Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Friday, 17 October 2008

Why am I a poet?

A while ago Rachel Fox mentioned a new Scottish website that I should check out. Always keen to support my fellow countrymen and women I immediately clicked on the link. One Night Stanzas is a site committed to supporting up and coming poets. This excited me. There are loads of sites out there to which you can submit your poetry – who needs another one? – but there are not so many about poetry and when I was in my late teens and early twenties that was what I wanted to read. Poetry I had no problems finding even back then but I wanted to know more.

Anyway, I'll return to my miserable past in a minute. One Night Stanzas, is the brainchild of a flame-haired, young lady called Claire Askew. I decided to find out a little about her and I was delighted by what I discovered. And a little jealous, yes, if I'm honest with myself.

I have an interview coming up with her shortly but in the meantime she's kindly let me do a guest post on the theme Why Am I a Poet?

It's strange but I've never really sat down and asked myself that question before. Well, I have but I've never taken the question seriously. The thing is there are a lot of new people starting off and trying to find their feet. They have a lot of questions and I bet the majority are, as I was, surrounded by people who are incapable of providing answers.

One of the programmes we watch regularly is the Ri¢hes, a dark comedy-drama series about a group of travellers who are trying to pass themselves off as a rich American family. The youngest son likes to dress up in girls' clothes and, although not a major character, the drama does take time to watch him struggle with this. I would have no idea what to say to a son of mine if I found out he was a transvestite. It's not that I wouldn't want to be supportive but the bottom line is I don't get it. And I guess that's how my father felt when I told him I was a poet (not that I wrote poetry – major distinction here). He read what I showed him but he didn't get it. He just waited for me to get it out of my system. Only I never did.

In time he started to lose patience with me. I placed too much importance on it. It's fine to have a hobby, son, but it's a hobby, that's all it is. How could I explain to him that this was normal for me? I had a hard enough time coming to grips with that myself because no one around me was like me. So what did I do? I did what most people in my position do – I went underground. Every now and then I tried to pop my head up when new people appeared on the horizon but it was always much the same. Some were more tolerant than others but that was it. They'd put up with only so much.

To be fair I can't hold it against them because most of what I was writing wasn't very good but a bit of encouragement would have gone a long way. And that's what I think is so important about Claire's venture. It's young, only a few weeks old, but it is aimed at the young although none are turned away. Here's the link to my post again and after you've read it have a look at the rest of her site. I'll post our interview in a few days.


Dominic Rivron said...

Interesting post. You got me thinking about people's attitudes to aspiring poets. Basil Bunting wrote an interesting, much anthologised poem about it, which you probably know, but for anyone who doesn't, it's here:

Art Durkee said...

The site looks pretty good, and your article was thoughtful and introspective in a good way.

I have to say, though, and this is just for myself, it doesn't have to refer to anyone else: I have to say, I am past spending my time at beginner's sites. I'm ready for grad school, I don't want to keep repeating the same elementary lessons all the time. Many of which I could have written myself. Again, this is no judgment on anyone, it's just where I'm at right now.

I wonder when someone will present just as compelling and interesting a guidance site for folks who already have a lot of writing under their belts. It would be nice.

Liara Covert said...

You only ever do what you choose. Any given choice is something you need to grow. You gradually raise awareness about the good in everything you do.

Rachel Fox said...

I like Claire's site/blog. It has a youthful excitement, cheerfulness and open-mindedness that I really appreciate and enjoy. Even the images she chooses...they're so bright and lively and 'I don't care if I put up a picture of cupcakes'. In contrast grown-up responsibilities and experiences and disappointments (and bickerings) can be so...grey. Claire's blog is every other colour - turned up full!

Jim Murdoch said...

You know the strange thing, Dominic, it looks vaguely familiar but it must have been years since I read it and I'm not that convinced I ever have. I can't say I've ever been a great fan of Bunting's up till now but this one certainly hits the nail on the head, doesn't it? I particularly liked the stanza:

   Nasty little words, nasty long words,
   it's unhealthy.
   I want to wash when I meet a poet.

