Writing Poetry

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  • Rookie Mike Finley (5/1/2006 12:47:00 PM) Post reply
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    Poem: 3199187 - A Prayer of Anselm
    Member: Andrew Konisberg

    Comment: Whilst being interested in theology, I find expressed religious belief often an awkward read. This is because -almost inevitably- comes a line about God being mysterious, the narrator not being fit enough to touch to touch the hem of God's garment etcetera or talk about a great plan...Paley's teleological argument. I am aware that you have credited this piece to Anselm but I read your two recent 'prayers' and struggled with them for the same reasons. If it makes sense, I find the approach to much of the love-based poetry here guilty of similar tensions. It's not really a negative relationship I have with the concept of God (or love) , it's just the way the theme is dealt with. Nice to see Anselm making an 'appearance' on the site though.

    Poem: 3199187 - A Prayer of Anselm
    Member: Mike Finley

    Comment: Thanks, Andrew. I merely posted Anselm, Merton etc for the folks here who have expressed some interest in this kind of poetry.

    My attitude is: Nothing's for Everybody. One of the problems a poem has is, who is it for?

    Should we assume 'minimum values' in our readers - not taking anything for granted in a poem, no assuming any conviction of any kind on the reader - in order to assure maximum agreement on an assertion?

    This is a form of bending over backward politicalcorrectness - not wanting to offend anyone by mentioning that there is a backstory to the universe that so tickles and perplexes us.

    It is the heart of the notion of pluralism and it is built on fairness and it is in many ways A Good Thing.

    But - I can't have all the poetry palaver I want there, so I will look elsewhere besides.

  • Rookie Nibedita Deb (5/1/2006 9:46:00 AM) Post reply | Read 2 replies

    Hi everyone,

    Something that I wanted to know:

    What is 'haiku' about. I hear a lot of discussion on this topic in this site and other, but till date I got to understand nothing but this that it is always very tiny. I may sound awkward - but the truth is I don't know and I NEED to know- I am in class 11 and till now I read nothing called haiku in my English syllabus or the poetry books I have referred to. Could I posssibly be helped?

    Thx, - N.D.

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    • Rookie Aldo Kraas (1/26/2007 9:30:00 PM) Post reply

      Haiku is a small poem can be of three words I seen written like that before To find about haiku You have to go to poetry.com There is a contest And you click the contest that says Haiku You hav ... more

    • Rookie Sonny Rainshine (5/1/2006 12:19:00 PM) Post reply | Read 1 reply

      Strictly speaking, a haiku is a three-line poem with the first line having 5 syllables, the second having 7, and the third having 5. Typically the subject is something about nature, such as the moon, ... more

  • Rookie Sonny Rainshine (4/30/2006 10:34:00 AM) Post reply

    I stumbled across a fantastic book on writing haiku, if anyone is interested. It's by Joan Giroux and is called 'The Haiku Form.' It was published in 1974, so it may be hard to actually purchase it. I think it is the best book on the subject I've ever read and is concise but thorough. She points out, for one thing, that many Japanese readers of English haiku note that most of what they see in English are not really haiku, but rather senryu-same 17 syllables, same three lines as haiku, but containing a message or philosophical observation. Traditional haiku are not directly philosophical, but kind of like a painting or drawing. Giroux illustrates this by displaying 3 separate translations of the same Japanese haiku. In one:
    'Collecting all the rains of May, /How swiftly flows the Mogami! ', she points out that the word 'How' is a comment. You could even say that the exclamation point at the end of 'Mogami! ' is expressing an opinion. Anyway, it's a very interesting and helpful resource, I thought.

  • Rookie Terry Brewer (4/29/2006 8:16:00 AM) Post reply | Read 1 reply

    I would love to see some feedback about the poem I posted this morning called

    'Where do we come from - I don't know do you? '

    I had some trouble writing this and I am not sure if it works.

    The poem number is (apparently) 3180948

    Terry Brewer

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    • Rookie Red Blooded Black Hearted (5/8/2006 10:57:00 PM) Post reply

      Hey Terry, I just read your poem 'Where did we come from - I don't know do you? ' It's really good, I can't write anything like that, mainly because I don't know how 2 spell most of those words. I hop ... more

  • Rookie kskdnj sajn (4/29/2006 8:03:00 AM) Post reply | Read 1 reply

    Found this on the web site..really important for improving your poetry.

