What is poetry? Galway Kinnell says, “To me, poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.” Robert Frost writes, “Writing a poem is discovering.” Madeleine LeCense, an 18-year-old National Student Poets award-winner from New Orleans, describes poetry as, “The art of getting lost. Getting lost and going along with it, being okay with not knowing where you’re going.” Yeats wrote,” We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.” Emily Dickinson famously remarked, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”
Why write poetry? Jane Hirschfield observes, “One reason to write a poem is to flush from the deep thickets of the self some thought, feeling, comprehension, question, music, you didn’t know was in you, or in the world. Poetry is a release of something previously unknown into the visible. You write to invite that, to make of yourself a gathering of the unexpected and, with luck, of the unexpectable.” Jacques Lacan writes “The reason we go to poetry is not for wisdom, but for the dismantling of wisdom.” GK Chesterton said of imagination generally, and I think the same could be said more specifically of poetry, “The function of the imagination is not to make strange things settled; so much as it is to make settled things strange.” ee cummings exhorts us, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically, “. . . write poetry, for God’s sake, it’s the only thing that matters.”
What’s a good way to proceed with writing poetry? Russell Edson says, “I write as a reader; not knowing what the author will say next…In the first place, I write to be entertained. Which means surprised. A good many poets write out of what they call “experience.” This seems deadened. For me, the poem itself, the act of writing it, is the experience, not all the crap behind it. To quote Robert Bly, ‘In art, I want to see the ‘unknown’ looking at me.’ I want this too, particularly in my own work.” Wallace Stevens said of writing poetry, “It is necessary to any originality to have the courage to be an amateur.”
What should we avoid when writing poetry? Derek Walcott wrote, “If you know what you are going to write when you’re writing a poem, it’s going to be average.” Similarly, the writer, Junot Diaz tells us, “If you are not lost, then you are at a place somebody’s already found. If you feel familiar and you feel comfortable you are in mapped territory. What’s the use of being in mapped territory?”
How do you learn to write poetry? Asked by an interviewer about his “study” of several poets, Phillip Larkin responded, “Oh, for Christ’s sake, one doesn’t study poets! You read them, and think, ‘That’s marvelous, how is it done, could I do it?’ and that’s how you learn.” Rather bravely, T.S. Eliot avers “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one has to go,” and as Wallace Stevens reminds us, “All poetry is experimental poetry.” David Byrne, playfully reminds us, “If you dance, you’ll understand the words better.”
–originally published by Right Hand Pointing
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Brad Rose was born and raised in Los Angeles, and lives in Boston. He is a sociologist, and author of a collection of poetry and flash fiction, Pink X-Ray (Big Table Publishing, 2015 http://pinkx-ray.com) His new book of poems, Momentary Turbulence, is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press. Two new chapbooks of poetry, Away with Words and An Evil Twin is Always in Good Company, will be published respectively by White Knuckle Press and Right Hand Pointing in 2017. Brad is the author of three additional chapbooks of poetry and flash fiction, Democracy of Secrets, Coyotes Circle the Party Store, and Dancing School Nerves. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, his poetry and fiction have appeared in, The Los Angeles Times, Posit, The American Journal of Poetry, Folio, decomP, Lunch Ticket, The Baltimore Review, Boston Literary Magazine, Right Hand Pointing, and other publications. His website is: www.bradrosepoetry.com. Audio recordings can be heard at: https://soundcloud.com/bradrose1.
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