keepers of the unsayable

March 31, 2019

If poets are the keepers of the unsayable, then silence, not language, is a poet’s natural element, the realm where the unsayable lives. Poets fetishize silence as much as words; they are disturbed and comforted by the sounds that interrupt it. This is what John Keats means by Negative Capability, his notion of a poet’s basic qualification, the need for ‘being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.’ This a fancy way of describing ambivalence, also a basic qualification for a poet, the ability to passionately hold two opposing feelings at once. Poets need ambivalence in order to acknowledge the unsayable and speak nonetheless. The hidden subject of all poems is the silence that surrounds them, the things that can’t be, that will never be said; a real poem points to everything beyond it.

Craig Morgan Teicher
Ars Poetica: Origin Stories

Well of course I’ve tried lavender. And pulling my memory out, ribbonlike and dripping. And shrieking into my pillow. And writing the poems. And making more friends. And baking warm brown cookies. And therapy. And intimacy. And pictures of rainbows. And all of the movies about lovers and the terrible things they do to each other. And watching the ones in other languages. And leaving the subtitles off. And listening to the language. And forgetting my name.  And feeling the dirt on my skin.  And screaming in the shower.  And changing my shampoo. And living alone. And cutting my hair. And buying a turtle. And petting the cat. And travelling. And writing more poems. And touching a different body. And digging a grave. And digging a grave. Of course, I’ve tried it. Of course I have.

yasmin belkhyr
September is a weary month

A poem comes from the heart of the poet’s experience, but it can go to the heart of any of our experiences. The underground connections that poetry makes come not merely from the way language is formed and shaped on the page and through the spoken voice,  but also from the heart of human experience, which I believe is translatable – sometimes with difficulty but often with power

Herbert Kohl
A Grain of Poetry

I’m talking about language, the literal lexicon of narcissism that poets often seem to come up against, in this or that assigned guise — be it ‘confessional’ or ‘objectivist’ or ‘language’ poetries — in the attempt to make something fresh and ‘original’ from the tones and conclusions threaded inside an inherited language we admire and take for granted — the drama of self-consciousness, pitting the presumed “self” against history and in company with one’s contemporaries. Seeking or doubting one’s place in the reconfiguration of meaning as it is carried forward in alphabet and syntax — perhaps we allow too powerful a klieg light to be trained on our most private moments of privilege.

Kathleen Fraser
Letters to Poets: Kathleen Fraser and Patrick Pritchett

enough white space

February 26, 2019

I know what I want is impossible. If I can make my language flat enough, exact enough, if I can rinse each sentence clean enough, like washing a stone over and over again in river water, if I can find the right perch or crevice from which to record everything, if I can give myself enough white space, maybe I could do it. I could tell you this story while walking out of this story. I could — it all could — just disappear.

Maggie Nelson
The Red Parts

Obviously poetry is the most tiny, compact genre of language and I think as a child falling in love with listening to poetry even before I could read it for myself, I felt that transporting magic of an image or a phrase or a lyric or just language that sounded carefully chosen, luscious, precise. I loved the feeling with a poem early on and still do that you could read a few lines and be carried away, be carried away from your current situation, your own preoccupations.

Really poetry was the magic carpet for me and I love stories and novels and essays and journalism, good journalism and everything as well, but usually it’s a little longer and there’s a little more flab in it, I guess, or excess. It’s not as refined and carefully selected as a poem. So I love that miniaturist but huge quality of a poem and the way a poem trusts us as readers, as interpreters to feel it, go with it, understand it, hold it without a lot of didactic explanation.

I have very little tolerance for the sort of piece of writing that keeps pounding us over the head with its message or telling us, “Do you get me, do you understand, did you pick up what I meant?” and that style of writing, that kind of didactic explanatory writing is very popular in the world, very common, exists in all fields. I mean someone recently gave me a cookbook and I gave it away because it was so didactic.

I mean it acted like it had to tell you what “stir” meant. Maybe it was written for children or something but it had a tone and I thought, “I don’t want to eat that food. It’s too bossy.” I like to play around with my recipes. I don’t want a cookbook hanging over me, and poetry is the most respectful genre, I think, for the reader in terms of, you know, go where you will.

Maybe you won’t go exactly where I was when I wrote this poem but it may be somewhere interesting and I love that sense of possibility as a reader, as a listener. And so writing poems, finding connections between images, layers of metaphor, being willing to hint, as the poet William Stafford used to say. He loved poetry because there was a hinting, suggestive quality about it and then a lot of trust.

