Thursday, April 21, 2011

The poetry of who and what we are and do

It's natural that we read other poets to inspire us with the writing of our own poems. And healthy too! We should be aware of what's going on in the world of contemporary poetry around us. And I know that when I'm reading poetry, I write more poetry. I also know that if I read more prose, I find it more difficult to write poetry. Perhaps the patterns and rhythms of what I'm reading are absorbed by my unconscious and, when I sit down to write, the echoes of what I've read most recently are the first to emerge.

How about you? Do you write what you read, influenced by the patterns, and perhaps themes, on the page? Or are you able to write in whatever form you choose, regardless of what you're reading?

And have you identified what kind of poetry you write?

When someone asked me that for the first time, in the early 1990s, it took me by surprise. I hadn't long been writing and hadn't developed any measure of objectivity towards my own work. But to know what we're doing, to be aware of what matters to us and how we want to affect an audience, can only help us as writers.

I've always wanted poems I read to make me think and feel, so I've tried to achieve that in my own writing. And feel a responsibility to 'entertain' an audience. But I don't mean that in the sense of superficial laughter and enjoyable trivia. I mean it in the sense of the original meaning of the word, which comes from 'inter' (to be among) and 'tenere' (to hold). Isn't that an amazing thing for us to try and achieve? To be among our audience, to be part of them, and to hold their attention.

Feel free to respond to any of the above questions and points, and extend the discussion too, in the Comments box, in prose or even poetry.

Write well.


Anonymous said...

The Poetry Suitcase

I must repack my suitcase
because it just won’t close.
It has no label, no destination.
Words strewn everywhere, anywhere,
worse than a teenager’s bedroom.
Superfluous adjectives,
well-worn clichés and overweight rhymes,
adverbs crushing weak verbs,
second-hand phrases borrowed,
never returned,
flat language and bumpy metres.
Too many similes and not enough metaphors.
Spare space filled up with waffle.
All a jumble so nothing fits.

A little more reflection
what to put in,
what to leave out.
just maybe
it’ll zip tight and know where it’s going.
I have found the poetry journey a rocky experience and wrote this when I was at a low ebb and found it cathartic. Much of modern poetry I find difficult to understand and feel ashamed of this. Your poetry is a refreshing exception,Lyn.

Glenn Buttkus said...

I have been a writer for over fifty
years, and I remember one of my
better English professor's early on
in college complaining that he was
having difficulty grading my work,
for it was obvious to him that my
free-wheeling style in progress was
developing from my reading of others,
from film, from life, but he was sad
that it progressed thus without the
benefit of my studying or regurgitating
rules of grammar or parameters of
poetry. Rhyme schemes for me have
always felt like attempting to sprint
while stuck in an iron lung. It bored me;
still does. My ignorance and arrogance
astonishes me, but has never held
back my pen as I continue to emerge
as an American primitive, self-taught,
a loose poetic cannon, shifting styles
like changing socks.

Still I must say that my prose has been
very influenced by those magnificent
and complex William Faulkner and
Cormac McCarthy sentences that run
more than a full page, piling clause
upon clause like a great stack of
bleached driftwood, every shape
and several types, floated in from
diverse corners of the globe, and
aping the pure complexity of life,
illustrating that tidy theories like
original Darwinism and the infamous
Boar Atom are now seen as shaggy,
primitive, and barely touch the truth
of us. I believe we are in lesson
throughout each lifetime. I feel that
I lived several lifetimes in Scotland.

When I finished the first draft of
my existential Western, BLACKTHORN,
in 1965, and I showed to several
English professors at the U of W,
they were amazed but confused.
"It is like Vonnegut wrote a Western.
You have broken every convention of
the genre with explicit sex, free verse,
metaphysical aspects, spiritualism,
and excessive violence. The Western
Writers of America cringe in their
Larado boots." I considered this high
praise at the time.

So I return to your site regularly,
praying for some of your praise,
cringing at your criticisms like a
callow and awkward youth coming
to you with my poetry scribbled
out on scraps of old paper. You
are both poet and teacher, and
your candor, honesty, and marks-
manship are rare excellent, helping
me to see that I still have room in
the chambers of my muses to learn.
I will continue to squat at your feet
and sup at your table for a time.

Lynne Rees said...

Catherine, Glenn -

Thank you for your responses, and thank you too for the kind words. I'm so pleased to hear that AppleHouse and what I contribute to the site support and inspire you.

