How does a poem work on us? The best poems can make us think and feel. They can transport us into our own memories. They can suggest ideas and ask us to reflect and ponder. But how? And how can we make our own poems do that to readers too?
We have to learn to articulate our craft choices. We need to know why we choose a particular form or shape. Why we break lines at certain points. Why we choose one word or image over another. And all those choices need to relate to what the poem is about as a whole, its emotional tone, its intention. The HOW and the WHAT of a poem are inextricably linked.
This critical process isn't a part of first drafts though. That's the time to play, let the creative mind express itself freely and not impose any restrictions and what we want to say and how we want to say it. It's in the subsequent shaping and editing that we need to make conscious choices.
One of the best ways to improve our own conscious critical process is to look at other poets' poems and try to identify what craft choices they have made. It's not necessary to know anything about the poet themselves to do this. All we need is the poem on the page in front of us, several readings over a number of days to let the poem work on us, and then a couple of sessions looking more carefully at the poem and making notes.
If anyone would like to give this a go, try it with the poem below.
Digging into the apple
with my thumbs.
Scraping out the clogged nails
and digging deeper.
Refusing the moon color.
Refusing the smell and memories.
Digging in with the sweet juice
running along my hands unpleasantly.
Refusing the sweetness.
Turning my hands to gouge out chunks.
Feeling the juice sticky
on my wrists. The skin itching.
Getting to the wooden part.
Getting to the seeds.
Not taking anyone’s word for it.
Getting beyond the seeds.
1. Print the poem and read it ALOUD once or twice a day over a period of 5 to 7 days WITHOUT making notes. This is thinking time.
2. Once this time has elapsed look at the poem again. What does it make you think and feel? Is there an overall theme? What choices do you think the poet might have made during the creation of this poem? The following aspects might be worth looking at:
a. The title
b. The shape of the poem on the page - its overall shape and where line breaks have been made
c. Some of the language choices the poet has made
d. The repetition in the poem.
d. The poem's dramatic development, i.e. how it begins and where it ends and what happens in between
If you'd like to post your comments, please feel free to do so, but please keep them to less than 500 words. Thank you.
A slightly different prompt to start the month and I hope you enjoy it. Jack Gilbert's poem is a favourite of mine.