Tuesday, July 31, 2012

On Poetry - Writers Mantra #8 & 9

With the exception of Senryu where I aspire to not-suck, poetry is one of those things that I know I'm not any good at. Nevertheless, I've been in writers groups where poets have presented their verses. And I've noticed patterns. These patterns led me to make two observations that I added to my list of writers mantras:

    Exile “and” from your poems.

This is an application of Mantra #7 to poetry. If conjunctions weaken an utterance, a poem is the last place where you want that to happen. Besides, I always feel like a poem that uses "and" just seems more prosaic than the identical verse with "and" excised.

Of course, your mileage may vary. But I don't quite feel competent to explore the distinctions.

    Can your poem be rewritten without “I/me/my”? (Universals are not personal).

One of the things I've noticed about the poems that seemed to move me the most was the way the poet became invisible. Sure, it's all good and fine to open a vein and pour out your life-blood in a poem that speaks directly from the core of your being with all the passion in your heart.

So what. What's in that for me?

If you've got something to say that's so profound that it cannot be encoded in prose, then it has a touchstone in the heart of every man and woman. The ancients spoke of "universals" that capture the essence of what a thing is without the distraction of the particular details while encompassing all the details.

What is it to be in love? Does it matter if the lover is a Hottentot or a Hugenot? Does it matter if the beloved is an Austrian or Australian? If you're trying to engage love qua love, you can't fix upon a particular person, especially yourself. Universals are not personal. The poem that crystallizes a universal is written by an invisible wo/man to no-one in particular.

Does this mantra apply to every poem? Certainly not. Only those which attempt to capture the core nature of what it means to be a human or some aspect of life. Not every poem works with this treatment, but take a moment to go over your poems and ask if any can be written without reference to I/me/my.

Trim excess verbiage
Write minimalist prose
Words obscure story

You can find the next writers mantra here.

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