A Few Don’ts (2)

July 31, 2018

O young man, in thy youth - Manuel Laval

RHYTHM AND RHYME:

Let the candidate fill his mind with the finest cadences he can discover, preferably in a foreign language [This is for rhythm, his vocabulary must of course be found in his native tongue], so that the meaning of the words may be less likely to divert his attention from the movement; e.g. Saxon charms, Hebridean Folk Songs, the verse of Dante, and the lyrics of Shakespeare—if he can dissociate the vocabulary from the cadence. Let him dissect the lyrics of Goethe coldly into their component sound values, syllables long and short, stressed and unstressed, into vowels and consonants.

It is not necessary that a poem should rely on its music, but if it does rely on its music that music must be such as will delight the expert.

Let the neophyte know assonance and alliteration, rhyme immediate and delayed, simple and polyphonic, as a musician would expect to know harmony and counterpoint and all the minutiae of his craft. No time is too great to give to these matters or to any one of them, even if the artist seldom have need of them.

Don’t imagine that a thing will “go” in verse just because it’s too dull to go in prose.

Don’t be “viewy” – leave that to the writers of pretty little philosophic essays. Don’t be descriptive; remember that the painter can describe a landscape much better than you can, and that he has to know a deal more about it.

When Shakespeare talks of the “Dawn in russet mantle clad” he presents something which the painter does not present. There is in this line of his nothing that one can call description; he presents.

Consider the way of the scientists rather than the way of an advertising agent for a new soap.

The scientist does not expect to be acclaimed as a great scientist until he has discovered something. He begins by learning what has been discovered already. He goes from that point onward. He does not bank on being a charming fellow personally. He does not expect his friends to applaud the results of his freshman class work. Freshmen in poetry are unfortunately not confined to a definite and recognizable class room. They are “all over the shop.” Is it any wonder “the public is indifferent to poetry?”

Don’t chop your stuff into separate iambs. Don’t make each line stop dead at the end and then begin every next line with a heave.

Let the beginning of the next line catch the rise of the rhythm wave, unless you want a definite longish pause.

In short, behave as a musician, a good musician, when dealing with that phase of your art which has exact parallels in music. The same laws govern, and you are bound by no others.

Naturally, your rhythmic structure should not destroy the shape of your words, or their natural sound, or their meaning. It is improbable that, at the start, you will he able to get a rhythm-structure strong enough to affect them very much, though you may fall a victim to all sorts of false stopping due to line ends, and caesurae.

The Musician can rely on pitch and the volume of the orchestra. You cannot. The term harmony is misapplied in poetry; it refers to simultaneous sounds of different pitch. There is, however, in the best verse a sort of residue of sound which remains in the ear of the hearer and acts more or less as an organ-base.

A rhyme must have in it some slight element of surprise if it is to give pleasure, it need not be bizarre or curious, but it must be well used if used at all.

Vide further Vildrac and Duhamel’s notes on rhyme in “Technique Poétique.”

That part of your poetry which strikes upon the imaginative eye of the reader will lose nothing by translation into a foreign tongue; that which appeals to the ear can reach only those who take it in the original.

Consider the definiteness of Dante’s presentation, as compared with Milton’s rhetoric. Read as much of Wordsworth as does not seem too unutterably dull.

If you want the gist of the matter go to Sappho, Catullus, Villon, Heine when he is in the vein, Gautier when he is not too frigid; or, if you have not the tongues, seek out the leisurely Chaucer. Good prose will do you no harm, and there is good discipline to be had by trying to write it.

Translation is likewise good training, if you find that your original matter “wobbles” when you try to rewrite it. The meaning of the poem to be translated cannot “wobble.”

If you are using a symmetrical form, don’t put in what you want to say and then fill up the remaining vacuums with slush.

Don’t mess up the perception of one sense by trying to define it in terms of another. This is usually only the result of being too lazy to find the exact word. To this clause there are possibly exceptions.

The first three simple prescriptions will throw out nine-tenths of all the bad poetry now accepted as standard and classic; and will prevent you from many a crime of production.

“. . . Mais d’abord il faut ětre un poète,” as MM. Duhamel and Vildrac have said at the end of their little book, “Notes sur la Technique Poétique.”

Since March 1913, Ford Madox Hueffer has pointed out that Wordsworth was so intent on the ordinary or plain word that he never thought of hunting for le mot juste.

John Butler Yeats has handled or man-handled Wordsworth and the Victorians, and his criticism, contained in letters to his son, is now printed and available.

I do not like writing about art, my first, at least I think it was my first essay on the subject, was a protest against it.

Ezra Pound
Pavannes and Divagations

A Few Don’ts

July 28, 2018

sitting in the rain

LANGUAGE:

Use no superfluous word, no adjective which does not reveal something.

Don’t use such an expression as “dim lands of peace.” It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer’s not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol.

