Small question. Big answer.

The dishes are done. The cat litter emptied. Mother has been given her food and her pills. And all the while I’m pondering how I would answer this question that I have asked myself: “Why do you want to write poetry??”
And this is what I have come to realize:
I don’t WANT to write poetry. What I want is, when I feel COMPELLED (read “inspired”) to write a poem, to know how to make it a really good poem , to energize it with the power of language, technique, form.
That’s why I’m in this workshop.
Poet at Work. Blogger at Process.

7 thoughts on “Small question. Big answer.

  1. I think that I need to clarify what, I think, Grennon means by “scaffolding.” It’s not the structure or form. Rather it’s the unnecessary words and ideas that actually distract from the heart of the poem instead of better illustrating and reflecting it. It’s like the old Michelangelo (at least I think it was he)story in which he explained that each piece of marble contains a sculpture, and he just has to chip away until it emerges. What gets chipped away in refining a poem is the “scaffolding” the superfluous stuff that surrounds the actual poem that’s there among all those other clever words. We get attached to the words and ideas that we begin with, and often the poem gets bogged down in too much stuff. That’s when we need to start chipping and carving and get rid of pieces that distract and detract. What’s left is the art of language, the form that follows function. I need practice carving.
    I enjoyed the initial exercise of trying to write within a specific framework and in response to a specific stimulus. I just can’t seem to sustain the process.
    Personally, I believe that there IS a difference between prose and poetry, and it has to do with sound and rhythm, image and metaphor, layers of meaning and the use of language the way a painter uses her brush. Or maybe it’s a matter of “I don’t know what poetry is but I know what I like.”

  2. But isn’t it still possible that the workshop is an obstacle to your successful creation in that it is focusing on THINKING (you have to think about the poem and what words are “scaffolding”) rather than FEELING — which — well, I”m not a poet, I’m the prose writer, but isn’t that what a poem is about anyway? Feeling? Sensing? Visceral sensations even in the rhythm and cadence of the words written? In my best prose there is a poetic, lyrical nature to it that I simpy *felt*. I didn’t work at making it so. I didn’t sit and say, “well now that sentence doesn’t have a rhythm that matches the previous one” etc, etc.
    Seems to me it should be more organic than that. That good writing IS more organic than that. Out of head, into heart, soul. Yes, you need a still, quiet space inside and out to get there. You need to breathe, feel the breath, hear the stillness and then, in that moment, the right words will come clear and those unnecessary will fall way on their own.
    But there needs to be space for that. Your life right now is much like mine (you with elder, me with toddler) and doesn’t allow for much of that.
    Tho if it is becoming a case of need for the sake of mental well-being, then you should find the time. Make the time. Give yourself the gift of finding the stillness that will allow your gift of words to work their magic.
    Without sweat. Without tension or frustration.
    Let your words do their work.

  3. My best poems were written in two parts. I’d be trying to go to sleep at night but the poem wouldn’t let me sleep, because it had been building up in my head all day. So I sat up, switched on the light, and I scribbled down what I felt then and there. And then the next day, or sometime later, I took a look at the poem again and took out the parts where I was just nighttime babbling, and took out the unnecessary “ands” and decided on line breaks that really did look better under scrutiny, and so on.
    And I do honestly believe that my poems were better that way than just the initial scribbled burst of passion. And I do think that going through poetry workshops where I worked at poems that maybe had less feeling and I played with form and rhythm of a technical nature gave me better writing habits that spilled into my frenzied nighttime scribbles.
    Just feel: yes. Think: yes. I like to think of poems as a fusion of thinking and feeling, an integration of two disparate parts of me. But I also think that this is a very personal form of writing, and people have to follow their own processes, and discover on their own what those processes are.

  4. Once upon a time there was a rebel who wrote down words and said, “You like them, fine. You don’t, tough.” The words written reflected that strong certainty, so they were shiny and fiery and glowed with inner joy at engaging the world on her own terms. “A lively understandable spirit once entertained you. It will come again. Be still. Wait.” Breathe.

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