I've not had that said to me in so many words but I have been asked why I don't write about nice things and basically my line of logic is that the nice things in this life don't need my help, they're doing fine on their own.

Art, I think we're pretty much on our own, son, though I'd like to think my site is aimed at everyone. I have no ego, not much of one anyway, and I'm keen to learn. It's why I like reading your site because we come at things from very different backgrounds and perspectives and get the love of writing keeps each of us respectful of the other's position. No one is going to learn a damn thing if they spend all their time with people who are exactly like them. You need someone in the other corner to keep things interesting. That's how we grow.

The reason I am so keen to see Claire's site succeed is that I have not forgotten what it was like being a teenager on my own – so on my own – trying to keep my belief in myself when everyone around me was saying, to quote Basil Bunting, "Go and find work", so I did and nearly got swallowed up by the system. It is only the fact that I have managed to keep this bubble around myself that has kept me going but the thing about bubbles is that you're on your own in there. I had no one to ask and so I made up my own rules. I know poetry is not an illness but at the same time I think new poets can use a support structure. "Oh, Christ! I'm turning into a poet. What do I do? Who do I call?"

Liara, another Aussie I see! (I have no idea why but it always pleases me to see Australians finding my site.) Choice. Yeah, I'm actually not sure, given a choice, that I would've picked 'poet'. I wanted to be a composer. I wanted to write a string quartet. I still do actually. I just struggled writing four-part harmony – too many second inversions for some reason – but the words were there, all I had to do was give in to them. Okay, yes, I chose to give in to them if you want to be pedantic about it but not to, to my mind, was going against my true nature. I guess that means when it comes to the whole nature vs nurture issue I'm in Nature's corner because no one ever encouraged me to write; the very opposite is truer.

And, Rachel, yes, you're right, and I think that is one of the things that will attract younger people. I find her energy exhausting I have to be honest. And I seriously hope she doesn't try and do too much. There is a lot there but if she manages to build a decent support structure around her then it is doable. And more power to her elbow. I would like to see more articles about the nuts and bolts of writing a poem. I would really like people to get off their high horses and explain why they do the things they do. I'm not too old to learn.

Leanne said...

Interesting. And you're right. The world is still not that welcoming to poets. I've always HAD to write.

I just have never written poetry. Now you've got me thinking about what we're 'called' to write. Isn't it wonderful how we're all programmed so differently? Remind me of this as my kids mature.

Jim Murdoch said...

The thing is, Leanne, you're sitting there all prepared for your kids to be chips off the old block and I can just see you in x number of years time when they discover their true vocation in life is to pole-dance.

This is not a new story. Sir John Betjeman had a difficult relationship with his father who high hopes he would follow him (and four previous generations) into the furniture making business. Betjeman was never interested in a career in business striving to make a living though poetry and literature. This proved to be a sore point between the two. After his father’s death he wrote about this:

So looked my father at the last
Right in my soul, before he died,
Though words we spoke went heedless past
As London traffic-roar outside.

from 'A Child III'

The real irony is, of course, that the poetry he chose to write, although appreciated by the general public (then again, what do they know?), was not generally regarded by literary critics (who know about these things).

Betjeman followed his calling to the bitter end. He did so cheerfully, at least he presented the world with a cheerful front. And that's the sad thing, the thing the critics often misinterpreted as lightness.

isabelle said...

Hello Jim, thank you for directing me to the site, there's some interesting stuff over there.

I have always loved to write, and poetry is my favourite form, I can't imagine not doing it.I could never actually call myself a writer or a poet though, for so many reasons. A dissatisfaction with everything I write is probably the biggest one ,lack of confidence , another. It's always as if I am reaching, but never touching.

I wondered too, whether your success, in the sense that you are published ,has made any difference to your perception of yourself as a poet?

