Archive for the ‘Learning Poetry’ Category


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Poetry Clarity



Above is my profane attempt to illustrate some feelings I have had concerning some of the poetry I am reading of late. The yellow area is the type of poetry I resonate with: clear, straightforward, coherent language and the fewer obscure allusions or metaphors, the better.  A 6-dimensional illustration would better illustrate many of the other qualities that figure into my preferences, but I don’t have software to help me draw 6-D!

Are there any categories that you can identify as typifying your aesthetic preferences in poetry?  Many poetry-types will be very allergic to my analytic approach here — tough luck.  Don’t get me wrong though, this is just one of my many methods of looking at poetry.  I can even feel stuff that I don’t like  affect me — such is the nature of the world, eh?

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Spectrum of Verse

From his chapter “Free Verse” in “Poetic Meter & Poetic Form”, Paul Fussell tells us that forms of language “shade into” each other.  Enjoying that image, I have tried to illustrate it below.  This thinking helps us to not to constrain our notion of what is and is not poetry.

Another quote from Fussell’s Free Verse chapter that I enjoyed says:

Whatever [verse form] it is, a poetic medium must be more than a faddish “relaxation” of a former convention …


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Japanese Poetry Timeline

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John Donne (1572-1631) is often categorized as a “metaphysical poet”. Interestingly, the label originally was not intended as complimentary when it was coined by poet and literary critic John Dryden (1631-1700). Dryden instead coined the phrase to use critically. Perhaps foreshadowing modernists in the 1900s, Dryden strived for precision of thought and words without use of flowery language or scholarly show. Samuel Johnson’s (1709-1784) similar criticism of metaphysical poets (read here on wiki) inspired my above ‘poem’.

My paraphrasing poem is in octosyllabic couplets which, according to Wiki, was suppose to be a favorite of the (possibly mythical) metaphysical poets. But honoring Dryden’s preferences, unlike those metaphysicists, I have used plain language and a non-scholastic tone. Yet perhaps sadly vulnerable to Johnson’s criticism of metaphysics, I was less a poet and merely a technician. Oh well, but perhaps some will enjoy this info and the pics!

I’ve only read a bit of Donne, so I’m not sure I’d be as critical as Johnson and Dryden.  Nonetheless, poetry which obvious tries to boast of erudition and pretentiously uses uncommon flowery language is not a favorite of mine.

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I built this timeline to enrich my study of poetry. Part II (coming) will include Romanticism to present.

If you have suggestions or corrections, they would be deeply appreciated. I am aware that ancient dates are controversial – especially distinguishing oral tradition from recorded tradition.  Of course this is not meant to be inclusive, but I tried to add variety.  So let me know what you think!

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Using “God”

by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld
“Die Bibel in Bildern”, 1860.

This lovely, dark morning, while researching a bit on the poet Dorianne Laux, I listened to one of her poems (below) where she spoke about “God”.  Her use of “God”  inspired me to start this post where I will slowly gather examples of poets who use the word “God” to communicate.

Unlike a huge percentage of Americans, I don’t enjoy football, baseball or basketball. Yet I work in medicine and work with people from all walks of life on very intimate levels daily — people who generally love and avidly watch sports. So, not infrequently, I use sports analogies to reach into and share their world enough that we can effectively communicate.

Poets and authors who don’t necessarily believe in an intervening, prayer-answering, virtue-rewarding, sin-punishing, fate-controlling, supernatural deity still use the word “God” to communicate to a large audience.  “God” can be a very useful, convenient tool, either because it resonates with believers or it is so deeply a part of culture, it even stirs the hearts/minds of nonbelievers and the many who don’t really think about whether they believe or not.

1.  Dorianne Laux: “Dust”  (PBS video reading) (written) where Laux calls her inner muse “God” (an excellent poem).  Here is an excerpt:

That’s how it is sometimes–
God comes to your window,
all bright light and black wings,
and you’re just too tired to open it.

2.  Ferdowsi  (AKA: Firdusi): a Persian poet, 940-1020 AD. Shia Muslim

The Search

No one could tell me what my soul might be;
I searched for God, and God eluded me;
I sought my brother out, and found all three,
My soul, my God, and all humanity.

3. More coming (with your help, perhaps)

Note: I am not sure of the actual positions of the poets listed above (and neither, perhaps, are they) — but if you know where they have spoken on this issue, please let me know.  Also, if you have other examples of poets using “God” where it is clear they are not using the word in the common sense, let me know.

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Poetry is Communication

Ted Kooser

I am new student to poetry and must say I am not very fond of modern poetry.  I was recently introduced to the US Poet Laureate of Ted Kooser (2004-6) whose free verse poems I immediately enjoyed — immediately and simply, with no effort.

I am reading “Delights & Shadows” and just started his book “The Poetry Home Repair Manual”.  Below are quotes from his manual to which I have great sympathy and would like to share:

Poetry is communication, and every word I’ve written here subscribes to that belief.  Poetry’s purpose is to reach other people and touch their hearts.  If a poem doesn’t make sense to anybody but its author, nobody but its author will care a whit about it.    That doesn’t mean that your poems can’t be cryptic, or elusive, or ambiguous if that’s how you want to write, as long as you keep in mind that there’s somebody on the other end of the communication.  I favor poems that keep the obstacles between you and that person to a minimum. (pg xi)

Part of the reason for our country’s lack of interest in poetry is that most of us learned in school that finding the meaning of a poem is way to much work, like cracking a walnut and digging out the meat.  Most readers have plenty to do that’s far more interesting than puzzling over poems. (pg 1-2)

My teacher and mentor, Karl Shapiro, once pointed out that the poetry of the twentieth century was the first poetry that had to be taught. (pg 2)

May I say, that when he wrote, “That doesn’t mean that your poems can’t be cryptic, or elusive, or ambiguous …”  I think he was just being courteous or circuitously making his point.  I hope to share more of Ted Kooser in the future.

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