Friday, November 16, 2007

Poetry meme

Both This Girl Remembers and Crafty Green Poet tagged me for the poetry blog meme. Here's how it works: list at least four things each you think a beginning poet should and shouldn't do: tag someone else.

Full speed ahead, the good ship Curmudgeonry!

So, the first list:

1. Read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Read poetry, prose, newspaper articles, song lyrics, advertising copy. Read critically. Do you like what you're reading? Why or why not? What is it trying to accomplish, does it get there, how does it get there? What tricks is it using that you might be able to use in your writing?

Soak yourself in words, then wring yourself out when you

2. Write. I'm not necessarily an advocate of the "write something every day" school, but the more you write the easier you will find it to write. If nothing else, your typing speed will pick up. You'll find that when you reach for words, they come more easily. Write regularly and copiously. Write as many different kinds of things as you can think of-- which leads to:

3. Experiment. Try new things. People tend to get more or less good at one way of doing things, and then settle into that comfort zone. Once that happens, artistically you're dead; you may still be producing good work, but the heart is gone. This goes for every aspect of writing: form, content, style.

Some artists feel that trying new things scatters their creative energy and makes it difficult for them to focus. Well, maybe creativity should be scattered generously about rather than cautiously hoarded against some future day when it might be in short supply. Now, the time to experiment is not when you're in the middle of a major project that has established its own artistic parameters. But, as many of my teachers have told me, "If you're not making mistakes, you're not learning." (God knows my life has been full of learning.) So get out there and make a mess!

4. Practice form. This one is specific to poetry. Lots of poets hate forms. Do it anyway. I'm not going to argue the merits or otherwise of formal poetry; I'll just say, if you don't know how to write in forms, you can't claim that not using them is a choice. It's a skill every poet should acquire even if they choose not to use it.

Now, for the don't dos...

1. Don't just write about your own experience. I'm not saying "Never." Autobiographical poetry can be as good as any other kind of poetry (and by "autobiographical" I don't just mean poetry that relates events in your life, but poetry that is focused on things you have seen/felt, or are seeing/feeling.) But we've been sold a gospel that poetry is supposed to be "personal experience". It's bogus. You can write about anything you can possibly imagine.

2. Don't fall in love with your own product. This is kind of a negative way of saying be open to criticism, be willing to make edits. Take suggestions. You don't have to accept all of them-- sometimes you are the one who knows best-- but you should at least consider them.

Blogs in my experience aren't the best way to get critiques. However, there are literally hundreds of online forums and discussion groups that will help you out. Shop around.

But maybe the more important point here is: As writers, we become very attached to our "creations" and we invest a lot of ourselves in them. This is healthy and necessary. However, we also have to be able to let go of them.

3. Don't be isolated. The stereotype of the Byronic brooding hermit-poet is finally dying away, I think (and it was never very accurate. Byron had close friendships with several other poets during his lifetime and they routinely shared rough drafts, gave each other critical feedback, and picked up one another's bar tabs), but writing is still something that happens mostly inside one person's head. (For now we'll assume that your word processor or pad of paper is an extension of your head.) It's easy to get wrapped up in that little world, and in the short run sometimes it's necessary to cloister yourself and put big uninterrupted chunks of time into a project. In the long run, this is not emotionally healthy for most people.

4. Never forget God. This one you can interpret however you like. I experience poetry as something that comes through me from elsewhere. "Elsewhere" goes under many names; you can call it Nature, the universe, the collective unconsciousness, or whatever you want. But there is a connection outside or inside, a conduit to something other than oneself. Lose it and you lose everything.

Now, tags: Alan at Cornfedtrouble, Rachel at Velveteen Rabbi, Russell at Yuckelbel's Canon, Mike at Word Anger.

If you like poetry, check out the weekly prompt site at Totally Optional Prompts


Russell Ragsdale said...

OK, it is up (my diligent friend)! It was actually an interesting and valuable exercise, so thanks for tagging me.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Excellent - good to read your thoughts on this, thanks for joining in!

Anonymous said...

The meme is up at Do and Do Not . I was out on a short birding trip to Eureka. I didn't stop in Portland, but I did smile and wave as I drove through.

This Girl Remembers said...

Tiel, this is a fabulous list. Thank you for taking part in the meme!