Jim Murdoch said...

Isabelle, the simple answer to your question is: yes. Publication provided validation. It got to the stage in the eighties that I knew certain magazines would always take something by me and after a while the need to see myself in print waned and finally went away. Now that I've started sending stuff out again I know full well what will get accepted but I'm sending the stuff out for different reasons now. It's a way of directing attention to my blog which will be the focus of all my writing.

As for you, who did this to your confidence? I've been to your blog, which I have now subscribed to, and I see nothing to be embarrassed about at all. Not every poem is perfect nor are they all to my tastes but there wasn't one that didn't have something and a lot of them had more than that. I read some of the comments and it's clear that other people agree. I recognised Ani Smith's name. Hers is another blog I read faithfully and look forward to reading.

So, I would say to anyone reading this post, take a minute or two and have a look at Isabelle's blog. It's called Letters to Ed. See what you think. Leave a comment or two.

For the record the poems I liked the most were: 'Fragments', 'Home Baking', 'thespacebetweenus', 'Fuzzy Logic' and 'enough'. I'm not sure which is my favourite, probably 'Fuzzy Logic'. I might even have a poem called 'Fuzzy Logic' – I'll have to check – but I really like the imagery in that one.

Roberta S said...

Jim, I read your piece about why you became a poet and found the answer hiding within the content of what you said, like the hidden meanings buried in poetry.

Never studied poetry, know little about it, but I think my fascination with poetry is that it takes me 'beyond reason' (those are words you stated in your discussion that rang loudly in my head). And then, having been captured and taken to this place, I am bound and held by the hypnotism of word contrasts, rhythms, beats, and measures.

Sorlil said...

Jim, you're leapfrogging all over cyber-space, I can hardly keep up!

Jim Murdoch said...

Roberta, thanks for your comment, but I'm not sure I would describe my relationship with words as 'beyond reason' because to my mind what I do is perfectly reasonable, natural. What the reason is I couldn't tell you but I long ago gave up belief in simplistic causality. I don't think knowing the causes will make me a better poet. A man with a broken leg learns to limp as best he can. Does it really matter what broke his leg? And if by using that as an illustration you think I'm equating writing with being broken in some way then you're right, I am. I've always believed that to be true in my case. There may be other writers out there who aren't broken but I suspect they're either deluding themselves or haven't yet identified the hurt that started them off, although I agree that what starts one off writing may not necessarily be what keeps them writing and this is where I think taking an overly simplistic view of cause and effect is pointless.

There is another aspect to the naturalness of writing poetry – here I do differentiate it from my prose work – and that is you can't (at least I can't) artificially create the right frame of mind to make a poem work. For me poems just happen. Prose, because of the extended time involved in writing, is a completely different ball game.

And, Sorlil, what can I say? I really didn't expect Claire to put my post up as quickly as she did. I guess that's the impetuosity of youth, eh? So I had to rush this blog which I really would have preferred to have had more time on. That said, it's sometimes surprising what turns up off the cuff.

Dave King said...

Telling most people (I think it is most people) that you write poetry - or that you are a poet - is like telling them that you are a train spotter. They mark you down as some sort of anarak. Yet most people have written poetry at some time in their lives. It's like religion, it's okay as long as you don't get serious. I think I have told the story of my parents going to see my headmaster (Grammar School) to tell him I wanted to go to art school. His reaction was "Trouble is, I've appointed an art master who is too good at his job. Half the school want to paint!" I've never given much thought to why I write poetry - probably because I know I couldn't come up with an answer that would ssatisfy me.

Jim Murdoch said...

That's the thing, Dave, I have no desire to convert everyone to poetry. That doesn't mean I want to hog it all to myself either. I believe you have to come to poetry on your own. After that, fine, I'm glad to share what I can. But as far as religions go it is an interesting one. There isn't a Tao of Poetry other than a way in that we're all heading in roughly the same direction. That said, poetry has this in common with religion: a preoccupation with truths. My poems are my tracts. I won't knock on your door and offer you one but I don't mind leaving them lying around for the curious to pick up.