    1. Resist Abstractions, and They Will Flee from You

    General and abstract statements are easy to say, and usually flat. They don't show; they tell. Imagine friends stepping out into the hall and seeing something vivid and specific, then coming back into your room and summarizing all the specific, sensuous details they saw in abstract, general statements — like any of these: 'He was a distinguished-looking man.' 'She looked angry.' 'She treated others with justice.' 'He had a strange way of fixing his hair.' 'He gave her costly gifts.' 'She reacted in a negative way.'

    I understand these claims — but I don't see or feel them as richly as I wish I could. The power of language is in vivid specifics that make us see — or hear, and feel, through sensuous images. A plot summary is not as vivid or powerful as seeing the movie. In order to make any of those statements quoted above, the writers might have seen specific details, but — instead of sharing them with readers — they have 'ab-stracted' (drawn conclusions from, or taken from) their impressions and given us only the abstract notions of the experience — 'distinguished-looking, ' 'justice, ' 'a negative way.'

    These are the kind of easy abstractions I'm likely to make in first drafts — when I'm simply trying to find a few lines for a poem. But go beyond first thoughts. I urge you to reach, to work hard; don't sit down like a couch potato, comfortable with the easy abstractions of your mind's first draft. A poem works best, for me, when the writer doesn't tell, but when he or she invents combinations of specific words to show us old facts in new ways. Poems with too many abstractions and not enough images tell about something, but don't move me as much as they could.

    Abstractions and generalizations are like chunks of lead tossed on a pond of water — ' the art of sinking in poetry.' Abstractions are hired assassins; they're paid to hold you hostage, to keep you bound to your couch, in house arrest. They don't want you to travel, to see the vivid images of other regions; they hope you won't discover what you're missing. Now let's stop and admit some obvious facts about the craft of writing:

    1) There are no rules. All I can do is describe what works for me in the best poems I read. All I can do is share the best advice I can to help you write better poems; all I can promise is to focus on what I admire.

    2) Let's admit it: for some readers 'anything goes' — just as in human behavior. Anything you wouldn't do in a civilized society (or in wilderness!) , someone will do — and not simply get away with it, but may even be applauded for it. But why should I urge you to write like someone whose poems aren't the most exciting poems I can find?

    3) In some of today's journals, you'll find anything — from sonnets, villanelles, and sestinas to blank verse, language poems, free verse, prose poems, poems that look like grocery lists, bits of flabby prose, and worse.

    We know what a sonnet is. But now and then, someone will chop up a piece of pedestrian prose and give it a title such as 'Sonnet.' It may be the opposite of what we call a sonnet. But someone somewhere will publish it — even if in his garage on a second-hand mimeograph machine with a stapler. And that doesn't mean that good poems aren't sometimes published in such conditions.

    4) Some poems are more powerful than others. Some give us more pleasure packed in a few words than we expected to find. I'm amazed at how some writers can make simple words implode. The images are stunning, vivid, and sensuous. I see and believe the lines. The poem is an intense experience; it doesn't merely tell me about something.

    5) There's a difference between language that is utilitarian — merely for information — and language that tries to pack the maximum pleasure in words.

    a) Utilitarian language is explosive, going outward, like a puff of smoke that evaporates and is gone (e.g. yesterday's newspaper, instructions that I'm grateful for when I start assembling a toy.)

    b) Emotional language is implosive (e.g., fiction, poetry, powerful non-fiction prose, scriptures) . Emotional language doubles in on itself, or implodes, for maximum pleasure — sounds, rhythms, images that conjure our deepest emotions. I'm compelled by emotional language that packs a power; at its best, language is striking, implosive.

    Writing the emotional equivalent of feelings and ideas is a goal we probably can't ever reach; but intentionally to do less is too easy. Louis Simpson said the goal of poetry 'is to make words disappear.' Usually, we look through the glass of a window to see through the glass, not to focus on the spots or streaks. It would be easy to say 'I'm awed by the majesty of the universe.' But Whitman found an image to close his poem that says that, powerfully — without saying that — in 'When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer':

    Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
    In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
    Looked up in perfect silence at the stars.

