Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Making Poetry, A Poem Guide

What better way to talk about poetry than in a poem itself?  I love it when a poem comes along that illuminates the process of writing poetry that little bit more and illustrates just what a fine medium poetry is. 

What this kind of poem also reveals is the inherent mystery and modesty that go with writing poems. It's nice to know that accomplished, assured and skilled poets often have doubts (and therefore humility) when it comes to the poetry making process. Some of these recent discoveries I have to share here with all of you poetry-lovers and poets out there reading. As a poet, you don't get much advice or training in the craft - only from reading poetry - and these poems are both tutor and confidant. 

Billy Collins, one of my favourite poets, writes a lot about the writing process in many wryly entertaining and acutely accurate poems. In 'Poetry', he pays homage to the poet's imagination and purpose in life, which is not really a purpose when compared to those of other writers like novelists or playwrights; no, a poet's job is to just notice things, to let the imagination work, 'to be busy doing nothing'.

Linda Pastan, a poet I've recently discovered, writes plaintively and truthfully about the poetry writing process. I love her poem 'There are Poems' about the poems that never get written, that are lost to the blue sky of the mind. How visually correct! And the trailing-off structure of the poem fits perfectly with what it is saying. Her encouraging words in 'Rereading Frost' are a welcome nourishment to any aspiring poet who thinks what they have to say has already been said and in better ways: 

"At other times though
I remember how one flower
in a meadow already full of flowers
somehow adds to the general fireworks effect..."

Anne Stevenson's 'Making Poetry' is a poem I instantly fell in love with. She manages to put her finger, nimbly and fancifully, on what making poetry means, what it involves and how it is all-involving:

"To be in the habit of, to wear
words, sitting in the plainest light,
in the silk of morning, in the shoe of night;
a feeling bare and frondish is surprising air;

And for anyone in doubt as to the difference between poetry and prose, Howard Nemerov deftly demonstrates it in his short poem of the same name, insinuating that words 'fly' in poetry as opposed to how they 'fall' in prose. Exactly.

All of these poems are below for you to enjoy. Are there any others you can think of? 

Happy poetry musing, 

~ Siobhán  

Poetry - Billy Collins

Call it a field where the animals
who were forgotten by the Ark
come to graze under the evening clouds.

Or a cistern where the rain that fell
before history trickles over a concrete lip.

However you see it,
this is no place to set up
the three-legged easel of realism

or make a reader climb
over the many fences of a plot.

Let the portly novelist
with his noisy typewriter
describe the city where Francine was born,

how Albert read the paper on the train,
how curtains were blowing in the bedroom.

Let the playwright with her torn cardigan
and a dog curled on the rug
move the characters

from the wings to the stage
to face the many-eyed darkness of the house.

Poetry is no place for that.
We have enough to do
complaining about the price of tobacco,

Passing the dripping ladle,
and singing songs to a bird in a cage.

We are busy doing nothing –
and all we need for that is an afternoon,
a rowboat under a blue sky,

and maybe a man fishing from a stone bridge,
or, better still, nobody on that bridge at all.


Making Poetry - Anne Stevenson

‘You have to inhabit poetry
if you want to make it.’
And what’s to ‘inhabit'?
To be in the habit of, to wear
words, sitting in the plainest light,
in the silk of morning, in the shoe of night;
a feeling bare and frondish is surprising air;

And whats ‘to make’ ?
To be and to become words’ passing
weather; to serve a girl on terrible
terms, embark on voyages over voices,
evade the ego-hill, the misery-well,
the siren-hiss of  success, publish,
success, success, success.
And why inhabit, make, inherit poetry ?
Oh , it’s the shared comedy of the worst
blessed; the sound leading the hand;
a worldlife running from mind to mind
through the washed rooms of the simple senses;
one of those haunted, undefendable, unpoetic
crosses we have to find. 


There are Poems - Linda Pastan

There are poems
that are never written,
that simply move across
the mind
like skywriting
on a still day:
slowly the first word
drifts west,
the last letters dissolve
on the tongue,
and what is left
is the pure blue
of insight, without cloud
or comfort.


Rereading Frost - Linda Pastan

Sometimes I think all the best poems
have been written already,
and no one has time to read them,
so why try to write more?

At other times though,
I remember how one flower
in a meadow already full of flowers
somehow adds to the general fireworks effect

as you get to the top of a hill
in Colorado, say, in high summer
and just look down at all that brimming color.
I also try to convince myself

that the smallest note of the smallest
instrument in the band,
the triangle for instance,
is important to the conductor

who stands there, pointing his finger
in the direction of the percussions,
demanding that one silvery ping.
And I decide not to stop trying,

at least not for a while, though in truth
I’d rather just sit here reading
how someone else has been acquainted
with the night already, and perfectly.


Because You Asked About The Line Between Poetry and Prose - 
Howard Nemerov

Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle
That while you watched turned into pieces of snow
Riding a gradient invisible
From silver aslant to random, white, and slow. 

There came a moment that you couldn't tell.
And then they clearly flew instead of fell.


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