Friday, July 27, 2007

Poetry Friday/ Reader's Diary #271- Earle Birney: Fall By Fury (FINISHED)

As an amateur poet, I've taken to reading a lot of poetry. I think it's helped for the most part; I've learned a great deal about forms, rhythm, imagery and so forth. But, it's also given me a whole new set of anxieties. In particular, I've been feeling stressed about the lack of a personal style. Consider these lines from two separate poets:

1. Of mines I little know, myself,
But just the names of gems,—
The colors of the commonest;
And scarce of diadems

2. i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows.
Now, which one is Emily Dickinson and which one is e. e. cummings? Even those with just a passing acquaintance with either poet is likely to know the answer. I'm not saying, of course, that I want to be the next Dickinson or cummings; I'm saying that I've felt the need to choose and stick to a style that represents me. The problem is, I don't know what that is! Just like my taste in music, I like all kinds of poems. I like the free form of Walt Whitman, I like the heavy structures of Robert Frost. I like the experimentation of Christian Bok, I like the simplicity of Charles Bukowski. How then can I pick a style? It's not that I'm concerned with being recognized- as in, "Look! This crap sonnet is definitely a Mutford piece!" It's more that I'm worried about perfecting my work. How can I get comfortable writing haiku for instance, if I only write two or three and then move on to my next fancy?

Fortunately, Earle Birney has convinced me that I shouldn't stress about such matters. The poems in Fall By Fury are all over the place stylistically. They range from simple four line stanzas with established rhyme schemes (abcb):
Bart shot another squirrel,
broiled it on a rack.
They crawled under blankets
in their brushwood sack.

-from "Moon down Elphinstone"

to conventional free form:

moon slides
into our shadow
sun sucks
through our maw

- from one of my favourites, "moment of eclipse"

to highly experimental pieces:
Awwwwww bord! . . . Aw bord. . . . Bore. . . .Bord!

Uhmn hunhun Uhmn Ay du dun Day duh dun
day duh duh day duh duh


which jumbled up thoughts and dialogue with the sounds from a train; to the even more zanier visual/concrete poems. I can't represent those here, but some examples (not from this particular book) can be found here.

No, I didn't appreciate every poem. But more important than that, I did appreciate his sense of adventure, playfulness, and creativity. That's the sort of poet I want to be.

(For a taste of Birney's wit, read "the perfect Canadians" from Fall By Fury, 1978 here.)


Saints and Spinners said...

You will get your own style! When it comes, it won't feel like a particular style at all-- it'll just feel like the way you write.

Regarding Nunavut... my husband grew up in Yellowknife, NWT, and his brother-in-law helped the people of Nunavut set up their government. I love how blogging has brought the "far reaches" that much closer together.

John Mutford said...

Alkeda: As long as my style is as hard to define and ecclectic as Birney's, I'll be happy.

Yes, the blogging world is quite bizarre that way. I have almost daily contact with complete strangers all over North America and beyond. It's a small world afterall.

Carrie K said...

Hopefully it'll never be "this crap sonnet is a Mutford piece!" LOL. (The following is probably completely unnecessary and unwanted advice, but that's never stopped me before:) You have to trust your own voice - people don't speak in one tone, poets shouldn't have to write in one style.

John Mutford said...

Carrie: Not to worry. Unsolicited advice is normally a major pet peeve, but I don't think yours was unsolicited at all. Rereading my post, it did come across as a cry for help ;)

And in any case, when the advice is good (as yours is), all is forgiven! You have valid points.

Dewey said...

Even though I'm not familiar with either of those poems, I knew they were Dickinson and cummings even before you said their names. Their styles are just so distinctive. Well, to be completely truthful, I thought, "Dickinson and either cummings or some modern cummings imitator."

Also! I have a poem about this very thing, not knowing what style is yours and liking so many other styles. I'll try to remember to post it for the Monday poetry train.

Dewey said...

Also: sometimes having a very distinctive style can work against a writer, who then sounds like s/he's writing the same thing over and over again. Palahniuk is starting to wear thin with me, for that reason.

John Mutford said...

Dewey: I had a grammar prof at university that pointed out to me that most Emily Dickinson poems can be sung to the tune of "Yellow Rose of Texas". That's the giveaway to me. Looking forward to your post tomorrow!

Carrie K said...

Oh swell. Now I'm sure to be reading Emily Dickinson to the tune of The Yellow Rose of Texas. No matter what the actual cadence. Probably out loud to, so everyone around me will think I'm crackers. ;)

Camille Alexa said...

Cool! The first poetry review on Hidden treasures! Thank you.