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,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?
i like its hows.
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:
to highly experimental pieces:
into our shadow
through our maw
- from one of my favourites, "moment of eclipse"
Awwwwww bord! . . . Aw bord. . . . Bore. . . .Bord!
Uhmn hunhun Uhmn Ay du dun Day duh dun
day duh duh day duh duh
WACKITY duh duh WACKITY CLAG CLANG duh duh
- from "TRAWNA TUH BELVUL BY KNAYJIN PSIFIK",
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.)