October 15, 2007

A bit down

I've found myself a little lacklustre since last week's episodes. Maybe it's because I finally have the x-files to stem the flow of my creativity (watched the film and am now back into season 6). But I think it's mostly because there are certain bits of criticism that hit deeper. To paraphrase, last week Peter said my initial poem lacked in imagery, and that, as he had predicted before, I was quite concerned with linguistic content. I suppose it knocked the wind out of me a bit, even though he enjoyed the Midsummer Night's Massacre, as did George ("rollicking" was the word, I believe). Myabe it's just some mental block about poetry - I would like to think my songs have some great images (Worthwhile, for example), in addition to telling narratives. Or maybe I am too wrapped up in language and the tale it tells. I guess I'll just have to work on that. But with Shelley (my favourite poet), it's the language and narrative I revel in, like in Ozymandias "look upon my works, you mighty, and despair!" . I wonder if I'm alone in that...

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  1. Imagery and language can come into real conflict sometimes. Sometimes the sound, the rhythm, the rhyme is perfect, but the image isn’t there. Obviously the best poets combine them both – Ozymandias is a perfect example. But as an exercise it might be worth cutting loose from any constraints you have with regards language, and just going for the perfect imaginary image. Just throw technical devices out willy nilly – personify what you want, alliterate where you think is fun, so on and so on.

    If you’re going for a scene, think about how you interact with it on all levels, not just how it is or how it makes you feel – don’t think just in terms of subjective experience, objective reality, but of you existing in a relation with a certain scene. So for example…

    “She walks in beauty, like the night
    Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
    And all that’s best of dark and bright
    Meet in her aspect and her eyes:”

    There’s a reflexive link brought into being between the subject of the poem and the image set up around her. The main thing about it is that it’s casual, easy, and confident -

    “she walks in beauty, like the night” – are we personifying night, or sublimating the subject into something beyond herself? Dunno, and I don’t think it matters – bth ways add to the image of the scene, and the regal beauty of the subject.

    “dark and bright” – I call this manouevre a “flip-flop” – reading it, you get as far as “dark and-” and you expect the next word to be “light”. It isn’t, it pulls the rug from underneath you, and suddenly you’re forced to actually consider the tired old cliche. The fact that “bright” is an adjective rather than a noun certainly doesn’t matter -by putting it into the same place in our mind as “light” it has become more than it was. We can almost see the wet light flickering from the stars and across the woman’s eyes when we read the next line.

    Not necessarily the best example poem for what I wanted to show, but the first one that came to mind.

    As far as narrative goes – narrative poetry is fantastic (my last duchess, anyone? Ulysses?). At the same time, whilst people are very surprised by prose without narrative, poetry can often get away with it. Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t pursue narrative in poetry – rather I think it’s important to appreciate that poetry doesn’t rely upon it as much as it does upon image. Both prose and poetry need to sound beautiful, but in poetry that feeds in much more directly to the purpose of reinforcing the image – think of onomatopeia, sibillance, plosives (thanks for the word!) – they’re all adding a sonic layer to the image being created.

    Poetry simply doesn’t have the verbage to be able to create scenery in the way prose does. It doesn’t cover things in the same way – if it did, it would be prose. So the creation of image is a very important aspect of a poem – it is what allows us to be a spectator (or even an active part) of a poem, without the vast net that is woven by prose.

    Hope this is useful!

    17 Oct 2007, 12:32

  2. George Ttoouli

    Ezra Pound, in ‘How to Read’ and the longer version, ‘A B C of Reading’ talks about how there are three elements to writing poetry: musicality (melopoeia); imagery (phanopoeia); and argument (logopoeia). Alongside this are the rules he laid out for the Vorticists in his essay, ‘A Retrospect’: be original, ‘go in fear of abstraction’, etc.

    For new poets, these points are often the commonest pit traps they fall into: lack of rhythm or music; lack of imagery; lack of coherence; lack of originality; lack of precision. They’re rules that need to be learned, owned and eventually treated with disdain.

    As Tim says: “as an exercise it might be worth cutting loose from any constraints you have with regards language, and just going for the perfect imaginary image”.

    And go a step further and try writing a poem that has only an argument. A political rant perhaps, or an attempt to persuade a lover into bed. Try to restrict use of the other ‘threads’ of poeticality. Compare to other political poems, such as Adrian Mitchell’s ‘Tom Whom it May Concern’, or some eastern bloc poets like Tadeusz Rosewicz, Miroslav Holub, or other love entreaties, like John Donne’s ‘The Flea’ or Elizabeth Garrett’s entire collections, ‘The Rule of Three’/’A Two-Part Invention’.

    20 Oct 2007, 16:39

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