I have always aspired to a more spacious form –Czeslaw Milosz
By Robert Wallace and Michelle Boisseau
Reviewed by Stephen Page
On other reading this month, I read chapters three through six of Writing Poems. I found the authors’ opinion of prose poems poignant: “Prose poems, as one might infer, aren’t verse at all, but short compositions in prose that ask for (and reward) the concentrated attention usually given to poetry.” By definition of verse (turning, to turn, turn over) I guess that qualifies. Also relevant is the discussion on free verse:
“’T.S. Eliot said, ‘No vers is libre for the poet who wants to do a good job.’ And the great American innovator in free verse, William Carlos Williams, was always quite certain: ’…to my mind, there is not such thing as free verse. It’s contradiction in terms, the verse is measured. No measured can be free.’ Since the nature of verse itself means that we pay attention to the way lines cut across and so measure the flowing phrase and sentence of speech, Williams is correct; free verse measures, lines are measured, and though not metered.”
When I taught high school, to interest the teenagers in poetry, I mingled poems with pop rock lyrics. I explained that rock-and-rollers of the last forty or fifty years lived similar lives to poets in Shakespearian times, traveling around in bands, playing on street corners, playing to paying customers in theatres. I also showed how lyrics, when seen visually on the page, look like poems, and have many of the same qualities of poems, especially meter, assonance, alliteration, internal rhyme; moreover, end rhyme to help the listener memorize the verse and know where the line ended. The author talked similarly about this in the first paragraph of chapter five.
Chapter six is especially interesting, as it parallels what John Haines talked about in his essays,
“Equally blinding for the beginning poet is the assumption that poetry is mainly direct self-expression: What happened to me, what I feel. Poets risk psychobabble—endlessly reporting their own feeling, their own experience (only because it’s their experience), unaware that they are boring a reader. Looking only inward can keep poets from looking outward.”
“Subjects and Objects” is a good section of chapter six as it covers what most great writers already know: take the usual and make it extraordinary. Make every day occurrences interesting for the reader. In the chapter there is another topic that Haines talked about, poetry and place. Go out where you live and get into the feel of the place. Connect. That is where the poetry comes from. The “Presenting,” section talks about your advice on some of my poems: whittle your poem down to their essence. Take out, or leave out, unnecessary details.