Shelly said...

I wonder if that is not a common experience for poets, Jim, that our poetry makes us feel somewhat on the outside of the communities of which we are otherwise a part? I face the same situation that you describe, where most people around me just don't get the whole "poetry thing." It can be lonely.

Jim Murdoch said...

Yes, Shelly, and what's interesting in your case is that as a teacher any students who approach you will expect you to be the knowledgeable one. The great thing is that you have involved yourself in the Web and that really does shrink the world. When I started off writing I was completely alone apart from the odd note from a kindly editor. I sound like my dad when I say this but the kids these days don't know they're born having access day and night to a world full of other poets. I find it very encouraging although I have to say I've got used to my isolation. I'm not sure I need the emotional support as much now but I could really have used it in my teens.

Art Durkee said...

That's the archetype of the Poet, though, ennit: you're either considered a hobbyist, or weird. it's no wonder some poets who are serious about what they want to achieve develop a chip on their shoulders. Poetry publishing is bigger right now than it has ever been in the Western history—and it still a miniscule drop in the bucket of literary publishing. No one takes it seriously, not even many poets. I hear a lot of resentment, when the topic comes up, often prompted by a question from a young person who wants to be A Poet, that no one actually makes a living as a professional poet. Professional writers get the majority their income from their other writing, with a few notable exceptions, rather than from their poetry. One reason poetry has painted itself into a corner, critically, is that lots of poets have academic jobs, and get stuck in that way of thinking.

Both sides of the stereotype dismiss poetry, really. That's because our culture in general doesn't really understand or appreciate the arts. That's not me being bitter: that's just the facts. The arts are just not taken seriously in our world that is based on a materialist and commercial worldview. So, as usual, the best revenge is doing it anyway, and some of us do scramble a living from it. And most of us will not. I am ferociously pursuing my photography right now, in part because I feel close to turning a corner professionally; but I'm not going to stop writing poems.

I do call myself a poet, and responses from the ignorant be damned. I can say that because for some reason I've developed a bit of self-confidence about my art(s) in general, lately, and I can shrug off more stupidity than I used to be able to. Trust me, I do not ignore the grace of this gift, nor do I lightly brush it off. Rather, I'd love to see more artists and writers develop heavy-duty self-esteem. That more than anything else would demand that we all be taken more seriously by the rest of the world.

Jim Murdoch said...

Art, just before your e-mail I read a post by Gopnik entitled simply On Poetry a substantial part of which I'd like to reproduce here. I do appreciate his forthrightness and I'm even tempted to agree with him on a lot of it.

I personally cannot read/understand poetry without being told by human or annotation what I'm supposed to be seeing. Without help, I might as well be reading a rock wall. I don't think it's a lack of intelligence or knowledge; I would guess it's something like riding a unicycle - quite difficult and without obvious benefit beyond the skill itself.

For most Americans it's teevee, movies and popular music, which is a large part of why I'm [a] hermit. I'm to the point where the noise has died down enough for me to receive the signal, but I still don't know how to process it.

Poetry should probably not be taught to most kids. It almost seems like it's designed to turn them off. The esoteric seems like gibberish and the accessible is either trite (e.g. rock lyrics) or doggerel.

I recently got a phone call from a girl I went to high-school with that still has some of my poems, which I mercifully don't remember, that I had given her. She asked me why I quit writing, and I told her that when I found out there were four billion people in the world I came to doubt my uniqueness.

In the face of an opinion like this – and he's really not being nasty – I have to ask why I continue and why do I publicly encourage people to explore the poetry within and the poetry without. It's not to win over someone like Gopnik. I suspect the damage there is pretty much irreversible not due to any intractability on his part but due to the fact that he didn't get to that stage quickly and it would take a lot to change his mind.