Go in fear of abstractions. Do not retell in mediocre verse what has already been done in good prose. Don’t think any intelligent person is going to be deceived when you try to shirk all the difficulties of the unspeakably difficult art of good prose by chopping your composition into line lengths.

What the expert is tired of today the public will be tired of tomorrow.

Don’t imagine that the art of poetry is any simpler than the art of music, or that you can please the expert before you have spent at least as much effort on the art of verse as an average piano teacher spends on the art of music.

Be influenced by as many great artists as you can, but have the decency either to acknowledge the debt outright, or to try to conceal it.

Don’t allow “influence” to mean merely that you mop up the particular decorative vocabulary of some one or two poets whom you happen to admire. A Turkish war correspondent was recently caught red-handed babbling in his despatches of “dove-grey” hills, or else it was “pearl-pale,” I cannot remember.

Use either no ornament or good ornament.

Ezra Pound
Pavannes and Divagations

Isabelle Menin - Petites Natures

I think I write for the kind of truths that poems give voice to, the kind that startle me about myself when I’m connecting thoughts with sounds, and vice versa. The English language is (I hope a worthy metaphor) an untapped oil well of riches that, through a very careful and personal arrangement of words, must be worked for, even won. It might even be an extended creation of one’s own being out of the sense that sounds make. When I’m working on a poem, when I don’t know what day or time it is, when I forget to eat, is when I’m happiest. In fact, often, in combination with my weekly runners’ highs, I’ve nearly collapsed from joy. When I finish a poem, when the whole thing rolls musically and effortlessly off my tongue, I sit back like I’ve just tunnelled through the cells walls to another human oil well, and sometimes I cry.

Susan Doble Kaluza
Bio for Rattle 43, Spring 2014

crept into morning

June 17, 2018

sometimes when the night has crept into morning and I am hungry for poetry I tiptoe through your words, I devour each syllable, let each letter melt on my tongue

Kalypso

never be lonely again

June 9, 2018

So many uses

From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.

Betty Smith
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Balance by Sara Conlan

My literature classes didn’t help. My professors stressed the importance of approaching a text with detachment, with a critical gaze rather than an emotional one. There wasn’t a place in academia for gushing or ranting. There wasn’t room to simply say, “I loved this and I don’t know why.” One had to use academic jargon. One had to be methodical and thorough. It was like listening to a song and wanting so badly to get up and dance, but instead of dancing, you have to sit there and think about why those sounds made you want to dance and consider the exact mechanics behind the formula of a danceable song. And I didn’t want to fucking do that. I just wanted to dance. I just wanted to read. I just wanted to write. I didn’t want to deconstruct lines of poetry or do a close reading of Faulkner’s usage of semicolons.

Jenny Zhang
The Quiet Importance of Angst-y Art

completely fabricated

May 31, 2018

foam

My mother’s poems cannot be crammed into the mouths of actors in any filmic reinvention of her story in the expectation that they can breathe life into her again, any more than literary fictionalization of my mother’s life — as if writing straight fiction would not get the writer enough notice (or any notice at all) – achieves any purpose other than to parody the life she actually lived. Since she died my mother has been dissected, analyzed, reinterpreted, reinvented, fictionalized, and in some cases completely fabricated. It comes down to this her own words describe her best, her ever-changing moods defining the way she viewed her world and the manner in which she pinned down her subjects with a merciless eye.

Frieda Hughes
From the foreword to Ariel: The Restored Edition by Silvia Plath

Reading out loud

May 26, 2018

Keep writing, and read every poem you write, out loud each time you work on it, and through every draft. Reading out loud exposes the weaknesses in poetry – and prose – that our eyes and minds gloss over when we skim through it otherwise. Letters and emails should also be read out loud!

Frieda Hughes
An Interview with Frieda Hughes
The London Magazine 3rd July 2017

Sometime after my first drafts are completed, months or even years, I come back to the material to look for the poems hidden in the handwritten scrawl. I turn to the typewriter when I begin experimenting with forms, usually stanzas employing syllabic or accentual count lines. I never use a computer in working on poems – I want to slow the process down, not speed it up.

Laurence Lieberman
Writing Advice from Poets
Writer’s Digest 11th March 2008

wave

When I first started writing, I was very traditional. Much of what I wrote was autobiographical. Failed relationships, Missouri, and the suburbs were almost always my chosen subjects. Reading other poets was what helped me incorporate more variety in my writing. I read everything I could get my hands on, which ranged from Gary Snyder to Joshua Clover and even The Maximus Poems. I started to understand that the poet isn’t always the speaker of the poem, but rather, poets can experiment with the techniques of fiction writing. I’d have to say that reading, and being exposed to many ideas outside of my own comfort zone, taught me the importance of innovation, experimentation, and risk-taking in poetry. It’s fine to write from one’s lived experience, but one shouldn’t be afraid to take liberties with both form and content when writing from autobiography.

Kristina Marie Darling
An Interview with J. Scott Bugher
Split lip magazine