Writing and Appreciating Poetry with Carolyn Martin
Carolyn began her talk with some groundrules:
- Don’t believe everything you hear unless it resonates in you.
- Ask lots of questions
- Daydream – she once went to a poetry reading and became distracted by a poem she needed to write … called Purgatory!
Billy Collins (poet laureate of the US, 2001-2003) wrote an Introduction to Poetry… as a poem https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/46712 . He writes of taking a poem so we can “hold it up to the light / like a color slide…” and complains of those who “tie the poem to a chair with rope / and torture a confession out of it.”
- Does teaching to the exam make students hate poetry?
- Does overanalyzing strip the words and lose the poetry?
- Why do we imagine there’s only one right way to understand?
- We want meaning; we don’t admire what we can’t understand
- Understanding uses intellect. Imagine requires feeling.
- If a poem feels too dense, too heavy – if we’re stuck wondering what it might mean – stop; step back; and read it for the beauty of the words. Just let it be – don’t torture it!
Other examples included “Now listen, you watermelon…” http://wyso.org/post/robert-bly-shaping-american-literature from Issa, translated by Robert Bly.
Robert Frost said “Poetry is what gets lost in translation.” https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/robertfros101675.html
Carolyn’s second example was A Blessing by James Wright 1927-1980 https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/46481 . We looked at:
- The shape of the poem – one long stanza rather than several short ones – how does this change the reading, the flow of words into the imagination?
- The facts of the poem – it was set in a particular location. It juxtaposes two pairs of characters.
- The surprise of the poem – images such as “twilight bounds,” “bow shyly as wet swans.” Poetry can say things differently, not repeating the everyday.
- The sound of the poem
- – love and lonely
- Luscious language of romance
- The ending of the poem
- Dissolving the scene into emotion – love, awe, beautyf
- Evoking recognition in the reader
The tools of poetry include
- Lines – short lines clean the slate ready for the next image
- Pattern – may not be obvious, but should have purpose
Next came Elegy for my father by Natasha Trethewey. Poet Laureate of the US, 2012-2014 http://cat.middlebury.edu/~nereview/30-4/Trethewey-Elegy.htm Elegies (tributes) are normally written in iambic pentameter rhymed couplets. They’re also usually written for someone who is dead. (Many of us thought this one was too, but it’s not. And it’s not in rhymed couplets, but there are rhymes – the author chooses what to do, and every choice has a purpose.)
- Rules can be broken
- it’s okay to us “ly” words if you know why you’re using them.
- It’s okay to use internal rhymes instead of end-line rhymes.
- It’s okay to defy convention
- Emotion doesn’t have to be named – it might be better to evoke it with images
- Consonance and assonance (repeating vowels and consonants) can be stronger than rhyme
- Appearance matters – the lines of this poem form neat pairs down the page – but
- Appearance is not how you read poetry – read to the punctuation, not the line break
- Poetry can be told as story and story can be told as poem – sometimes you just have to start writing to work out which you want to do.
- Writers gather details and facts, ready to use them “one day.”
- Doing the research (to find out what the writer meant) won’t spoil the poem, but it’s not essential to reading the poem.
- Some stews might taste better for knowing what’s in them – or maybe they just get remembered differently.
Two poems by Kay Ryan (you can find her on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WCRWQbVNxs), Poet Laureate of the US, 2008-2010, offered a great illustration of how what you see is part of what you get. Buried rhymes, consonants that are hard to say, strangely short lines… and end-rhymes tying a bow on the whole package. If you listen to Kay Ryan, make sure you have the text to hand so you can experience the poem visually as well as aurally.
Robert Frost (1874-1963) wrote “Out, out – “https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/53087 a poem whose title evokes MacBeth. Brief candle or damned spot? This one illustrates
- Personification – a saw that leaps
- Well-chosen words – saw and saw
- Dialog within a poem
- Dramatic technique
- Horror and tragedy that totally absorb the reader instead of turning us away.
Frost said “The ear is the only true writer…”
When You Are Old by William Butler Yeats, 1865-1939 https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/when-you-are-old illustrates the use of traditional stanzas and rhyming schemes. Carolyn invited us to see
- The emphasis is NOT on the rhythm and rhyme
- The rhyming words flow naturally, feeding the next line of poetry.
Yeats said “A line will take us hours maybe…” in Adam’s Curse https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam’s_Curse_(poem) . Learning from him we should revise, revise, revise. There is no good writing, only good rewriting. And it should all look effortless when it’s done!
With which advice, Carolyn invited us to write. Her suggestion was we take a line from one of the poems we’d just read
- I ask them to … (who? Do what?)
- Just off the highway to … (Where, what happens?)
- I think by now … (What has happened by now?)
- One can’t work by … (by what?)
- When you are … (what?)
Carolyn closed her workshop with another Billy Collins poem, this one inspired by the direction that we “never us the word ‘suddenly’ just to create tension.” If you’ve not read Tension by Billy Collins, you really should. https://www.theparisreview.org/poetry/5646/two-poems-billy-collins
Begin in delight. End in wisdom. And keep rewriting until you reach the end.