Thursday, June 16, 2005

Those Cwafty Poets

OK, I’ve read some interesting things about the craft of poetry (too many hyper-kinks, but see the usual suspects and others too numerous). Certainly there are skills a poet uses in writing. Not every poet need have the same ones. Formalists would disagree.

A formalist believes that besides the obvious prose tools, and line break kits, one needs the gear and tackle of meter, rhyme and form in order to even begin building anything. There’s no arguing with them. In fact, because any budding formalist is relying on the tools of meter and rhyme to such a degree, one will often have a tendency to forget the other tools as she/he concentrates on only those particular ones.

And much can be sacrificed in the name of form. Even accomplished formalists can forget the poetry, they’re so intent on the craft. But more than that, they can forget the gist, on their road to writing. Here’s the map as I see it.

1. The basic tools of meter, rhyme, and form.
2. The skills of prose craft (both matter or anti-matter), and poetry technique (line breaks, tropes, alliteration, sound, look, listen, etc.).
3. The measuring of it all with gist, some underlying implication, something more than craft, something beyond meaning, as laughter is beyond understanding, crying is more than feeling, sighing is beyond resignation, and a good scream is always more than any social or political –ism.

Formalist training will often forget that last one, but it’s the third that makes the poem. It’s what made Frost great. And what makes Wilbur not. A middling carpenter may slowly measure her/his way to something big. But even the best tradesperson will always build a crooked poem if lacking that inner ruler.

On a personal level, these days, forget the feet, I’m looking for a yardstick.


Curtis Gale Weeks said...

Yes yes yes yes yes.


I can't say where I fall on the spectrum -- probably, "idiosyncratic formalist" (in that my forms tend to be quite nonce) who doubts the possiblity of the transcendence required for #3. Sometimes I think that my poetry is the expression of such doubt, as I avoid the "lying" required to create a figure of transcendence or a transcendent figure.

I.e., the laughing, crying, sighing, screaming, are better as themselves, and to corner them into poetry kills them -- or only creates the illusion of those very real things.

So what to do, g.p.?

Greg said...

You got me. The crying, laughing, screaming, were just metaphors for that transcendant thing. In music, we call it soul. I know it's there in Frost, and I feel it missing from someone like Wilbur. And a lot of other poets. Including myself most of the time and in most of the lines, but every now and then I feel it in a line or 2. I feel it in someone like Creeley, for an example of another genre. It's life I guess.