11 questions of the how and why of poeming.
What do the poems teach?
I hope poetry, along with conversations, blogging, getting to know particular people better, that it keeps my brain in tune to become more aware, astute, observant, knowing how to sidestep bias or discern patterns. They all teach me how to be more articulate and speak and listen to the degree necessary. Rather than locking down an argument they are about being receptive to perceive or look and reexamine. (Part of intellectual rigour is refusing story as much as to tell it even-handedly or well.)
Writing poems is a slow-motion, stop-motion thought. Poems give a space to think through at length. It is easiest to know what I think when I see it in words. When I type I have the distance to see my attitude, or what feelings I’ve been told to project, what I’m reacting against or I generate new to me possibilities. Exploring how vocabulary sets tone (like thrice dotted was saying at the Bot Summit) Memory being what it is, it may be rediscovering what I figured out at several year intervals, but still.
What is the poem necessary for?
Is the poem a material thing? Jorie Graham was asking after that. Poems are not unique snowflake ideas. I find it hard to believe that a meme is encoded in poetry in a way it can’t be in music or movie or life lived without verbal. Its form limits or specializes where it travels because of bias of people who “don’t do poetry”. I am biased towards poetry because it is more likely to be idea-dense than most language.
The poem can be to soothe or stimulate for the audience. It can be for perceiving and creating for the writer. For either it could be to nod the little ape head among like-minds to confirm bias. Like any communication a certain level of nuance can only be understood within a certain range of dialect. General states can go across species so any being can know an ill beetle or ill tree or a healthy or fearful vertebrate.
What niche is for poetry? Marketing? It probably doesn’t tell a joke as well as stand-up. It usually doesn’t tell a myth as well as a traditional storyteller. It doesn’t rebel like graffiti or like meetings with political representatives. What is it doing with all its diversity? I suppose each poem’s use is in the moment of contact where it causes a reaction or immunity. A poem puts something newly remixed into the world, which is largely more of the same but over time there’s a cultural migration that it rides or is ridden by.
It is necessary as a thinking being to have a disciplined way of thinking. You think you understand something until you express. That’s a further test of what you think you believe or know.
You can process patterns in the exploration of form of a novel’s constraints or through a microscope or telescope or field observations. Or little brother sous-chef, language. It is necessary, as a sensory being, to make beauty, to put patterns in order and to create and reconcile the larger patterns.
Who is the poem for?
The poem is for the parts of myself I want to nourish, reform, learn, or convince to speak. The poem is for the not-me who doesn’t yet know they needed it. It is for the future culture. By being conscious of impact we might be able to make a set of futures where our values perpetuate actions that make a more foresightful, insightful world where people are flourishing in difference rather than blocked and shut out and shut down.
At present I hope that anyone will hop on and become part of the dialogue but lives only have so much slack to play with and some are at full extension with all they have going on as is. They want a poem that’s simple. Some minds leap easily and fast. Some see the same patterns everywhere. Some are only comfortable when heavily cued with adjectives of how they are supposed to interpret then obey by feeling sad or angry or connected or pitying or used or whatever their favorite trip is. I suppose my poems are for those who are more drivers than passengers in that way. People who give themselves permission to laugh or be baffled or bored or spurred to learn something else, look something up, examine assumptions.
What’s your relationship to narrative?
Fine, so far as it acknowledges downside, upside, neutrals and doesn’t end in a bummer.
The thing with narrative is that it simplifies into a fiction. What a story is depends on where you arbitrarily cut off the story for the ending you want. Which is fine, except we forget it’s a construction. That’s why the make-beleive of false etymologies and more overt nonsense is more appealing. Even if someone will take anything at face value. A lot of poetry is representational but what if verbal can also be abstract in the painting sense, or impressionism, and communicate?
Do your poems tell a story?
Some do. Some talk around the margins of a few. Set dressing I suppose. Some are anthropologists observing and making a record of what was related, trying to get into the heads of others. Some are about holding an ephemeral, some about exploring, some about creating.
Many are trying to rework—not sound and stillness—but idea and movement. These are usually called “soundy”, or worse “evocative” which means that the reader is entranced but has no wish to understand. As far as I can tell that reader prefers the dazzle or the sensation of feeling confused as a goal.
What work is the poem doing?