I think the future of poetry lies with the next generation to be honest and in just the same way that recognisable melodies and tonality have crept back into classical music so I expect that poetry will embrace more accessible forms for a while at least. Once the damage of recent experimenters has been forgotten then maybe poetry will be able to spread its wings a little. One hopes. Call me an idealist. I'll be dead by then so it's not my problem.

Art Durkee said...

Gopnik typifies the idiot's response to poetry. I'm sorry, I'm going to be rude about it. His response is typical, not to mention typically anti-intellectual. He makes a valid point about his lack of uniqueness as a writer on a planet full of people—but then again I never made the assumption that anybody would ever care about anything I ever wrote, so I think he is pretty much talking sour grapes on that point. Or just general sourness, not to mention just general spleen. No one can turn as sour and splenetic as a failed idealist, which is what I take him to be. Sure, the world disappointed him, too bad, yet he seems quite willing to try to drag down the world in revenge. I can understand his viewpoint, but I think it's a very blinkered, inherently negative one, and I'm not remotely tempted to agree with it.

On the other hand, Jim, I do agree with you about how these things swing around again, in terms of stylistic fashions, and also how it's encouraging to see a younger generation's passion for poetry, as evidenced by your links that started this discussion. (Gopnik would no doubt shoot down any such hopeful young poetry websites without a moment's hesitation.) Even I don't want to participate myself, for reasons I've already stated, I encourage their existence. Everybody needs an apprenticeship.

As you know, I am very much against most of those esoteric trends in contemporary poetry, such as LangPo, and I think that obscurity for the sake of being obscure is a bad thing. But what Gopnik expresses amounts to throwing out the baby with the bathwater. No alternative is offered, just a blanket rejection. I can't ever subscribe to that kind of blanket rejection. (I don't think you do, either, not really.)

In the end I'll come back to advice that was given to me as a young artist, and which I have passed on to several other young artists in my term, namely:

The world will not understand you or support you. Opinions like Gopnik's abound. So, be very sure you want to get into the arts. If it's as important to you as breathing, then do it. Otherwise, you might want to take up, oh, literary criticism, a far less demanding and far easier job prospect that requires no real dedication or thoughtfulness—or at least it often appears that way. (My tongue is firmly in cheek at the moment.)

if you MUST write, then you're a writer. If music is more important to you than food, then by all means become a musician. If painting means more to you than showering, then you're probably dedicated or obsessive enough to get somewhere with it.

The world is hostile enough as it is, and Gopnik's spleen typifies it. (Sorry, I DO read him as being nasty, in this instance.) But people who NEED to write, who need to make art, have never yet been stopped by the world's opinions. In fact, a true test of need and dedication is if you do in fact let the world stop you. Once again, no one can be as negative as a failed idealist.

Jim Murdoch said...

If I can take Gopnik's points, Art, and go through them:

1) There have been times that I have felt exactly the same as he does - Please, somebody explain this to me! I feel that way right now about E. E. Cummings. I want a bit of paper that explains why he does the things he does. I don't mind that he does them but I'd be sorely disappointed if it was all affectation.

2) There is too much going on right now. I, myself, feel so pressurised to keep abreast of things that finding quiet time to read is actually hard. I only read odd poems online these days and they all feel like work, things to be commented on because I know the people. It's not that I don't want to comment but it's getting dangerously close to not fun any more.

3) I've yet to hear anyone have anything good to say about how they were taught poetry. I think it is often taught by people without a real love of the subject matter who cover the material because it has to be covered and then move on. I was lucky because the poems chosen were ones that were perfect for me. I could see that the kids around me had no interest in an old fart in a bedsit, or a bunch of dead soldiers – none of it was relevant to them.

4) I couldn't give up writing any more than I could stop breathing. I even wrote a poem to that effect once. If Gopnik could give up so easily then writing wasn't a need, it was just a phase he was going through which is perhaps why he finds it so easy to make the observations he has. I can't say. I'm watching a programme on guitarists just now and Dave Gilmour is talking about playing a guitar the way I think about writing. It is how he expresses himself. I get it but at the same time I don't get it.

