Friday, January 27, 2012

The Lurning Curve

I have been typing out a few poems by poets I admire.  Gary Short, Linda Pastan, Sandra Beasley, Sandy Longhorn, Kenneth Brewer, Zachary Schomburg.  I have been trying to reinforce my understanding of the strophe's expression in line and how line breaks affect the presentation.  Well, I have if that really is a thing.  If I just made it up, then pretend I didn't say anything about why I was doing it.

I say that because I just received a letter from a friend which punctuated the fact that I lack the training I see in  most of the poets I know.  I have had exactly one poetry course (one course specifically about poetry) and one creative writing class in my entire life and I often feel as if I lack the vocabulary to discuss poetry with all of you.  Now, I have long been an advocate of not thinking of an MFA program as something more than a place to read, write, and read and write some more.  I believe poetry, more than any other writing genre, is a product of the whole.  In short, our lives in their entirety are part of the curriculum of poetry.  However, I can't help but think there is something constructive about being in an environment where everyone speaks and expands their vocabulary and understanding.  Whenever my friend writes me, it is very clear my understanding of poetry is extremely myopic and site specific.

For me, AWP would be a chance to see poets being people and gathering together, seeing their duality---that of poets in panel discussions and readings, and that of people simply congregating because of a similar interest and allowing the topic of conversation to travel organically, without the constraints of blogs or literary journals.

But we take what we can get, and what I get are letters from friends, teaching me a few ideas at a time.

* * * 

So, what did I learn from copying poems out for myself?  Quite a bit.

Take for example Sandra Beasley's poem, "Making the Crane."  First off, it's not "Unit of Measure" which was featured in the 2010 BAP.  I mention this because I like working with poems which might not get all the attention like others.

I love origami, and that's what the poem is about on the surface.  There is a certain amount of magic in the poem, a sensuality rarely expressed at such an intimate level.  Beasley feminizes the crane, provides multiple incarnations of the crane and discusses a process, and in that there is almost a guide by which one can learn about the feminine itself, not simply origami.  By typing it out I was able to hear the poem better, strip away the artifice of the poem and literally feel how precise Beasley's language really is.

In Sandy Longhorn's "Nights When it Rains" I learned about cadence.  I learned about pace in a poem.  I could see a poem about attachment, how details can carry the momentum of a poem.  And if that wasn't enough. I caught a glimpse of how to avoid crass sentimentality when writing a love poem---how quiet confidence can trump exaggeration even at the height of passion.

* * *

What remains is to see how these small lessons find their ways into my own writing.  After all, isn't that the hope?  Isn't it the the goal to be affected in the best way possible by the best poetry?


  1. Wow, Justin. Thanks for these words about "Nights When It Rains." I love copying poems out by hand to learn from them. Great lesson!

    1. I really like the poem, and I said so to my friend as I was writing my letter today.