Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Thoughts on the Making of a Poem

Nick Laird is a young novelist and poet born in Northern Ireland who this past weekend had a piece in the Guardian about the physicality of language. He starts out:

"You should put that in a poem. A thing to say to the people who write
poems; the offering of some strange coincidence or anecdote. Poets if they are
like me, sip their drink and agree, privately certain it won't give rise to
anything at all."

Laird goes on... "You can make fiction and drama from reported stories, from hearsay and incident, but not poetry."

It is my own experience that words rather than a particular story do indeed tend to go much further towards the success of a poem. It's not that I have not tried the other approach, and likely will again (I tend to be stubborn like that), but it is the cohesive junction of a word and an image, or a word and a smell or some other word and sense linkage that is more likely to drive a poem forward than anything else I've found.

Lair also quotes Edward Thomas , the early 20th century English poet on the subject of what poetry is made of, "Anything, however small, may make a poem; nothing however great is certain to." The times I have sit down with pen and paper to specifically forge a poem on some grand storyline have almost always met with failure or disappointment on my own part.

Sometimes, I have found it helpful to lift a very short line from another poem or sentence of some other type of work and use it to start a new poem. I try to let those few words allow some image to direct me forward with what I am putting on the page. Later, the opening line can be dropped, just as any of the the rest of the work can be modified and rewritten any number of times. I find it's just a really good way to jump start a poem into being.

So I tell myself here that I need to resolve that I am going to stop trying to force something into being. I must periodically remind myself of this. I do it here, once again. Sigh.

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