Two thoughts on Poetry

I like poetry. For me it is the art of putting broken words together, fixed. Kintsugi for the jumbled thoughts that exist without rule or border, where people try, fight, celebrate, and debase themselves to make sense. I don’t like a lot of poetry, despite my Twitter account constantly liking things I read. I moreso like the act of trying to create; I read words sometimes, and see the process the writer went through to make it just so. Poetry is an extreme example, and not a monolithic “one example,” as it is myriad.

Most poets I read try and put a puzzle together, where the process is clear they see the work as a puzzle: how do I make this impactful? Drawing up all the possibilities, all the -sauri meowling around in their heads like living creatures, conjuring words that yes, yes fit. In seeing the work as a puzzle, as a here fits there fits this word isn’t working, the writer is removed of a certain pace, or rhythm, or movement. A professor’s words come to mind when I write this: “Never use the word ‘Flow’ when critiquing another’s work! There’s no such thing as flow!” I laughed so hard.

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I Fall to Pieces, Yes (poem)

If I could quote every damn word I’ve read in the past week
All at once. All at once. Where every letter slid into a perfect whatever
I’d tell you about the radiant sun that billows in a conch shell
Wreathed in flowing grape-colored tapestry, violence, wreathed in pain
Bunched up inside my chests; one locked and wooden, one flesh, one
Bone beneath the breast; I’d crush an origami swan right into that conch
To watch it burn white hot.

If I could slide syllable to slotted fucking syllable beside syllable
All lined up. All lined up. Where every sound had a new place around
I’d tell you about sto-len in-can-i-de-scence, and linger on the I
Carv-ing mean-ing to wait-ing, re-mov-ing su-per-flu-i-ties in me,
Leaving carv mean to wait mov flu I in me. No that isn’t what I mean.
Bone beneath the breast I’d crush–not that either, good sentiment.
I fall to pieces, yes.

Ceremony (Poem)

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Last night God sat me down to tea
Poured fog-and-mist down through teakwood mesh
Hickory next, swirled around the white half-moon
Cups, poured oceans out

Set about planks of cast iron and little nymph-slips
All piled about and shriveled like leaves, He
Lit candles set of man-fat and people oil and sinewy
White wicks, He made the ceiling like stars

Sang low of the living wood he grew from world-
Seeds, that hum you sometimes hear when Church
Closes its doors and someone speaks the wrong word
Or maybe conversations of Men who make no sense

The font itself a garden

Two pure white cribs between Him in i, and a cradle
A stable, a manger curved and cupped up with all the
Dreams, the magic and promise of flower-flavors, of
Petals that leave your tongue caked in memory

He slid the lid about, shined eclipses and borealae
Nocturnal things in the corners praying, silent moss
While porcelain and clay stumbled about themselves
Reworking, i heard them growing strong and hot

And God so spoke in nothing
There, spoke whole Bibles in framed half-steam
While silence blessed by wetted stone filled
Me to my bones

He did not drink, instead exhaled the slaughter
Of societies, of masochistic planets gone dust
Of loss that only omnipotence sows in observation,
Said, “This is for my brother.

I never knew the taste of tea.”

Althea (poem)

To give it a name–a thing, a move-
Ment, a legerdemain, while it walks down
Walnut Street, while it stares down the Postal
Service–is to tame and convince it
That it has purpose beyond “it”
In itself.

And you are knife.

We, the people of the (thick billed fox sparrow), clipped
stare toward the sun with our wax forming with
our thoughts of rose-red fingers climbing,
we who put the Lethe in Lethargy. Caught.
Before you see it, you see something else, and

back before, and back, in time, some pre-seen tale
all foreground and almost remembered but forgotten.

Never bloomed. Never lived. Never born.

All horizons from yesterday, somesuch dreams felled flickering crashed like when
That surfer breaks his sharpened board against shark skulls, tastes salty sand and perhaps
Godly wine, the sky a radiance like volcanic dawn and crippled clouds painted fake
onlookers prying serrations from his pulpy feet while he rolls and coats his flesh in stones

Glass. Perhaps armor.

To give it a name, this move-ment,
A letherdemain, while it drives away
To somewhere else, same horizon
Same sun still no closer to the sea
Or parting thoughts, it names me.
Something.

And you are knife. Sharpening.

Poetry in Prose. Power, or Presumption?

I’m the kind of writer that, while racing along the canyon walls of my story, I begin to alliterate, rhyme, fall into a rhythm that mimics the propelling force that accompanies my thought process. It’s a liberating, flying-or-falling feeling that sometimes takes my breath away.

But this isn’t the topic of my blog post.

Falling into a Shakespearean mode where your fingers tap like running feet along a pattern you didn’t know existed before your mind opened is one thing. For good or ill, this is the style of writing you find comfort in, and should write it as best you know. Develop it, learn it. Embrace it.

Adding poetry–actual poetry, as poetry–in prose is a little more difficult. A little more complicated a topic.

We have many reasons for adding poetry to a story. For mystery, for clarification, for quoting a (perhaps?) more knowledgable historical figure on a similar topic, etc. I catch myself adding block quotes to the beginning of my fantasy stories, directly before Chapter 1, to better set the mood and give insight toward the focus of the story. I believe it’s a major risk. I risk posting something I find strongly compelling, yet possibly unwarranted or indirect. I risk sounding pompous and presumptuous–whether it’s Longfellow or my own work–when I set apart a thought. I risk the disinterest of the reader before he even reads a single word of the story.

Why does this happen?

The short of it is, it’s a different medium. Long ago, most prose WAS poetry; our written languages developed from bards and musicians and great war-song. Yet now, in today’s world, it’s not the same. Like adding words to a painting or adding a sketch to a story, you change the piece from a purely prose piece–what the person expected to read in the first place–to a mixed media piece. You ask, and sometimes beg, the reader to change modes from passive observer/reader to active studier. Even if the poetry is simple and singsong, straight to the point and short, the reader must pause to reflect. This is asking a lot of the reader.

Danielewski’s House of Leaves is somewhat similar, although it doesn’t incorporate poetry. It’s presented like a body of research, several eyewitness accounts stacked on independent study by undependable narrators. The reader must constantly change focus from one narrative to another, from one medium to another–be it a critique by a philosopher on the symbolism of the house to deciphering a jumbled mess of papers that had supposedly been doused with coffee and thrown out of order. It’s a mire. If the story is strong enough, that’s no problem. It’s perfect. If the reader doesn’t achieve ample reward for his efforts, he quickly loses interest.

I’ve been reading this book for over a year, and I’m barely halfway through for this very same reason. I find the reward too lacking, so I set it down and do something else. Then I remember how great the topics were, and pick it back up again, only to overfill my reserves of dedication and set it down again.

Adding a poem or two or twenty-seven would be much the same risk, albeit a little less so than House of Leaves. I’ve seen novels break from two lines of seemingly insightful garbage that did nothing but showcase a lost thought, poorly framed and moreso, poorly explained.

Treat poetry as it were a separate quote from the story, as if it were a statement of explanation toward an idea. Make the reader aware it’s coming, and be certain to amply explain it afterward–if not literal translation, perhaps a simple “why?” Poetry in your story can be quite rewarding, or, it can showcase an inadequacy you didn’t know you had.