Believe it or not, I don’t make poetry often. In fact, poems like Berserker and Necromancer usually come very rarely to me and it is even less often these days that I will post them up publicly for other people to see.
Poetry is not easy for me. It is neither easy to force out nor easy to ignore. It can even be harder to read.
Most of the time when I read prose, I read it silently or skim sentences to absorb the whole and get a greater picture to form in my mind. It is hard for me to explain that in any other way, but that is how it is.
Then there is poetry. I used to avoid it like the plague. I once thought that it was all supposed to be formula and rhyme and iambic pentametre all the time. I only rhyme when I want to be clever, make fake prophecies, or when I am exhausted beyond belief: which is more often than I’m going to talk about. I also used to think it had to be sappy and sentimental and all about those dreaded, diabolical things known to and feared by all humankind as … feelings … ;P
Of course, the wonderful thing about poetry that I had the privilege to learn is that it is the ultimate experimental game of language. You can crystallize whole nuances and depths of thought and emotion into as fewest words as possible. If you are really good at it, you can describe a world in a sentence, discover the rhythm of a very catchy phrase or aphorism (a one-line philosophical quote or word of wisdom to make you look smarter than you really are), actually turn a phrase like a musical note, and word-smithing: actually create entirely new words and meanings from old and strange and wonderful things.
I’ll also tell you this: I’m not sure when I started talking as I write or type, but it helps to catch that rhythm and make things sound far less clunky: though I still manage to ramble and not always make sense anyway. Maybe in some part this is because of some of the poetry that I was encouraged to write and then occasionally have to give vent to.
When you write and read poetry, you really have to read it out loud. That is what I have been doing with John Milton’s Paradise Lost so far. Sometimes it feels like I am chanting from a magical tome and somehow making the energy I find in there mine. What really gets to me is that a lot of the time, aside from the fact that some poetry can be very highly metaphorical and charged with so many symbols verging to the point of attempting to record the speed of thought, feeling, observation, and experience is the structure of a stanza.
You know what I’m talking about: stacks of compact, small sentences stacked above each other and separated by line breaks. You can look at my poem above and see that I gave it a stanza organization: though this one doesn’t rhyme and is more free-verse. What I mean by free-verse is that it is not a form poem: I’m not trying to make a sonnet, or a haiku, or a limerick. As an aside, I’ve been told that my form-based poetry is actually better than my free-verse. I’m also told, and I can see that I use a lot of heightened diction. What I mean by that, and what my former teachers also meant is that I use a lot of big words. Either way, I’m just trying to communicate.
But for some reason I know that I myself will be tempted to try and gloss a narrow stanza-arranged poem like I would a piece of prose and my mind will just not get it. Reading a poem like prose can feel like a real chore, and I know I can get frustrated by this seemingly deceptive short piece of writing that you sometimes think you can just scan through and is actually much denser than its “light-weight” stanza arrangement leads you to believe.
So yeah: in case you’ve been skimming past terms like “stanzas,” and such in this post, maybe what I’m saying is that poetry is like Mithril or Valyrian steel: deceptively slight but it packs a punch when it lands a hit or a graze to the mind.
I would definitely not like to get hit with a psychic conceptual weapon made of a poem: though I would definitely like to make one. Take from that imagery what you will.
I’m actually a fan of poetry that shapes itself like prose into sentence structures. You still have to keep reading it very closely, but it just seems more charged and potent for it. The line between poetry and prose is very blurry and I suspect that the first came well before the second.
When I actually think about it more, I wonder if that is how our minds work: if our thoughts are images and impressions that function on a kind of intuitive continuity. And I like that word: intuition. Maybe poetry is from that time when the words were just forming from the symbols and images in our heads that attempted to come into being through our voices and our scrawling. Maybe we dream in poetry and that is why sometimes it takes certain states of mind to understand it differently from one day to the next.
It can be primordial, or mathematically-precise, or the fragments of a life, or whatever it is you need it to be. I tend to think of poetry as a state of mind or perception of reality that can help you write, speak, and express yourself better. But whatever it is, I think is part of the root of creative writing and the clay of expression and as such it is very important. So you may see more of my poems on here at some point. We shall see.
2 thoughts on “Observations of a Part-Time Poet”
If you’re interested in learning more about reading and writing poetry, I can’t recommend Stephen Fry’s Ode Less Travelled highly enough. I’ve been working through it for more than a year, and while I haven’t actually written any good poems from it, I’ve come to a much better appreciation of form. (And this is speaking as someone who primarily writes free verse.)
For reading poetry, I’d recommend both You Are Here, by James Pollock (especially for traditional and contemporary form), and You Must Work Harder to Write Poetry of Excellence, by Donato Mancini (especially for postmodern and avant garde). Both collect essays and reviews which delve deep into what makes good poetry, and why. They’re both funny, modern, and insightful.
if you ever want to talk shop, I’d be thrilled. I don’t have enough friends who read and write poetry.