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Criticism and Writing

August 12, 2009
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I think I may have been reading too much criticism. Just sat down to write a poem, and lots of words like ‘undoubtedly’ and ‘rudimentary’ popped out.

That’s the problem with reading lots of prose about poetry, you get this fever for writing, but are basically totally unprepared on the vocabulary-side. In these cases, I usually turn to my favourite poets – or, in an ideal world, to a new writer I foresee influencing my work to come. This writer can often be picked because I feel like their tone matches the tone of the piece I am going to write. For example, when I was commissioned by Mercy to write a piece about Death, I immersed myself in Edgar Allen Poe and Gabrielle Dante Rossetti – although in retrospect I could have chosen any one of hundreds of more contemporary writers, and in the end was more influenced by the musicality of tone in Eliot (again!). Or for a lighter, more impulsive tone, I might look to The New York Poets, or some Ross Sutherland or Luke Kennard.

The criticism I have been reading is by Christian Wiman, who edits the hugely influential poetry journal, ‘Poetry’ from Chicago. I picked Poetry up in a shop in New York about ten years ago, and since then it has had the unheard of boost of a $100m gift from an American philanthropist. If you’re looking for quality (especially contemporary) poetry on the net, it should really be your first stop… http://www.poetryfoundation.org/

There is also a good article on there by August Kleinzahler, nailing Garrison Keiller. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/article.html?id=146880

“Everything Keillor does is about reassurance, containment, continuity. He makes no demands on his audiences, none whatsoever. To do so would only be bad manners. Gentleness and good manners are the twin pillars of the church of Keillor.”

Makes me think of our own gentle, good mannered Poetry Pwease host.

Also, the notion in this review, of ‘poetry being in a very bad way’ is one of the primary forces behind much of my personal ideas about developing audiences and changing the modes of poetry through this residency. Of course, it is a little much to expect that we can change much from here, but anyway it is useful to experiment, and, I think, to understand that an artform is best when transcending it’s particular discipline and becoming simply a part of experience.

Anyway, yes, as I currently have a throat infection and consequently am unable to carry out the most of my function at the Bluecoat – which primarily includes talking, and maybe a little SHOUTING. I have decided to get my head down devising a poem for Slow Magic. At the moment, the idea is nothing more than a dodgy feeling in the gut, although a vaguely guilty and religious one. I am definitely influenced by some of the combinations that came out of the PV writing exercise, and I think that the definition of a miracle, as the ‘breaking of the laws of nature’ might be an interesting one to work with… poetic references? Yeats (after having a lecturer in Irish studies quote him to me all night long at one of my parties), Eliot (as always), Christian Wiman (for the sheer musicality and force), Lowell (a new name on the shelf), Hart Crane (an old one, dense and magical himself).

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 12, 2009 2:42 pm

    Poetry fascinates me because it is one of the writing processes I understand the least. It doesn’t have to rhyme, it doesn’t have to have a rhythm, it doesn’t have to have a certain shape. It doesn’t have any rules whatsoever, but at the same time you can clearly tell if it’s a poem or not.

    Weird huh?

  2. nathanatthebluecoat permalink*
    August 12, 2009 3:35 pm

    Yup. Pretty weird.

    But a novel doesn’t have to rhyme or have rhythm or a certain shape either. And neither does a shopping list! And you can pretty much clearly tell what they are too. As I said in my post, I think it’s more beneficial to think of a poem as a piece of fine art, or Experience itself, and judge it by these standards, than to wonder about it’s right to be a poem or not. Same with all the art forms, I think.

    What ‘standards’ those are is another discussion altogether, and an interesting one.

    Thanks for reading, uninvoked!

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