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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Reader's Diary #78- Fred Sedgwick: How To Write Poetry (up to the end of the introduction)


This is the first time I've read a "how-to" book. And let's face it, I'm not reading about "How To Make Armchairs in The Renaissance Style" here, I'm reading about poetry.

When it comes to writing poetry, I've probably committed every sin there is. I wrote a lot, before actually reading a lot. How does one know what poetry is, if one doesn't read some first? One doesn't. I'm not saying everything I wrote then didn't have it's value (I can use it a reference of bad poetry, for instance), but I had developed this idea of what a good poem was almost entirely in my head (of course, it's impossible to go through life and not be exposed to some poetry from which we build our definitions). And so now, I read more poetry. In fact, I try to always be reading poetry. I don't mean in the 24-7 sense, but in the concurrent with anything else I'm reading sense.

But this is the first time I've gone the "How To" route. I'm not sure how it'll go. I'm not aiming to be the next Robert Burns after reading it, but if I can pick up a few tips, strategies and the like that will improve my game a bit, then great. Judging by the introduction, I think I will like Sedgwick's style. It's readable, written in everyday terms, and at times humourous. Best of all, it's given me pause for thought. When he writes about the toil needed in writing, he also advises that we put the poem away for increasingly long periods of time and keep coming back to it. I know this is a downfall of mine. At best, I tend to get a poem in my head, "toil" with it only for a night or two and then write it on my laptop. If I come back to it and substitute a word here or there and slightly rearrange punctuation, it's been a good day. I have a nasty habit though of countering what I feel might be a perfectionist attitude that "it'll never be perfect" with sometimes inappropriate justification of my work. I'll use the poem I wrote below as an example. After writing this triolet (and right away I'm guilty of rushing into a form I haven't had a lot of exposure to), I felt my rhymes were a little to juvenile (had, mad, dad, etc). But instead of doing something about them, I made up an excuse as to why they might work, i.e., a man is visiting his father and recounting days of arm-wrestling so juvenile rhymes might mirror his flashbacks into his youth. Likewise, I felt that "arm wrestling" sounds clumsy, but then rationalized it by thinking- it should be, arm wrestling is awkward. So you see the dilemma I work myself into? Would I be changing things for the sake of change? Or would I be keeping things the same because of senseless justifications? This is why I publish these on line from time to time- hoping to get any feedback that might help!

Sedgwick, like a friend of mine revealed recently, is very anti-cliche. While I'm aware of them, I don't think I feel as strongly as they, and I know I'm guilty of using them. Looking back through this post for instance, I see "let's face it", "24-7", and "improve my game" to name but a few. I think it's a little hypocritical for Sedgwick to say that on the one hand "Poetry needs to written in current language" but then be so against cliches that are in fact, part of the current language. I look at them as fine in moderation and in poetry, if they're used in such a way that is advantageous to the poem. At least this is my justification for using the somewhat cliched "let him have his day" in my triolet poem. It's a cliche to me that seems like a realistic thought, that sums up the stakes of the arm-wrestling in a somewhat machismo way that people can (hopefully) relate to, and that freezes each "bout" or the man's current dilemma (whether or not to arm-wrestle his father) in a particular moment (i.e., "day"). Are my justifications valid? Or am I better and coming up with B.S. then I am at writing poems? I seriously don't know. Is this what is meant by "toil"?

1 comment:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Who knew writing poetry could be so torturous? Well, I guess when every word carries such weight, there is bound to be that need for perfection. I think working in such a demanding medium for too long would make me crazy.