MY UNDERSTANDING COMING INTO THE FIELD: When I started an InPrint class in poetry in Winter 2015, my goal was to improve my writing style. I was a novelist with only a passing interest in the strange world of poetry that many great novelists, for whatever reason, also happen to participate in. I had just completed my fifth novel and I was in the cooking period before writing the final draft. I had some available time and brain space so I jumped at the chance to potentially learn what the big deal is with poetry. I thought, prior to this class, that the real action in literature is in the text of the novel and that poetry is about polishing to a brilliant shine one or two meaningful lines and then publishing a collection that everybody will resist and nobody but your friends and family will buy.
WHAT HAPPENED: I am now in week eight of a ten-week course in writing poetry. We meet once a week for ninety minutes and the class sessions follow this format; we read the work of established poets from a handout, discuss recent poems written by class members, two students read a favorite poem written by an established poet and do exegesis and describe their personal love affair with the poem, take a break and have snacks and develop camaraderie, after the break we workshop the poems submitted in advance by two students assigned for that session to present work, they read three of five poems selected and then we write notes to them and then read the notes and discuss and crosstalk and then we shut down and go home.
I took to the whole process like a duck to water and wrote twenty poems on my own, for in class assignments and homework that I released to a limited audience of friends on my website. I got positive feedback in class and from my friends on my work despite feeling personally that I was groping like a blind person with the world and possibilities inside of the poem.
HOW I FEEL NOW:
This poetry stuff seemed like the most useless
Banality for most of my life but now it is frying me
And I can’t get enough of it but
I am taking my waking slowly or at least trying to
I wrote a villanelle
Holy sh*t, I wrote a villanelle
Tim McGregor, *l’étranger dans le monde du vers
Wrote a villanelle and it changed my life
(*the stranger in the world of verse)
MY POETICS OR MY SENSE OF ORDER THAT I BRING TO THE TASK: I write mostly free verse in quatrains and tercets of ten to fifteen syllables per line and leave a line alone by itself if I need to express my idea or a cluster of short lines if I want to accelerate the pace. I don’t use punctuation at all but I capitalize the first letter of every line. Line breaks are usually end-stopped but I also like using enjambment, as it seems to call out to the reader requesting special attention. I don’t like to go over five or six stanzas as I try to limit each poem to one major idea or argument. I can use more stanzas or less depending on what the poem needs. As to forms, I quite like the villanelle and will try on other forms as I discover them. I want to use blank verse as I learn more about hearing feet.
I want my poems to communicate with people on the other side of the line of resistance who can’t read poetry as well as opening a dialogue with established poets as we mutually bathe in these wonderful streams and sacred rivers of text. My above mentioned twenty poems (my first collection ever) were said to be inaccessible by most and I of all people should know the pain of not being able to access a poem as it used to be the story of my life. I feel that by continuous writing I will improve and more great poems will become accessible to me, it is already happening like a torrent, and my work will become accessible to my readers.
MY FAVORITE THEMES: Documenting my own history and development. Celebrating life.
The miracle of my own existence flabbergasts me
And then it doesn’t and then I forget the feeling
I am stolid and even-keeled, unaffected by miracles
Then I have to try and find the words for this
Wonderful feeling of lived adventure from my
Short term memory, line by line
WRITING FICTION: When I read Aldous Huxley’s first novel, Chrome Yellow, back in 1981 or 82 that had a lot to do with the controversy over his leaving poetry to become a fiction writer, I did not understand what all the fuss was about but now I do. Fiction is safe, poetry isn’t. I feel as if I have achieved my goal of improving my writing one hundred times over as I now see rhythm and balance in the spoken word, other people’s writing and my own writing. This is what I signed up to achieve and I have already achieved it, and we still have two classes to go. God only knows where I am headed but regardless of location, are these not also the seas of God?