Archive for the ‘Poetics’ Category

what I want, after everything i have, you know like food, clothes, a roof above my head, love and friendship, is to be taken seriously as a professional poet. and that takes luck, lots and lots of luck, but it also takes hard work, discipline, marketing, networking, lots and lots of poetry reading and you know, actually submitting stuff.

And there are tensions and anxieties there, about wanting to be come part of the establishment, about having to pander to the rules of the establishment to get this done. Also anxieties about the fact that because my name is coded male does that give me an unfair advantage in the publishing stakes of other women? Anxieties over my class and educational privilege. but at the end of the day, there’s this thing that I’m really really good at and not using it, not utilising it seems really really wasteful.

So I’m going to take big chunks out of my life to focus on this, big chunks out of my days, after my paid job (which i don’t have yet but I’m working on that) after friendship, relationship and home maintenance, after objectively useful political activism (which incorporates feminist stuff, church stuff and voluntary work) poetry is going to be the priority.

I’m going to give myself five years, three years to get stuff published in periodicals and magazines and competitions and then the next two years to try an get a book published.

I’m also setting up a blog elsewhere with my name on it to talk about poetry on and to make connections with other people talking about poetry. I’m not going to link it here because firstly its really important that its not associated with any of my other stuff on the Internet (poets are alowed to be kind of odd but not as weird as i actually am) but also there’s only one person who reads this that I think would be remotely interested. I’m going to try and get two posts up about poetry a week there , but they will be better putt together and less personal than the ones I’ve written here

And this is also a commitment to the boring bits, to the rewriting and redrafting to the email conversations with people who are willing to critique my work, to the writing of cover letters and working to submission deadlines, to the cataloguing of what I’ve submitted where.

And a commitment to networking offline by going to readings and festivals and performing at open mic nights (this is where I hanker for Swansea, because I know shit loads of poets and publishers that live in Swansea)

And then this means I have to spent less time fucking around on line, i spend a lot of my time at home alone at the moment and I just gravitate towards the Internet, when I could be writing or reading. And the Internet kind of bores me now anyway, or the places I usually hang out anyway. no one is saying anything new

I have lots of book I haven’t read. and a lot of them are ones i feel i should read, that other people feel i should read but actually I’m going to spend the next year just reading poetry and stuff about poetry, with maybe the occasional foray into fairy tales/fairy tale theory and Adolescent literature/ad lit theory because these are the things that trigger my creative brain.

I’m still going to be writing here, but just as kickback when I have time


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Nobody hurt you. Nobody turned off the light and argued
with somebody else all night. The bad man on the moors
was only a movie you saw. Nobody locked the door.

Your questions were answered fully. No. That didn’t occur.
You couldn’t sing anyway, cared less. The moment’s a blur, a Film Fun
laughing itself to death in the coal fire. Anyone’s guess.

Nobody forced you. You wanted to go that day. Begged. You chose
the dress. Here are the pictures, look at you. Look at us all,
smiling and waving, younger. The whole thing is inside your head.

What you recall are impressions; we have the facts. We called the tune.
The secret police of your childhood were older and wiser than you, bigger
than you. Call back the sound of their voices. Boom. Boom. Boom.

Nobody sent you away. That was an extra holiday, with people
you seemed to like. They were firm, there was nothing to fear.
There was none but yourself to blame if it ended in tears.

What does it matter now? No, no, nobody left the skidmarks of sin
on your soul and laid you wide open for Hell. You were loved.
Always. We did what was best. We remember your childhood well.

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This is a copy of a comment I left over at the Bead Shop The words in italics are Jenn’s, the rest are mine. There’s some stuff in it I might revisit further in the future

I don’t think poetry is that important to me, at least not on the face of it. I see the words on the page, I can read them – something about them isn’t coming across, usually. There are some poems I love a great deal. I can hardly stand to read Refugee Blues by W.H. Auden because it’s so incredible. At heart though, I’m a linguist. I have quite a scientific approach to language.

The thing I think people don’t understand about poetry is that it is a language (like you said further on in your post)and this is why they get so frustrated with it and are so quick to give up on it. It should be learnt like a language, it should take years and be started when young.

