from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Monday, 3 October 2011

Elements of Poetry Part 111: the shaping power of thought

In this blog I've spoken already of poetry of the heart and poetry of the soul. The 'third thing' here is the shaping power of thought (and there is also the question of the body and poetry – another time).

Poetry, in its breadth and depth, its subtlety and suggestions, reaches, I’d say, like music, beyond the 'merely' intellectual aspects of mind. It’s helpful to remember, though, that in putting the words down we shape it through the intellect; and the fact that a piece of writing arises from genuine feeling and/or spiritual perception has little bearing on whether it’s a ‘good’ poem, objectively speaking. A heartfelt poem may be genuine and moving in its expression but still a weak poem.
    So part of our focus is how to shape the emergent words to their best advantage. Part of the art of making poems is in translating abstract regions of feeling and impression into coherent expressions of reality, with which a reader or listener can engage.
    For this, we also need to engage our ‘editor’ brain and apply thought effectively. We need to consider such things as our use of diction and vocab, punctuation, image, metaphor, simile, sound patterns, sustained theme, line breaks, stanza breaks, layout and form, objectively.
    I know very well how, as a beginning poet, it seems sometimes that a poem springs forth fully made and perfect, like Athena from Zeus’ head; at such times it may almost seem sacrilegious to alter it. Well, I’d say that just very occasionally this might be true, whether you are a beginning poet or a more experienced one. Very occasionally. However, most of the time the product of our imaginative nature is best supported by also bringing to it our more detached and objective editing skills. I have vivid and embarrassing memories still of the first poems I was writing, maybe 30 years ago, as seeming so inspired as to need publishing immediately; I also remember sending them to a friend who happens to be one of the best known poetry publishers in Britain, who gently steered me away from immediate publication. How grateful I am now; and how difficult it must have been for him.
    In my 20s I did indeed have some poems accepted for publication – unedited, as in those days I didn’t ‘believe in’ interfering with the spontaneous creative process – in some small journals. Most of those poems now really make me cringe.
    So there's something about how we bring the fruits of the imagination and the creative process together with the clarity of the intellect.

More on all of this another time.

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