You know, you’ll be able to take this somewhere that matters for you. Walt Whitman saying, “To have a great poem, you have to have a great audience.” So that mutual interaction. I try to write scenes even in prose books which feel or sound poetic. I’m not sure I always succeed but certainly when I’m rereading the text to myself I hope for that. I try to hear the language, feel the richness of a phrase. You’re still weaving a tapestry even if it’s a prose book.

Naomi Shihab Nye
Interview on AdLit.org

the rhyme changed my life

February 23, 2019

When I was 12, I wrote a poem that concluded in a very simple rhyme. The poem was nothing special but the rhyme changed my life. My parents were string quartet violinists; when I made that rhyme, I thought, This is my music…

I pretty much write all the time and don’t follow any particular routine or practice. I almost always write the first draft (or two or three) in longhand and move to a computer later; this is true for novels, as well as for poems. I write in spiral notebooks – grabbing whichever comes to hand, which means the same notebook may hold paragraphs from different stories and lines from various poems and a book review or essay. I would so love to be more systematic but I work on a lot of things at once and the result is, paper everywhere, with no way to organize it.

Writing in any form is a “journey of discovery”. Writing poetry is how I think, and learning what one thinks is terrifically exciting: That’s the journey, that’s the illumination. In any given poem, I want to make the idea of it as clear as possible -which is not to say an exposition but an unclouded vision.

I also have a great desire to include all kinds of things in my poetry; that is, to take on, in my poetry, different worlds, as in science, history, language, philosophy, visual art, music, religion, etc. I am interested in all these things, and it seems natural to me to want to write about them.

Kelly Cherry
Interview with Maureen Doallas for tweetspeak

your poems

February 23, 2019

Spend time with your poems before you write them. Be patient, if they’re obscure. Calm, if they provoke you. Wait for each one to take shape and reach perfection with its power of language and its power of silence.

Carlos Drummond de Andrade
In Search of Poetry

Writing off the Subject

February 21, 2019

A poem can be said to have two subjects, the initiating or triggering subject, which starts the poem or “causes” the poem to be written, and the real or generated subject, which the poem comes to say or mean, and which is generated or discovered in the poem during the writing. That’s not quite right because it suggests that the poet recognizes the real subject. The poet may not be aware of what the real subject is but only have some instinctive feeling that the poem is done.

Young poets find it difficult to free themselves from the initiating subject. The poet puts down the title: “Autumn Rain.” He finds two or three good lines about Autumn Rain. Then things start to break down. He cannot find anything more to say about Autumn Rain so he starts making up things, he strains, he goes abstract, he starts telling us the meaning of what he has already said. The mistake he is making, of course, is that he feels obligated to go on talking about Autumn Rain, because that, he feels, is the subject. Well, it isn’t the subject. You don’t know what the subject is, and the moment you run out of things to say about Autumn Rain start talking about something else. In fact, it’s a good idea to talk about something else before you run out of things to say about Autumn Rain.

Don’t be afraid to jump ahead. There are a few people who become more interesting the longer they stay on a single subject. But most people are like me, I find. The longer they talk about one subject, the duller they get. Make the subject of the next sentence different from the subject of the sentence you just put down. Depend on rhythm, tonality, and the music of language to hold things together. It is impossible to write meaningless sequences. In a sense the next thing always belongs. In the world of imagination, all things belong. If you take that on faith, you may be foolish, but foolish like a trout.

Richard Hugo
Writing off the Subject
The Triggering Town

to be disconnected

February 16, 2019

Communication between disconnected parties — I like that! It makes me want to get personal and psychoanalytical rather than theoretical. But theory and my gut tell me that most communications are between disconnected parties. The poet and her reader? My Facebook page and my friends? Which of those nouns ought to be in quotes? Certainly, our communiqués — our tweets and texts and two-sentence Facebook life-story-announcements—share more, stylistically, with Raymond Chandler than with Edna St. Vincent Millay or most any other traditional lyric poet. When you think of it, we’re a society of world-weary, world-poor detectives: did u c him? yes. when? last night. what was he wearing? omg and a : ) thrown in for an idiot criminal’s good measure. I wrote “The List” before I ever texted anyone; but I think I knew what it felt like to be disconnected.

No one in my family had ever considered being a writer. It was difficult enough, I suppose, for them to get by in spoken English, and you tend to speak tersely when you don’t know a language too well or when you don’t feel very powerful in the dominant culture that speaks it — except for my mother, and she stopped writing to have a series of mental breakdowns back in the 1950s. Obviously, some writers use terseness in response to grief sometimes; some writers use it in response to technologistics. Maybe grief and technology are one and the same — or maybe they’re becoming one and the same.

Janet Kaplan
Interview with Adrienne Brock