Books for very small children have all the basic blocks of poetry, rhyme, rhythm, repetition, but then once a child learns to read “properly” that is drooped for linear prose and isn’t picked up again till the child is in secondary school, and not only that but more often than not it is the romantics or Shakespeare that is presented as “poetry” and also a poem as presented as something to dissect, rather than something to be enjoyed whole. Learning about poetry works much better if its “well lets discuss what we like about it and what tools the poet has used to elicit that reaction in us” and that can be taken to any level from, “I like the words used” to “the trochaic reversed foot in line six and the feminine distressed internal rhyme in line seven bring about the feeling of X” but the way poetry is taught today is like teaching particle physics to someone who doesn’t even have elementary level science.

But also there’s an assumption that kids will “just know” how poetry works in the same way they “just know” how novels work, which is absurd, the reason people just know how novels work is because they read lots of them, whereas most people cultural exposure to poetry is more or less nill.

But also I think it is possible to have a scientific approach to poetry, totally, poetry is full of rules and button pressing to get certain effects, often neither the poet or the reader are consciously aware of these effects but they are there and can be unpacked if so wished.

I’m also of the opinion that you cant really say you don’t like poetry unless you’ve read lots of it, that’s kind of like saying you don’t like music.

I also get really frustrated that people can understand and talk about music the way you do and not understand that poetry works in the same way (this isn’t about you its about living in a culture that doesn’t want to understand poetry and its importance to systems of human thinking)

To me poetry is the bridge between language and music because the sounds and the meanings are of equal importance in a poem

Of course, there is a whole class struggle going on in there, a whole lot of ideology, because dissonance and weird rhythms are what those uncouth, swearing working-class people like…They were scandalous because they liked folk music, and adopted elements of it for their own music. People went to the concert hall expecting images of high-minded people strolling through fields, battling with the Gods on mountaintops, and so on – and they got, instead, images of lowly people fucking dancing and fucking in the bushes.

This is interesting, Tom Leonard who is a glaswegian poet writes a lot about code switching and how poetry written in dialects is not accepted as real poetry, because “real” poetry is written by oxbridge graduates who speak in RP. Though, in the last thirty years it has become more acceptable, though not because there is less classism but because poetry has become less culturally important so the borders of who is an acceptable poet are patrolled less rigidly. (One of my friends suggests that this is also the reason why more women are being published poetry wise) obviously its good that there is less judgement on who is seen as worthy of being a poet but the reasons for it are not.

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recently there was an article in the guardian entitled Religions are Poems which caught my eye because for me poetry is an incredibly important part of my spirituality and at some point in the future I would love to do some proper academic research on the cultural and spiritual relationship between poetry and prayer. Despite the title of the piece it actually seems as if it arguing that poems are religions than the other way round.

After the introductory paragraph, the writer of the piece, Nick Laird argues

A good poem is a closed belief system

I actually really disagree with this, I think a good poem needs to be an open belief system, needs to give the reader many ways of entering, exiting and moving around in it. To be a closed belief system a poem would have to lay all its meaning out on the table and be static and rigid, any poem that does all those things is a bad poem.

He talks about how through the use of poetry he was:

I was trying to create, I think, a kind of religion to supplant the one I was raised with, and have now lost. In my part of the world the village religion that achieved full spectrum dominance is Christianity, and I was trying to supplant its dominance of my own mind. I am struck by how often I think of things in biblical terms.

This makes a lot of sense to me, i grew up in a christian community and sometimes it feels to me that the pathways in my head that make poetry important to me are the same ones used in religious ritual and experience, the fusing of structure, ritual, and rules, with instinct emotion and heightened senses. Also something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is the relationship between the bible and poetry. I have been thinking how one of the reasons the bible is misunderstood both as a literary artifact and as a spiritual artifact is because those reading it often have no understanding of poetry, but it strikes me that maybe the way i relate to and think about poetry has been deeply effected by my knowledge of the bible, large parts of the bible are very poetic,song of songs, psalms, Isaiah, even revelation if you take into account its extreme use of metaphor. and if you grow up in an environment where you have so much poetry in your life without you even thinking about it as being poetry that has to effect the way you relate to writing that is actually deemed as poetry.

Laird writes

The relationship between poetry, those goodly words, and religion is hard to quantify. Both involve the hidden, working at the borders of the sayable.