At the end of the day we only have a few paragraphs to judge Gopnik by and who is to say what exactly he has been through to that has brought him to where he is? That wasn't why I quoted him. I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt because we're here online, in a public forum. The fact is I've known people like you talk about and obviously you have too, shallow-minded people who approach poetry with preconceptions – usually picked up at school – and tar us all with the same brush. Thank Christ for the Internet. That's all I can say. And, yes, I know that's not perfect either but it's better than what we had before.

Art Durkee said...

I've gone over and read a bit of Gopnik's blog, and my opinion of his attitude is unchanged. Also, I read your lovely Claire Askew interview (part 1). I admire her stamina and support her enthusiasm. There are a few contradictions, and a few places in which she answers her own questions, all of which is fine.

I think we all agree that no amount of bad schooling will ever deter an artist who really needs to make art. If the fire is there, it's not going to be stoppable. Obstacles will be passed through or around, and the artist will push on through no matter what. If they have the creative force behind them, they won't be stopped. (This has certainly been the truth of my own experience, as a participant-observer.)

I understand the purpose of One NIght Stanzas, and I support it in the main. I also see some common beginner's mistakes being made there; which is also understandable, although I find it mildly irritating, if only very mildly. I feel no desire to assume the mantle of guru. I for one am all for letting people learn from their own mistakes, if they're willing and able to do so. My experience has been that for some artists involved with certain processes, you can't say anything they'll listen to, anyway. Many young artists are strong and intent, and I love that; some of them are also pig-headed and really are only asking the questions they ask so that they can figure them out for themselves. I think that is wonderful, and a great way of proceeding, and it doesn't really require anyone to teach anything, does it?

Here's the thing: I have more than once, for example, been asked to explain a poem, or a work of visual art, or a piece of music. I have on most of those occasions done my best to talk about the artwork in question, only to have the questioner repeat the question as if they had heard nothing I said. I have learned over time that the best way to get them to really learn is to turn the question back on them and ask, "Well, what do you think it means?" I also enjoy that because maybe they find something in the work that I didn't know was there, either; another layer of meaning, perhaps, that I now can find in there too, but which I didn't know I'd put there, if I did.

One reason a lot of poets don't want to explain their poems is the same reason a lot of painters and musicians don't want to have to explain their artworks: they feel that if they must explain it to the audience, it fails. The goal of their art is connection to shared human experience, not reductive analysis. (There are of course poetry schools that write mostly puzzle-box and gimmick poems—but then, those poets have already decided that poetry is a purely intellectual game. Which it is not.)

Another reason poets (and artists) don't want to explain their poetry (and art) is that they are often unable to articulate their sources, even to themselves. The creative process remains a mysterious, full-sensory, somatic, often powerful experience to be caught up in. More than one great poet and/or photographer has said: Being open to discovery is more important than pre-planning a project. There are many great artists who are verbally inarticulate to the point of grunting; asking them for explanations is frankly rude, because it assumes they're capable of something they're not. For myself, I'm a pretty articulate artist, and I remain among the first to admit that there are many times when I have no idea why or even how I wrote what I wrote. It just seemed to happen. Analysis cannot touch the creative process, a lot of the time.

Which gets me to root of the contradiction I find in all this quest for understanding:

it is contradictory to hold onto the desire for explanations—for analysis, by any other word—set side by side with the criticism against poetry taught in school via analysis. I find it strange that one might object to formal analysis being used to present poetry in school while one also asks the poet to explain herself, or himself. No wonder we all flail about and can't really answer the question!

The bottom line is that Larkin was right: poetry, like any other art, is only slightly subject to analysis, and is better learned through absorption. I agree with that, and I've also passed on the "read, read, read!" advice lots of times.