    It's easy to say that the world's okay because God's in control; but ah! what power when Father Hopkins ends 'God's Grandeur' with this bold image of faith:

    And though the last lights off the black West went,
    Oh, morning at the brown brink eastward, springs—
    Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

    'Go in fear of abstractions, ' Ezra Pound urged us. Abstractions are lazy boys, addictive and boring, disguised as angels of wisdom. When Pound wrote, 'Go in fear of abstractions, ' he said nothing new, laid down no new law, but spoke only the old advice, the obvious. No one I know says 'Don't ever use abstractions, ' but simply 'Go in fear of abstractions.'

    Most times, though, general statements and abstractions are your jailers. They are stiff-necked impostors on guard duty in your writing room. They are cynics, failures of the imagination; they envy your successes; they want you to fail. They hope writing won't delight you, that you won't discover exciting images and details that will delight your readers. They know Robert Frost was right: 'No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.' Abstractions don't want you to move your readers. Abstractions are your captors, and they work without pay, because they hate poems. They hope you'll lose faith in yourself; they want you to quit writing, and let them sleep.

    Resist abstractions, and they will flee from you. Writers that I admire believe Pound's warning about abstractions and try to write vividly. The best writers remember this, and they never ease up on themselves. They work always on basics, harder than when they began. They don't throttle back and cruise, but constantly push the envelope. Like Twain, they try to 'find the right word, not its second cousin.'

    2. Vivid Images Are Keys to Freedom

    I urge you to trust sensuous details to release you from the traps of easy clichés and vague and flabby writing. Defy the odds. Work hard, and believe in the powers of the imagination. Vivid specifics are keys to freedom. Muscle-up your poems with details that surprise you; they will surprise us, too. Trust good common-sense advice handed down by writers for generations. For example: Personal verse probably means a lot to two people. Share with us, through details, specific images. Don't merely tell us about something. Render us through an experience, with images, sounds, and rhythm, in tight, concise lines. Don't be vague or obscure; don't keep the experience hidden in your cupped hands.

    Appeal to the senses; give specifics, details, for intensity. Open our eyes to the splendors of your imagination; delight us. A poem is not an ink blot. Therefore, go beyond first drafts; don't send off poems that read like general statements, whether rhymed or not. Try to spot in your own writing the clichés, the easy message. Learn well the difference in power between general statements and specific details, between weak abstractions that tell us and vivid images that shake up the senses. Accept the truism that it's harder — but more effective — to write lively images than to settle for general statements and abstractions.

    Overcome the temptation to rationalize that readers should simply get out of poems whatever they want. That's too easy. Anyone can be vague; anyone can write ambiguous lines or stream-of-conscious catalogs. It's hard to be both interesting and clear. Writing is a hard craft to learn, but learn it you must, if you want to compete for good readers' time. If you grapple, and if you like this work, what you'll find will be exciting. The activity itself will reward you, the doing of it, the muscle tone you develop only by effort. 'Ripeness is all, ' Shakespeare wrote. Work for the night is coming. Be active, ready for whatever you discover. I promise three words, if you work hard: 'Delight in discovery.'

    3. The Elephants' Graveyard

    Writers write. Your prayer should be, 'Lead me not into temptation.' As writers, we are modern Pilgrims, and our Progress will always be tested by temptations. For example:

    Sloth: you'll be tempted not to write, knowing that you don't 'have to.'

    Greed: that is, obsession to write, neglecting other duties and pleasures. Remember Brian Moore's novel An Answer from Limbo.

    Envy: the perils are obvious.

    Anger: that is, anger that others sometimes win 'the awards, the jobs, the dollars, ' as Snodgrass said ('April Inventory') . Remember: Solomon said the race does not always go to the swift, and it's a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Work hard, so that if you're there at the right time and you win the Yale, what you publish won't embarrass you when you're old.

    Flattery: compliments and strokes are wonderful. Flattery, though, is two puckered lips, and the ego is a balloon. Some flattery, of course, is two-faced, setting you up for a favor. But flattery also comes from well-meaning people who love you. I urge you, though: ignore all flattery; don't believe your press clippings. Some people need to give or to receive flattery like a fix; and it's true — flattery can be addictive. Read the history of tyrants and fools. Hug your friends who flatter you, but ignore completely what they say.