I love this, this is so beautiful. the reason I think poetry is so important is because it is working at the borders of the sayable it is constantly struggling to find ways to make the unsayable say able, it is constantly twisting and turning to give us different angles to look at things, different languages to speak in. and I never thought about it but yes, religion also is working at the borders of the sayable, or at least evolving alive religions are and this maybe why the pathways in my head that poetry flows down are the same ones that spirituality flows down because at the end of they day they are both trying to do the same thing.

Laird then goes on to present a critique of the lord prayer as if it were a poem:

The Lord’s prayer is one of the first poems I learned. Leached of its import by years of mindless recital, it’s almost a Sitwellian sound poem to me.

Our father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those
who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil
for thine is the kingdom,
the power and glory,
forever and ever, amen.

The verse uses an octosyllabic baseline and contains plenty of the features we expect in poems. Even though it is syntactically complex (it’s only two sentences), the lines are heavily endstopped with solid, repetitive masculine endings and there is a lot of sound play. In “trespasses” the feminine ending (meaning that the last syllable isn’t stressed) seems to replicate the very act of trespass – by going one step further than it should – and that “amen” is a neat full stop, a click on the send button of the email to God.

I personally think this is inspired because as i say I am really interested in the poetry/prayer relationship but i never ever thought about the lords prayer as a poem before which really reinforces what laird says about how it has been Leached of its import by years of mindless recital I also love how he describes it, a two thousand year old prayer, as an email, and i think poetry does that, poetry give you away of avoiding worn thought grooves and enables you to swerve of in other directions.

he goes on to say

Poetry can hold oppositions in equilibrium. Life tends to paradox and poetry can cope with that. Doctrine attempts to clarify and erase the contradictions, to organise lessons, laws and belief systems. Doctrine insists on an ethical dimension. It insists the scriptures be prescriptive. Poetry, being many-headed, doesn’t try to cohere. It is free-floating, various, associative and each poem sets out its own rules.

We live in a world that values streamlining, simplicity, absolutes and lack of complexity or contradictions but i am a fractured mess, i am full of oppositions, I’m bisexual. I’m multiple and I appear to be following both a pagan and christian path but I think the thing is that everybody’s complicated and nobody fits the streamlined capitalist patriarchal ideal of what a person is and i think poetry if we utilize it properly could both give us ways of dealing with that but also give us ways of changing that. Poetry takes us away from the prescriptiveness of dead religions and the rigidity of the current society we live in.

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Children under, say, ten, shouldn’t know
that the universe is ever-expanding,
inexorably pushing into the vacuum, galaxies

swallowed by galaxies, whole

solar systems collapsing, all of it
acted out in silence. At ten we are still learning

the rules of cartoon animation,

that if a man draws a door on a rock
only he can pass through it.
Anyone else who tries

will crash into the rock. Ten-year-olds
should stick with burning houses, car wrecks,
ships going down — earthbound, tangible

disasters, arenas

where they can be heroes. You can run
back into a burning house, sinking ships

have lifeboats, the trucks will come
with their ladders, if you jump

you will be saved. A child

places her hand on the roof of a schoolbus,
& drives across a city of sand. She knows

the exact spot it will skid, at which point
the bridge will give, who will swim to safety
& who will be pulled under by sharks. She will learn

that if a man runs off the edge of a cliff
he will not fall

until he notices his mistake.

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Poetry and Politics

From The Real News Network

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Exploring Poetry

the days are getting shorter, and the winter is drawing in, the harvest is almost over and the air is full of woodsmoke and deep autumn sadness, this is the usually the moment that stretches through cold and dark as we wait for the springtime. But for me it seems I am compelled to find a new place to stand,new places and new ways to weave and forge the words together to stretch my self creatively, to discipline myself and to think about mine and others creative processes in ways I have shied away from before in fear of damaging the word warp, in fear of making my work, my words stilted and artificial.

It comes to the point where everything I know about writing, about poetry, is everything I can know without branching off and digging deeper.

part of this blog is  my exploration of what poetry means to myself and to the world and an exploration of what poetry is for and what it does, a place for me to examine other writers poetry and my reactions to that, a place to take poetry apart and see how it works, a place to document my own growth as a writer and my writing and creative processes.

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