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What Works/Doesn’t in Poetry

MJ Carson is succinct about the basics: “Don’t bore me, have something to say and put some amount of craft into it. Is that too much to ask of a poet?”

That’s from the discussion afloat in the Amazon forum of what do you hate in a poem?. The phrase “mispunctuated prose” was tossed around in the mosh pit for a bit. One should understand what one is doing but not be bored or boring in the doing. It is a pleasure when one can tell the writer has perceived, thought, read and interacted, not just blindly vented and then abandoned the idea and run on.

How clean should a poem be? What is past the cutoff lines for explicit and oblique, structured and free?

maximus says:

here’s an interesting juxtaposition between Robert Frost and Charles Olson, one of the leading figures in “free verse,” writer of the influential “projective verse” (a very interesting essay for those wanting to know more about “experimental poetry”) and a major “minor” figure in 20th Century literature (he was one of the first, serious scholars of Herman Melville):

Frost — “”There are two types of realists: the one who offers a good deal of dirt with his potato to show that it is a real one, and the one who is satisfied with the potato brushed clean. I’m inclined to be the second kind. To me, the thing that art does for life is to clean it, to strip it to form”

Olson — “Whatever you have to say, leave the roots on, let them dangle, And the dirt, Just to make clear where they come from.”

Reva Hill says,

I like wildness, but not wildness that is sloppy. I like poems where the wood of the poem has been sanded until it feels like a lover’s skin. I like the joints of the poem to be well-fitted. I like poems that move. The poet can have accomplished this by the line, the spacebar, metaphor, syntax, meter–whatever. I do not like poems sitting like well-mannered lumps on the page. Good poems do not obey. Even a good contemplative poem moves–by staying still. I like poems where the poet isn’t afraid of silence. I want what comes out of the silence to be surprising, original. I don’t care if I agree. I like poems that are easy to understand. I like poems that are difficult. I don’t like poems that sound like they were written with the admiration of friends in mind. I like wit. I like poems that make me chuckle, snort, throw the book across the room. But I also like earnest poems–as long as they surprise and have grace. I dislike witty poems where the wit is expected, the delivery ugly. I like the words indigo and akimbo. I currently hate poems with the words indigo and akimbo.

Ah, anything else I might add would be in that shadow now. Beautifully put by Hall.

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2 Responses

  1. I’ve been toying with an idea from Manuel
    Delanda. that self-organization happens at the
    edge between chaos and order. A truly random
    collection of words usually washes out, but
    small steps breaks, selectionsand swaps
    ‘anneal’ the thing, and theme mirages emerge.
    At some stage the reader expects something,
    is denied it, and makes up their own tale to
    glue the thing back together. That delighful
    itch of any unfinished joke or an Ashbery, or
    even the start of a Philosophical thought from
    a structured poem that makes you rummage
    yourself. Sampling can anneal to surreal,
    or even a full-blown scene with fresh phrase
    coinings. The dicey part is frying small fish
    delicately, as Lao Tzu says. Somehow,
    a chemistry without deliberation that
    consumes deliberation later when served.



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Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] reading been shed bore by Pearl Pirie. On her blog, she has some very helpful things to say about What Works/Doesn’t in Poetry. Robert Peake, the senior poetry editor at Silk Road Review has some valuable insights into what […]