Friday, February 5, 2016

New Writing

This morning I've been rereading my sheaf of new poems. Many are very brief, which, at this point in my life, is unusual for me. When I first began writing seriously, I tended to compose elegant little formal lyrics, until Baron told me, "Stop spending all of your time trying to be beautiful and avoiding what you really need to say." After wailing and weeping over the hopelessness of being a real poet, I then blew my nose and tried to follow his advice. The result was a shift toward much longer, sometimes very long, poems. Few were purely lyrical; I found myself concentrating on narrative and dramatic arc, the elements of mythic storytelling.

Baron is a great teacher because he never tells anyone how to write. What he does is help his students begin to search for the wonders they're not unwrapping, the doors they haven't kicked down. The poems in Boy Land, Crimes, and Same Old Story, while different from one another, were primarily driven by a need to explore the range of my inner voice, though that voice became increasingly fictionalized in the later books. But when I was working on the historical-fiction poems in Chestnut Ridge, I began using a variety of forms as containers in which the trigger materials could expand into invention. Sometimes I followed traditional rhyme and rhythm patterns; sometimes I created visual-sonic mashups. Some poems fell into patterns that imitated aspects of their trigger sources: newspaper columns, prison cells, highway exits, tables at a whist party.

These new pieces are doing something different yet again. I haven't abandoned dramatic narrative, but the frame has tightened. I feel as if I'm one of Shakespeare's rude mechanicals, the one who plays the chink in the wall in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The poems are glimpses; and, as in Chestnut Ridge, forms are arising to guide me. "John Doe's Threnody" is a series of sentence fragments, unpunctuated, unlineated, squared to the margins--an accruing list of excuses, blame, strife, dependence, love, guilt, shame. "Your Fate," to my joy, is a rap solo that might be performed by the witches in Macbeth. "A Tale from the Old Country" is composed of three unrhymed quatrains that borrow syntax and imagery from an early twentieth-century English-to-Esperanto grammar book.

I can't reprint the poems here because they're under consideration at various journals. But if you're interested in taking a private look at what I'm trying to work out in these pieces, send me an email.


Maureen said...

One of the many things I admire about you is your willingness to push out and try something new, that when you see what's new in your poetry, you allow yourself to experience its possibilities. All good!

Dawn Potter said...

It's sweet of you to say so, Maureen. Still, in the moment, I always feel like I'm either walking off a cliff or walking into a door jamb. C'est la vie poetique.