@ Catherine: I don't think you should feel ashamed at not understanding any poetry. Different poems will speak to us at different times. I remember looking at some collections of poetry when I first started writing and not having a clue what the poet was saying. A few years later the same work was abundantly clear.

Find poets whose work you love now and read them. Some people who inspird me at the beginning and continue to do so are:
Gillian Clarke
Billy Collins
Sharon Olds
Dorianne Laux
Stephen Dobyns

And no matter what stage we find ourselves on the poetry road the struggle to express ourselves is always there. And sometimes leaving something alone for a while instead of worrying at it can be the best course of action.

@ Glenn: I loved reading your writing life story. It's full of passion and enthusiasm. I can't think of better qualities for a writer.

Martin Cordrey said...

I write because I have too;
because there is a world
inside my head, so beautiful
I wish to share it with you,

and yet my letters ,written
on a page, are cut flowers -
that fail to recapture
their former essence

Keith Wallis said...

I write from a position of restlessness. Often reactive to sights or feelings - so its mostly descriptive work. Other folk seem to see more value in my pieces than I do - I find I never complete a piece but more like abandon it (hopefully before I've spoiled it by overwriting). That extends into most aspects of me though and I think I'm a borderline perfectionist. All artistic temperament without the associated talent !
I seem unable to write in the way that best engages me by other writers (if that makes sense)- but I suspect that is because I do not put as much effort into it. The best poets have a much smaller portfolio - Dylan Thomas for instance did not seem to write the vast quantities that we would expect. But maybe that was more a case of being particular about what got seen - and he had a bigger wastebin.
I do love to react to prompts so this workshop has been great fun and the comments from Lynne most helpful.

Anonymous said...

Write me a poem

that has me in it
even though you've never met me -
walk to the edge of the forest of your mind
into no man's land, where the dust devils live.
Wait for me there. I'll be the stranger
who climbs across the barbed wire fence at dusk.
I will be so tired my face will be out of focus,
I'll need your voice to guide me to the trees.
Unless you say the word, I won't know the wood
for the trees, the stream for the path.
Unless you say we're home at the cabin,
there will only be the dark.

Stephen Fryer said...

I was more than halfway through my degree course before I realised that, after studying F Scott Fitzgerald, my stories began to beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. And after studying Ernest Hemingway, all the men in my stories had become steadfast males exhibiting grace under pressure. And so on.
The effect wears off, though. Here is the poem I wrote then, and still believe in:

You ask what I am writing.
I tell you facts, since only they
impress you. I explain what
I am writing. That it is a poem. That my heart
tells me to write so I may breathe.
Even so, you ask me in a different way

what I am writing about. Was there a choice?
Will others choose differently? I tell you what I
am writing, the rush and the swell of it,
how it frees and transports me.

I can see it in your eyes, the next question.
We have been here before. You know what.
I am writing free verse. No it does not rhyme. No
it has no metre. Yes it does, it does
have form. We have been here before, that’s what.

I am writing because I have to. It does not replace
you, it does not displace the china from the shelf,
the dog from the rug, there will be time
after I have finished what I am writing. But for now
this is what I am.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lynne
An interesting post and I'm late responding have been away (note your comment on previous poem, thanks).
I agree very much with your own comments.
Personally at first and even now with two collections under my belt I am reluctant to call myself a poet, I see myself as someone always striving to write a better poem.For the reader of my poems I wish and hope that they feel connected to the work I've written. I am fortunate that some people have taken the time to tell me after readings or by email(having read my work) that they felt a real connection with the poems. This is truly an amazing moment and I'm very grateful when it happens. I read an enormous amount of contemporary poetry and am certain that it does influence me in ways I am not always aware of. If I am not writing I am always reading.

Lynne Rees said...

Hello Martin, Keith, Anonymous and Eileen. Just catching up with your comments on this post.

@ Martin - 'I write because I have to' : that was the first thing I wrote down when someone asked me, 'Why do you write?' in an Adult Education class in about 1989.

@ Keith - good to read your thoughts. I don't think there's a right and wrong... enjoyment is what matters. For example, I don't think I could ever be one of those writers who disciplines themself to write so many words a day... I'd fail after the first 48 hours I'm sure!

@ Anonymous - your poem reads like a spell, a poem that could conjure someone to appear. The imagery is lovely.

@ Eileen - yes, I agree, feedback from someone who has really connected to your poems is wonderful. A woman came up to me once after a reading and said she'd never liked poetry but mine made sense to her, she could 'see' them. I went home with the biggest smile on my face!