Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On writing poetry...

“It’s silly to suggest the writing of poetry as something ethereal, a sort of soul-crashing emotional experience that wrings you. I have no fancy ideas about poetry. It doesn’t come to you on the wings of a dove. It’s something you work hard at.”
---Louise Bogan

In the last post on What is Poetry?, I included Burton Raffel's definition for poetry as a "disciplined, compact verbal utterance, in some more or less musical mode, dealing with aspects of internal or external reality in some meaningful way." I think modern readers and writers of poetry have a hard time with the word "disciplined." Horace, the great Roman poet, writes, "Not gods, nor men, nor even booksellers have put up with poets being second-rate." Excellence doesn't simply occur; it is achieved. A poet must account for every jot and tittle in his poem. In poetry, there is no room for excess and overindulgence. Being concise takes discipline and hard work.


Barbara said...

I think this is why I always preferred to write sonnets. At UWO there was a guy I knew who thought Sonnets were dreadful and stodgy. He was much more impressed with free verse as it expressed the deeper soul more fully. He also thought that if I poem didn't come to you perfect in its first draft then it wasn't "true" and meant you were a lousy poet.

I clearly disagreed. The sonnet in its complexities and forms forces the poet to more fully understand his emotions and the theme he is trying to express. He much more so need to understand language to find just the phrase that both fits the form and expresses his heart. If I can "ramble" in stream of consciousness poetry I don't need to learn the craft of being precise with syllables and meter and rhyme. Mind you, I do appreciate good free verse and stream poety, but it often is not worked at hard enough to be excellent (I have never written one of any value).

Now as I'm re-reading this I'm noticing a parallel to the hymns vs. choruses debate. I won't get into that right now though.

Did any of that make sense? I am up in the middle of the night feeding a baby these days and the brain is a wee bit mushy.

Jeremy W. Johnston said...

I just assigned Shakespearean Sonnets to my students. You are absolutely right about the complex format forcing poets to be more reflective and creative. They say that "necessity is the mother of invention"; likewise, "restriction is the mother of creativity."


Barbara said...

By the way, my absolute most favourite sonnet ever (which I have memorized...or at least used to!) is John Donne's "Batter My Heart, Three Person'd God".

Talked about being "ruined"! Fantastic. Make your students learn that one.