Now, having said all that, I'll state that when I was in school, I had a good experience of being taught poetry. In second grade, they started presenting poetry to us. But the thing I remember best was that they taught us to WRITE poetry, not to analyze it. We were taught forms and rhyme; we wrote haiku, cinquain, and other short-form poems. (No one presented an epic beyond our scope at that time.) My memory is that the teacher then invited us to go explore this on our own, which many of us did.

By fifth grade, we were memorizing poems to recite before the class; I memorized "McCavity" from "Old Possum." There was the usual kid-level bitching about having to work hard to do something. But the kids got into it, and enjoyed the applause.

I doubt that my grade-school experiences were uniquely positive. It may just be that as the world continues to become more complex—the downside of the internet is that the news has become All Bad News, All The Time; i.e. doom and gloom is TOO accessible now—it's harder to find time to make education into the overall positive and encouraging experience it ought to be. Certainly One Night Stanzas is a good way to address that problem.

And at the same time, my experience has been that every single poet who really discovered and pursued the creative poetry fire in themselves did so entirely on their own power, school or no. Most of the great artists I have known or read about were and are autodidacts. They went off and taught themselves. Many of these never even had diplomas.

The truth is, school can only get you started: it is not intended, and never was, to supply all the answers to all the questions. I had a good education because it taught my HOW to go off and teach myself. It's too easy to focus on the limitations and failures of schooling. It's much more difficult yet necessary to focus on one's own self-discipline as a life-long learner.

Perhaps this is what lies at the heart of the contradiction about explaining poetry: That part of us already knows, even if that part is still pre-verbal, that we're not going to get any explanation that will make sense to us, because the art itself is beyond analysis. Analysis can only take us so far, and we know it.

Explanations are all meta-. They are meta-poetry, meta-art. Theory explains, but it has never been able to successfully dictate art-making.

Jim Murdoch said...

Art, I think on the point of explanations I don't mind if the poet explains something about the poem as I often do in my posts, what I objected to at school were teachers who had no passion for poetry doing dry, by-the-numbers dissections of the same poems year in and year out. I'm not going to explain all my poetry – I couldn't – but I will happily explain some of it so that new poets can learn from me. It was what I was looking for when I was young and even now I want to ask people why they do the things they do, what were they hoping to express or add to the piece? My experience of school was clearly very different to you. No one, at an age when I would appreciate it, taught me to write poetry. At primary school, yes, we were asked to write poetry and it was assumed because we'd read a bit that we'd just know how. And what we produced is what you would expect, bad rhymes and poor rhythms.

I agree, people need to make poetry their own, but there are techniques to poetry and these can be taught. Not every new poet is keen to learn, many want to do their own thing and sure they will stumble upon metaphors and onomatopoeias and oxymorons all by themselves; they may not know the names for what they're doing but they'll do it anyway. My own daughter was super-resistant to being taught anything and she hardly showed me a thing she wrote; I never pushed and now she's a grown woman I've still seen hardly anything she's ever written. I just don't think that being chucked in the deep end is the only way to learn to swim. That said, you can't learn to swim from looking at a book, can you?

I look forward to seeing what Claire can come up with and I'm happy to support her in what ways I can. And if I learn something on the way then that'll be a bonus.

Art Durkee said...

I never meant to imply poets shouldn't know their craft. I just always want to be clear that craft serves the inspiration—having something to say—and not the other way around. it seems to me a lot of those obscure puzzle-box poems we've been inflicted by for awhile now are precisely those poems in which craft dominates everything else.

The problem is, we CAN teach craft, but we CANNOT teach inspiration. If a poet has nothing to say, nothing in the world can save the poem.

I'm fine with talking about the poem, talking about the process of making the poem. And I'm with you about dry dissections as analyses. I just want to be certain that talking about the poem doesn't kill the experience of inhabiting the poem as an aesthetic experience. over-explanations can kill the fun even if they're not dry dissections. It's a fine line that needs to be carefully watched, that's all.

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