    Another temptation for writers is plain old indulgence: that is, lowering your standards, your goals; being easy on yourself — winking at mediocre lines, thinking That's good enough. Pound urged us, 'Go in fear of abstractions.' My friends, I want you afraid of easy writing; I want you bold and hungry for the best you can do. I urge you to slam abstractions down, and stomp them; kick, stab them to death. Gouge out their eyes.

    If they still crawl up your legs and bless you like the air you breathe, then maybe let them stay. Do the same violent rewriting to awkward line breaks, easy adverbs and neutral nouns; roll up your sleeves and pound a five-pound axe down into hardwood. Make it blaze. Hold your poem to the fire; burn away all chaff, all that isn't your poem. I know: that sounds too easy; but to do less seems easier. Those who attempt again and again what I'm urging you toward can come to amazing discoveries. Accept yourself, for you will often fail. If you love the thrill of it all, you'll try again.

    Someone will ask you, 'Do poems in forms have to pay as much attention to line breaks and powerful word choice as 'free-verse' poems do? ' In other words, 'What standards do you hold formal poems to — in terms of imagery, line breaks, compression, and intensity of language? '

    If you're kind and reading for what I'm trying to offer, forgiving my weaknesses, you can guess my answer: I hold formal poems to the same high standards, the same impossible goals, in terms of rhythm; sounds; the compact incantatory power of language; vivid and appropriate imagery; clarity; and resonance. In other words, poetry. Again, to aim for less is too easy. A villanelle already presumes that what it repeats, in its narrow, limited range, is worthwhile. When it works — say, for Dylan Thomas or Theodore Roethke — what a massive power.

    Every new sonnet promises it will daringly be worth our time, new wine in old wineskins. A long poem (whether meditative, narrative, or experimental, like 'The Waste Land, ' 'Howl, ' or 'Middle Passage') — already presumes a great deal on a reader's time, attention span, and effort. When any poem works, the soul claps hands and sings — whether the poem is five or five hundred lines. If anything, a formal poem, or a long poem, should be more intense, better crafted, than a poem of ten irregular lines that don't rhyme.

    What would you say to someone who justifies an awkward line break by protesting, 'But this is a sonnet! ' I think of Ezra Pound insisting that 'A poem should be at least as well written as good prose.' A sonnet should be at least as well written as good free verse. Likewise, meditation is no excuse for bad verse; a meditative poem should be at least as well written as a lyric.

    How would you respond to someone who refuses to pay his taxes because he's buying a Rolex — or robs a convenience store or mugs a little old lady, and protests, 'But I need the money for a parking meter' or to enter 'the good-citizen contest'? There comes a time when the end doesn't justify the means. Beer in a mug or a thermos tastes flat if you cut it with water. Accountability: that's the key. Recall what Keats told Shelley: 'Load every rift'... with ore.'

    'Spend it all, ' Annie Dillard advises writers. When you write, give yourself totally to a poem. Immerse yourself in the imaginative adventure. Don't sell cheap; don't hoard your energy. Spend it all. Creative writing is hard work; but it's fun enough, or you wouldn't do it. You sacrifice time, and you get back a handful of poems.

    Be of good cheer; believe in the possibilities of the imagination. You'll be amazed by what you can make up or discover. Poetry is not autobiography, but art; not merely facts of your actual life, but invention; not confession, but creation — discovery of poems you wouldn't have found if you hadn't begun to write.

    The dictionary defines a poem as 'a made thing' (think of that: a made-up thing) . If you rely only on facts that 'really happened, ' you're limiting yourself, writing only with 'the left brain.' You might come up with a poem, but it's like trying to drill for oil with a cork screw, like trying to dig for gold with a plastic spoon, like searching for Noah's lost ark or the wreckage of Amelia Ehrhart's plane by reading essays about them.

    Dare; take risks; let vivid and unexpected details flow. Be open, receptive to whatever comes to you in first drafts. Writing poems is invention, making up something as you go along, discoveries you probably wouldn't have thought of, if you carefully outlined or planned a poem. (But if that method works for you, bravo!) Usually, there's a surprising difference between writing accurately about facts and events that 'really happened' vs. imaginative or creative writing. Believe in the possibilities of discovery, the rich and undiscovered oil fields and gold mines of the imagination — that reservoir of all you've ever experienced, heard about, or read, seen in movies, or glimpsed, all of it jumbled together and waiting to be found.

