29 August 2011

UPDATE: 08.29.11

Now that we've read the introduction and first section in Kinzie's A Poet's Guide to Poetry, you should have some sense of what it takes to both begin a poem and think through some of the concepts behind line breaks, etc.

At this juncture, then, I want you to focus on four specific elements while you're composing your poems. First, as I mentioned during our first class session, you should be mindful of the fact that poetry uses "language--words and sentences," to the extent that "plots and ideas are produced by and constantly dependent on language" (8). As such, I want you to focus on the language that you employ within your poems, always placing primacy upon the sounds your piece makes instead of what it actually says. This does not mean that you should ignore aspects such as "plot and idea," but they should always be subservient to the auditory capacities of your poem.

Second, as Kinzie mentions, your poem's "mental and emotional content must depend on objective counters and local embodiments" (17). Stated differently, whatever abstract feelings or ideas your poem conveys should manifest themselves, primarily, within concrete language and images. To this extent, attempt, as much as possible, to ground your reader in sensory perceptions that are highly detailed and specific. The often employed example of image-use in modern poetry, one you may have read before, is William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow":
so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white
This is not to say that your writing has to be as sparse as Williams' poem, but your work should, first and foremost, deal directly with images. Another well-cited example is Ezra Pound's "In a station of the Metro":
The apparition of these faces in a crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
The third consideration I want you to keep at the forefront of your minds while you compose your poems during the first portion of the semester is the manner in which line breaks function within your work, specifically with relation to half-meaning. How does the "radical splitting apart of phrases create provisional meanings in the orphaned line"(59)? Moreover, remember that "An enjambed lines always creates half-meaning in addition to the 'whole' meaning of the sentence." To this extent, you'll want to develop a nuanced system of tension and release with regard to line and syntax. Take, for example, the opening to "Right of Assembly (New Mexico, 1939)" by John Chavez, the entirety of which can be found online at the Notre Dame Review. Notice tension builds, then is released as line and syntax work with and against one another:
A pointillist canvas of waving grass,
each leaf, each man is a black, brown, or damp colored

overcoat, a flannel shirt
or double breasted suit, an indifferent

skyward or trained stare. From afar the crowd
of men shift to mimic a fist of clouds,

reveal Stalin, Roosevelt or Churchill’s steadfast bust,
the apparent disassembly of women.

Of the twelve in the crowd of hundreds,
I imagine one is the mother of two soon to be killed sons,

another becoming more and more spouseless
with the passing days. Still another,
What is important to remember, of course, is that "half-meaning, which introduces such an interesting threshold of uncertainty at which we waver, depends on a solid background of lines that assert more or less whole meanings. Constant use of tension leads in time to no tension" (61). Simply put: don't over use the enjambed line; let some lines end-stop so as to keep the poem most dynamic. Kinzie later refers to this technique (not just with line breaks, but with every aspect of the poem) as "juxtaposition" (65).

And finally, as both Kinzie states in her text, and I mentioned in the previous class session: "You are moving through uncertainties," or a text that is "not yet finished, still growing" (6). In other words, if you "know" what you're going to write before you start writing, your poem will necessarily be worse off for it. Make sure that the poem, both in its construction and in its final form, offers writer and reader alike an intensely surprising, uncertain, and mysterious experience.

I would also like you to pay close attention to the way Kinzie writes about poems. When writing about Trey Moody's Climate Reply for next class period, I want you to mimic Kinzie's engagement with other poets' poems. While there are a plethora of examples that can be found within the 75 pages we've already read, check out her analysis of Robert Frost's "On a Bird Singing in Its Sleep" on pages 21-23 and Robert Lowell's "Mr. Edwards and the Spider" on pages 60-62.

HOMEWORK: For next class (09.12.11), please have the rough draft of your second poem. From here on out, the first draft of every poem you write should be as follows: draft "a preliminary 250- to 300-word creative meditation in prose" (8), then revise, edit, pare-down, and lineate your writing into a second draft. While you should keep a record of every draft, it's just the second draft you'll need to send me the night before class. Additionally, you'll need to write a single-spaced, one-page response to Trey Moody's Climate Reply. I will assign each of you a specific poem for your response. When writing this piece, make sure you are engaging the poem with concepts we've read in Kinzie, quoting both the poem and Kinzie when appropriate.

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