has great algorithm.
These are my notes that I used for the launch of our Basic Poetics Study Group. If you write poetry but, like me, have never received a formal education in it, you very well could find these notes useful, especially when you’re trying to decide if a poem should have short or long lines, or whether a break should be at a punctuation mark or in the middle of a clause or phrase. This info was culled from five books on poetics, and is fairly comprehensive, but basic. Of course there is a lot more a person can learn. Applying these ideas to my own poetry gave me a huge boost in confidence, and enthusiasm!
The topic for the May 6th edition is Metaphor, to be led by member Sheila Deane.
LINE BREAKS (one of the major differences between poetry and prose)
Free verse isn’t easier to compose than traditional forms: With no set limits, how to write it isn’t as obvious.
A line is a meaningful groupings of words, in what they say and in how they say it.
THE LINE BREAK (has no formula: think of it as an effect)
End-stopped line breaks, with break at a punctuated or syntactical pause. Check out Poems 3, 4
Some effects to watch for on the line
A line break inside a line (caesura): announces an important or revelatory moment, where emotion is amassed, (also sometimes to set a conversational tone: a dialoguee from opposite sides of the caesura).
eg: “Forlorn! the very word is like a bell” (Keats)
Stanzas themselves can be end-stopped or enjambed. If an end-stopped line occurs before the final line, we end with a sense of tension and want to read on to the next stanza. A number of stanzas like this can give the final end-stopped line greater power. Check out Poem #4
1. This is a sample from a piece of prose: He just laid bare his heart and the young woman kissed him until he yelled, “Stop fooling around and get down to business!” Now see what adding line breaks to it can do:
He just laid bare
his heart and the young woman
kissed him until he yelled, “Stop
fooling around and get down
(new emphasis on words at the ends of lines: more of a sexual overtone & more relationship depth.)
2. From a poem by Eleanor Wilner: “Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm”
the armies grow again, human beetles in
their masks, vague hatred with its poison
gas, the air itself a deadly trench…
I moved, and could not feel my limbs: 4-foot tetrameter
I was so light—almost enjambment: tension (line makes one shape & sentence another)
I thought that I had died in sleep end-stopped
And was a blessed ghost.
(Coleridge: The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner)
4.Where Is the Angel? Denise Levertov
Where is the angel for me to wrestle?
No driving snow in the glass bubble,
but mild September.
Outside, the stark shadows
menace, and fling their huge arms about
unheard. I breathe
a tepid air, the blur
of asters, of brown fern and gold-dust
seems to murmur,
and that’s what I hear, only that.
Such clear walls of curved glass:
I see the violent gesticulations
and feel--no, not nothing. But in this
gentle haze, nothing commensurate.
It is pleasant in here. History
mouths, volume turned off. A band of iron,
like they put round a split tree, (iron & tree both as end-words emphasize difference)
circles my heart. In here
it is pleasant, but when I open
my mouth to speak, I too
am soundless. Where is the angel
to wrestle with me and wound
not my thigh but my throat,
so curses and blessings flow storming out
and the glass shatters, and the iron sunders? (all enjambed stanzas finally bring us to rest in this final question)
After each open-mic event, my sleeping is always shot to hell. It takes me days to get back to normal. It’s not from the anxiety of hosting, as it used to be, as that doesn’t bother me at all anymore. Rather, it’s a host of other little things: Did I say the right thing to this person, the wrong thing to that one, should I have spoken to another. I never know what to feel responsible for and what not to, as I’ve never done anything like this before, in my entire life. So, when the event is over and I go home, these little thoughts begin to add up and pile on top of each other and eventually the anxiety of them overwhelms me. I try to repress it and distract myself from it, but then it affects my sleep.
Last night I decided to try something different. Just before going to bed I dragged out an old, dust-covered binder that’s full of my old, old poems. I opened it at random, turned the pages slowly and carefully to keep sheets from falling out onto the floor, reading some, a stanza here and there, and remembered writing them. I was surprised how dark and hopeless I seemed in most of them, but also how beautiful, perfect even, the poems were to me back then, I guess because they were descriptions of my reality, externalizations of it, me pulling myself out of my cavern into the light. I was showing myself to myself, and, as negative as the views were, the beauty of them was that they were ME, not just the normal otherness of life. That process was exhilarating back then. But reading them now, I’m astounded how much I’ve changed.
Anyway, I found several pencilled attempts at one poem, all unsatisfactory and finally abandoned, which I thought my now somewhat-more-developed poetic abilities might be able to do something with. I puttered with it for a while till my mind began losing its elasticity and I went to bed. And in the morning, I woke from a very good sleep. I was surprised by that, and excited and happy. During that whole night, I had only awoken once, instead of every two hours as usual.
