Saturday, April 19, 2008

Extraordinary Poetry Writing

extraordinarypoetrywritingI'm always on the look out of books that approach a subject in a simple way without dumbing it down. I found this slim volume titled Extraordinary Poetry Writing by Margaret Ryan that's a gentle but not dumbed down introduction to poetry writing. It's nicely divided into small chunks with side bars and tips.
"Poems need to be about something."
An obvious and yet intimidating statement ;-) At least from my time in school, I picked up the idea that you began with a subject and tried to write profound or amusing things about it, as though the poem in its entirety were hidden inside of you and you just needed to find a way to transcribe it. As she goes onto help you see, you begin with something to focus on and then let yourself free associate and explore that idea. Comparisons, contrasts, images, feelings, phrases, lines, memories, words ... Then you play with those, finding patterns and interesting ideas that arise from the original subject.
"... it's not so much the subject of your poem that makes it special. It's the way you write about that subject -- the language you choose, your insights, your point of view."
As she explains, little to none of that is there at the beginning. You begin with a subject but your exploration uncovers surprising things you didn't know were inside you :-)

(This is true of prose, too, of course!)
"Tip FIle: "Just sit down with a pen you like and a clean sheet of paper, lined or unlined, and start writing. Play with words and images that interest you. Experiment with the music of words and see what happens. Let your subject emerge as you focus on it and it begins to clarify."

Though some people find a blank sheet of paper intimidating! If you do, mess it up. Put marks on it. Crumple it. Write on the back of an envelope. Or in your writer's notebook. Whatever will help you feel that you're not about to begin a finished product. It's notes. It's supposed to feel like chicken scratch :-)
"Let your mind wander. Daydream as you write. Cover at least one side of a sheet of paper with ideas, feelings, insights, and items you associate with your topic. Don't ask yourself 'Why does an orange make me think of gym class?' Just write down that it does."

"Be aware that most poems have more than one subject. There will be the obvious subject, the one that triggered the writing of the poem -- a groundhog, a hyacinth in bloom, an encounter with a friend in the hall. Underneath will be another, larger subject that you will most likely discover during the process of writing your poem.

"Because this layer of subject -- sometimes called a theme -- will reveal itself to you as you compose your poem, you don't have to worry about working it in."

Then she goes onto the structure of poetry.
"The first line of a poem is an invitation."
And, as she has already pointed out, you may not write the first line first. You may not write the first line until the end. You may find it in the middle of the poem.

In the following chapters she discusses first drafts, final drafts ("Where the Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary"), and finally onto 5 poetic forms: haiku, list poems, dramatic monologue, ballads, sonnets.
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