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What constitutes poetic conversation?

In the current issue of Magma, issue 49 there’s an article by Katharine Kilalea. Her book Ede’d Leigh, (Caracanet) was long listed for the Dylan Thomas Prize for writers under 30. She reflects on a symposium’s discussion on creative writing classes. Do they provide

‘an enriched environment’ for lab rats (like having more exercise wheels or more human contact, etc)[…] create an enriched environment for the imagination. At this point JM Coetzee […] said something to the effect of, “But I think we may be applying a very rational understanding to something which is fundamentally irrational.” Since then I have often returned to this thought. What constitutes an irrational conversation? How can things be spoken of on their own terms? And following from this, how would it be possible to have a more poetic conversation about poetry?

Part of what she considers is the awkwardness of wrokshops where we talk about the language and presentation “overhearing the content” while not addressing it. Talk about the how but not the what and why? Sometimes we are making delicate suggestions of line breaks, punctuation, energy, momentum, word choice while stoicly ignoring that the entire lot is rot of sentimentalism, or a convoluted syllabic monkey scream, or petty surface narrative complaints. We don’t feel we are in our rights to put anything on the table that digs too deep.

We need boundaries in such an intimate space as self-expression, especially when the people workshopping are newbie and are whispering secrets furtively that no one has ever suspected and is only the first 1% of finally opening a door. We can’t be too harsh with such frightful risk and heart ventured.

We crit the poem, not the poet, not the life, not the thinking, just facilitate it being said more fittingly to the subject. As she points out “no one wants to end up with a group therapy session. And so we are careful to heed the area at the heart of the poem which has been carefully demarcated as “Not open for discussion”.

Yet. Are we doing poetic conversation if we don’t examine the underlying, if we don’t inquire into assumptions, world views, question the point of view, the perceptiveness, guide what is perceived as self-evident and what needs to be more unpacked for an audience larger than the person who composed it? Ask into what do you hear yourself saying? Can you speculate on why this matters? To ask too big of question too early risks a hand of composition that tries to block itself and urge itself in a direction. The point is for awareness, to observe, not to necessarily change, but to understand what you have written.

Would doing that damage the “magic” of the poem? A poem is sturdier than that. The sounds are sections of one leaf of a huge ecosystem of tree within. Asking after the forms of illogic and logic doesn’t mean trying to force a poem into a hierarchy of sense, nor is it to shrug it off as unknowable.

Part of the discussion can be the why of sound choice, looking at the mechanism of how the story works, of how the poem works, of how the ideas evolved, picked up from what, going towards what. No agenda need be set as a result but the conversation can include a broader perspective of context. That, again, might venture towards oversharing and a personal conversation rather than one of craft but the lines cross at times. To edit, we need an impersonalness, a sense of changing this totem, not ourselves. We keep ourselves out of it, conversing at a distance of these specimens, these scat, picking apart hairs and exoskeletons, seeing if some pattern of habit and habitat can be discerned and learned from.

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