    Down there — buried inside you — are regions you haven't touched for years or decades, or ever, except in hopes or dreams or nightmares. Those are the bits and remnants of all you've taken in — the lost cities of Atlantis, the elephants' graveyard, the forgotten playgrounds and bone yards of your life. Down there under the pressure and heat of living are the images you need for making poems — some of them already diamonds, most of them coal waiting to stoke your furnace — and gushers of oil that would drive your imagination's engine longer than you could write.

    'Poetry is not a code to be broken but a way of seeing with the eyes shut'-Linda Pastan

    The Jackdaw's Nest

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  • Rookie Richard Cock III (4/26/2006 12:08:00 PM) Post reply | Read 1 reply

    Is there such thing as an offensive piece of writing that can also be... smart, entertaining, blah blah... you get my drift.

    I sometimes think that the content used in certain pieces of writing can either make or break its chances of being a successful work of art. People are always looking for something 'original, ' yet, in my honest opinion, it seems that the originality that most individuals are looking for is just a different approach to certain standard norms. I know I'm not wording myself correctly but I'm a busy man; I'll suppose that at least some of you get my drift. Would totally like to hear from anyone.

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    • Rookie Mike Finley (4/26/2006 3:28:00 PM) Post reply | Read 1 reply

      I may need more than 'the drift, ' Richard. It sounds like you are in a quandary about what is legitimate, and how important originality is. But that's just 'the drift' that has drifted to me - maybe ... more

  • Rookie Mike Finley (4/25/2006 3:27:00 PM) Post reply | Read 2 replies

    To Andrew Konisberg

    Poem: 3153233 -.PRAYER: 'To Understand History'
    Member: Andrew Konisberg

    Comment: ...typo 'swathe'? I'll try and leave a comment that actually makes sense, Mike. I enjoyed the tone...a conversation with a higher entity...neither full of blame nor praise...but I thought your use of language could be crisper: 'bleeding nations', for example. Also, as we are almost consumed by propaganda from all sides, a call to decipher a 'truth' to history is valid...all religion/ spirituality is a quest for some kind of enlightenment/ nirvana. So, that seemed to be a positive narrative effect of your poem. I was wondering if, perhaps, you could be a little subtler in the rest of the narrative...you seem to paint everything with a big brush which dampens the overall effect of the poem. The language and references appear a little random...perhaps, you need to find an anchor to this piece.

    I think youlre right on all counts, Andrew. I challenged myself in the Forum to write a set iof prayer-poems. Poems that are prayers and vice versa. But I don't really know what the rules are yet. Since I challneged myself publically, I rushed them into 'print' here. So they cntain all the limp moments of any first draft.

    Let me work on it some more, and thanks for your kind comments!

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    • Rookie Aldo Kraas (1/26/2007 10:32:00 PM) Post reply

      I am not alone You arived to wake me up Lord This morning So nice to see your face Lord And your smile Lord By my side you are Guiding me where we are going Through the Black forest For a walk ... more

    • Rookie Mike Finley (4/26/2006 6:54:00 AM) Post reply

      You gave me wonderful ideas, Andrew, and I am very grateful to you. They carried over to this morning's contribution. One thing you warned about is cliche. And it's funny, I am as vain about avoiding ... more

  • Rookie Nibedita Deb (4/25/2006 11:56:00 AM) Post reply | Read 2 replies

    Sometimes imitations of 'classic' works result into haphazardness. Specially with people like me - who are still young. Do you think Poetry should come first from intution and then from reading? Or do you think reading should be the first inspiration? How do yo exactly derive 'poetic sense'? Or, how do you think it should be done?

    Expecting an honest reply...

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    • Rookie Mike Finley (4/26/2006 3:12:00 PM) Post reply

      I never went to writing school or a workshop or anything. So all I had to help me learn was other poems. Whenevr I found a poem I liked, I would do what I call a 'Scan' of it, drafting an alter-poem t ... more

    • Rookie Sonny Rainshine (4/26/2006 2:26:00 PM) Post reply

      I personally think it's important for a poet to read the work of other poets, because poetry writing is a skill and as with most skills we learn from people who have been doing it successfully for a l ... more

  • Rookie Angel bella (4/25/2006 7:05:00 AM) Post reply


  • Rookie Angel bella (4/25/2006 7:03:00 AM) Post reply | Read 1 reply


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