart from the professor. This can offset the less interesting content/expression in the poem.
· It’s been suggested that I interview someone of this age group to come up with new material. I’ve already tried eavesdropping on conversations from members of this age group, but that only reinforced the notion that HOW things are said is not very interesting.
· It’s also been suggested to me that I think about someone that I know from this age group and try to imagine their lives and borrow from that (e.g., someone at work, a cousin, etc.).


At 9:25 AM, Blogger Justin Evans said...

I think you should start by writing what you think a 19 year old would say, stereotypes and all. After, change it into what you want to be said, making certain to make it 'true' to yourself. Let it sit a while, then come back to it and change anything which makes you hate it.

All this time, you should be writing what you need the poem to say, even if it's perfunctory and just prose.

Try to marry the two together---resolve the issues each have by mixing them.

At 2:43 PM, Blogger Gerald Huml said...

That's a good idea, Justin. Thanks!


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