Some poems are play spaces, some are work spaces. Some are essaying. Poems that are called “oblique” are not trying to tell a story but often to refuse the monoculture of story. They try to generate combinations of words in different relationships with one another, to abut phrases that force new possibilities. They may play and subvert expected phrases to dislocate the usual motion and deflect clichés —which may not work as a process since they still prime the cliché by punning and spinning near it. They try to make pleasing movements in the ear, faster and slower, breaking against their own momentums.
My poem usually isn’t aiming to be random. Life is all random and its only imaginations that imposes most patterns. Random isn’t often adding value. But to avoid the tyranny and boredom which is narrative is something.
All creation is just selecting and ordering. The selection signal boosts an idea, whether “hip-breakers” (those small rugs that nurses and home care notice cause seniors to trip and break a hip) or “disproportional”. Its work is partially resistance, partly exposure therapy, partly tickles. It is to stretch neurons. I suppose particularly with homophonic translations, I never know what is going to happen next. I’m trying to avoid letting understanding come in. Depending on what I start with there’s no syntax or semantic safety net. What it generates reveals itself to me in the process of translating and editing. Then I can create things I’ve never thought. At least in that way. I can trick myself into not repeating myself, exploring then trying to tether it back into grammatical linked, maybe in-filled surreal story. It’s like a whisper game of what’s in the air and what could be made.
How does it hook or be sticky?
The opening hook tends to be an unexpected tight line. There shouldn’t be a dull word in any phrase. Each line should be able to stand on its own as fresh. (That strength of freshness, I suppose, relies on youth more than considered age. ) The end hook tends to be a twist ending payoff which, even with wisdom-lines creeping in, is more a comedy device.
What is missing is a more considered use of rhythm for effect as in music. Intuition for that, needs to be trained and schooled so it is ready when the ideas need arises.
Born in the post-blank-verse era of self-expression where schoolkids were told any arrangement of intent, words or letters make it poetry, poetry tends to ramble, the movement of ideas laid like railway ties but there’s little tension or formal devices. It’s frustrating because sloppy, blasé and vague things are a violence against curiosity and are a closure of self rather than an opening.
How do different poems relate?
I don’t try to make an internal consistency or coherence. There are many routes to many useful places.
Haiku plays pretend that two things coinciding have an influence on each other and color one another. In this way they are like ghost stories. But they are exacting and muscular. They need to allow interpretation space for the reader and multiple readings, reference the past conventions yet extend, do so without being too verbose or self-referential or sentimental. They may pretend to be objective and remove the subject yet aim to move a reader with something that seems to signify. It is a good exercise for paring down. It presumes there is an ordered universe where bad turns are more the exception to the foil of a kind world.
Surreal poetry allows the play of rope so things can fly wild in a dream-like relationship to one another, be symbolic, allegorical, be revealed by writing while concealing. It tends to allow the speech to the nihilism of depression. It allows one to spiel nonsense and imagine your way out and give back control.
Machine-cooperative and fragment sort of poems—cobbled from a word search of a corpus, pwoermds, found phrases, overheard conversations, matryoshka words, scrabble relationships—all allow words to tumble to play against the idea of the world as ordered as it is. It allows play and it refuses the heroes arc of storytelling. This allows to see more of the possibilities not just the search result of 18-1619 TCX Maroon. That allows more spectrum of questions, answers, discoveries. But then, maybe that’s the sole domain where I remain a hopeless optimist.
What makes you despair in poetry?
Too much poetry gives pain like any excess. Too much of one kind doesn’t work for an omnivore system. I despair most when I want to understand the pleasure I see others partaking in but I see only my walls. It is about the people and the rest of the planet, not the hoops of someone or other’s perfection. Each writes to their own need.
What gives you hope for poetry?
When someone comes into their own out of red, shaking, anxious, uncertainty and momentarily finds articulacy, insight and centredness of one thing. A click for the writer that makes me vicariously happy for them. More so if it’s some direction as me. And every now and again someone writes something that I have struggled to understand and they are enough ahead of my curve that they can convincingly succinctly powerfully say what I aimed to. An inner yes.
Does it improve on silence?
That is like insisting only top violinists may begin studying violin. The process of learning requires things worse than good silence, and sometimes worse than bad silencing.
Sometimes it says something that gives self permission to react, witness, or admit so that a small pebble can come out of the shoe so the walk can go on.
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