Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How to Write a Poem, Briefly

As I have so often found, don't bore me.
As I have rarely heard, make it about me.
As I've never heard, do it with craft.
As I've almost never heard, use less free verse.
As I've definitely never heard, learn what a dithyramb is and don't try it.
As I've heard, if it's therapy, don't show it to me.
As I live by, if you're in my family, I don't want to see it either.
Take your draft and slash it, brutally.
Don't stop slashing until only the bone remains.
Don't make any poem mean what you want it to.
Don't ever think the poem means what you think it does.
A poem means what the audience thinks it does.
The audience cannot be told what to think about it.
It is the audience's right to say "Fuck you".
It is not your right to say so to the audience.
If I can't understand it, you can't understand it.
Don't ever revise the poem.
Revise your understanding of the poem.
The poem knows more than you do about it.
Don't ever think about whether it is good.
It's not up to you.
Aim very carefully: You must hit the heart.
You have only one bullet.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Creativity-- NOT!

I often ponder creativity, most recently wondering how I can return to "creative writing" since my schedule was upset by my father-in-law moving in last November. It used to be that I could spend an hour uninterrupted early in the morning. Now I cannot stop listening for the clatter of his walker, his gruff voice barking at the cats, the slam of the bathroom door, the clank of his spoon on his cereal bowl.

I am a fan of the idea that creative action can occur anywhere and cannot now prove it in my own life. It is not for this reason that I'm looking at new takes on creativity although even a mild cynic could think so given that I am tottering on the edge of thinking/saying that poets should shed the notion of creativity entirely. I come to this not from desperation to justify my father-in-law's upsetting my schedule but from the notion that creativity, for the poet, is a formal organizing of chaos, a saying of the unsayable. This means that creativity is the making of cages, structures. It is a violent, radical subjugating of things to create a mimicry of Truth.

I thus come to the conclusion that the poet must know and practice the rules, ancient and modern, the craft comes with since creativity cannot exist outside of the very rules the very notion of creativity seeks to erase. Choose your slavery, choose your master and submit to its violence. I always wondered why poetry is so hard. The answer is two-fold:

First, it uses words for the wordless;

Second, it joins the abysmal with the sublime.

Except by faith it is an impossible endeavor.

I re-conclude that there is no such thing as creativity since the poet creates nothing new other than a fresh mimicry. This is not to belittle the poet. Well, yes it is-- but only from thinking himself a god. My experience with poets is that too many think they are the Creator of the truth they try to speak or, worse, they think their words are THE TRUTH. They are not sufficiently submissive to the violence of their art.

Worse is the poet who doesn't think he is trying for Truth.

The landscape would be drastically improved by poets practicing poetry and forgetting about creativity.

So long for now.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

More About Where to Steal

I follow Copyblogger and this morning came across a post about the poet and the killer and urge you to first drop your attitude toward the "get-rich-copywriter" part and secondly to take the blog seriously both for what it says about the killer instinct necessary to all writers and also for the lesson that rainbows come in surprising places. That is, great ideas and lessons can come from anywhere.

First, however, however much we might like to be hob-nobbing with the gods and the greats, our craft demands that we get to the point and poets are lousy at getting to the point. We all too often fail to drive the nail into the heart, letting our readers and ourselves off the hook. We pale in the face of things. The advertising killer does not and in this has an all-important lesson for us and much as we might like to consider ourselves a tad better than the car salesman (read the comments in the above-mentioned blog) we're not.

Second, steal everywhere. Yesterday I urged theft from small, local poetry events, from other writers. Today I go back to one of my hard and fast rules: Steal everywhere; from the doctor's office ("the orbit of the eye"), from construction lingo ("fugitive dust" (what a wonderful phrase)), from the news account of death by legal injection ("He just wanted to live").

Stay open to language from everyone and everywhere. Some of the most colorful language, and I mean that in the best sense of the word, I have heard came from the tire changers I worked with in my first job after high school. They were uneducated men busting tires for a living and we talked and talked our way through the summer while we sweated our way through our clothes and I'll never forget that the gods gave them language too. Actually, I didn't steal anything from them-- they gave it to me. ACCEPT YOUR GIFTS!!!

So long for now.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Let's Hear it for Small Poetry

Recently attended and participated in The Riverwood Poetry Festival. For a variety of reasons having to do with lousy educational priorities, the loss of the arts in schools and life, etc, etc, poetry doesn't make the front page anymore, although it does make The Readers' Digest-- see my entry about that-- and is rarely even back page material. It resides, at most, in the obituaries. But, pick up your paper or check online and you'll find a lot of poetry events looking for an audience. Let me first say that I don't think of slams as poetry and that much of what is at any poetry event is unappealing. With that disclaimer I urge you to get to these small poetry events.

You'll find some good poets, good people, good food, fair wine and a good time.
There are people out there ready to surprise you with how good they are and you only need to find one to make the trip worth it. This is one of the places to go to steal-- ideas, styles, words, topics, inspiration. Don't go expecting to meet the next, or current, Frost or Eliot but do expect to find assurance that poetry is alive and well and you are not alone. And also be ready to discover that even the good ones aren't all that much different from you.

So long for now.