So what happened? Maybe the work on the poem was just a good distraction from my world of regrets. It might have stopped the circular thinking. Just as meditation might do. Friends have told me I should meditate before going to bed, and I’ve been working myself in that direction. And I do meditate when I’m actually in bed, to get myself to drop off to sleep. Maybe that’s all that this work on the poem amounted to. Or maybe the energy of creation itself moved my mind into a different realm. Having experienced many bouts of this in my life, I think there may be something to it. So, maybe this, or that, or both.
In any case, working on an old poem from back when I was virtually a different person was very interesting. In those days, I always assumed that when I got older I would be shrunken, somehow less in every way. The possibility was so dreadful I couldn’t think about it, especially because, when I was young and had my chance, I wasn’t developing at all. Yet now I seem so much lighter, both inside and out, than I was then. I remember Bob Dylan saying it to us, but I was never able to understand what he meant then, “Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.”
Facebook Likes:...7...Barbara Green, Cambridge N Calvin Keenan and 5 others
Cambridge N Calvin Keenan Well stated , I feel like the darkness steaming out of the heat of the shell ... seeking relief for that soothing cool mist of morning ❤
Unlike · Reply · 1 · 11 December at 23:29
إبراهيم أشعياء عوض Nah, you're fine. I probably ought to have wandered up there and given you salaam, i appreciate that you can be reached in the public (semi-public) domain, when something really important comes up. We don't control outcomes, only the input. You just concentrate on being the best you can be. Give it your best, and the rest surely works out.
Unlike · Reply · 1 · 12 December at 10:57 · Edited
Stan Burfield replied · 1 Reply
Barbara Green Hey, fellow insomniac! Two thibngs I've heard recently, one of which I've tried and one which I intend to -- we can try it together and compare results, if you like. The first is breathing in a 4-7-8 patterns, only four or five times in a row to start, apparently never more than 8 times. The count doesn't have to be full seconds -- depends on your lung power and calmness. The second thing for insomniacs is to journal before bed so those circular thoughts may form a line and find an exit from your brain via your arms, fingers and keyboard -- or pen, if you're into that. I'm going to try that -- my tendency when stressed is to read or binge-watch something on Netflix, which of course means that when you go to bed and nothing is streaming into your brain, all those ignored anxieties come clamouring up for attention.
Unlike · Reply · 1 · 12 December at 14:20
Stan Burfield Let's see if I understand you correctly (and please tell me some reasoning behind this as well): You breathe really deeply, holding the first breath in for a count of 4, then holding the next two to counts of 7 and 8, then 4, then 7 and 8, etc, for 4 or 5 repetitions, and do this when trying to fall asleep? Is this to get to sleep? Or to help you stay asleep? And why would it work? Is there any evidence it does work? Interesting.... The other idea, to journal, about the day's events, and I guess your idea would be to write about what's made me anxious and to try to solve those things while writing? That's definitely something I'll try. I don't have trouble getting to sleep so much as staying asleep, The journaling may help with that, as it may reduce repressed anxieties, the kind of things that might keep large parts of my mind stirred up all night (since the repressed mind, the subconscious mind, and the dream mind are pretty much all the same thing).
Like · Reply · 12 December at 14:48
Barbara Green No, the breathing pattern goes like this: first, breathe out all the air you can. Then breathe in through your nose for a count of 4, hold for 7, breath out (in a swooshing sound) through your mouth for a count of 8, then repeat. It seems to put you in an altered, lightened state of mind, and interrupts the resonance cycle of the anxious thoughts.
Like · Reply · 12 December at 14:52
Stan Burfield oh, worth a try. By resonance cycle, you mean what I mean when I say vicious cycle? Are you saying there is an actual cycle like a wheel turning that turns at a certain speed per revolution?
Like · Reply · 12 December at 14:56
Stan Burfield I'm asking because of my obsession to understand everything.
Like · Reply · 12 December at 14:59 · Edited
Stan Burfield Also, which technique have you tried so far?
Like · Reply · 12 December at 15:07
Barbara Green Stan Burfield No worries. I'm borrowing the term from memory science ... the process of consolidating short-term into long-term memory sometimes involves repeating them in a resonance cycle -- like repeating a poem aloud over and over to memorize it. When we allow thoughts to run in circles over and over in our brain, we're basically doing the same thing -- laying down an establish neural path for them to keep running in.
Like · Reply · 12 December at 15:08
Barbara Green Stan Burfield The breathing one. I don't always do it to fall asleep -- it's good in tense situations, too, much as any deep breathing is. It gets you to inhabit your body for a couple of minutes and gives you a break from those thoughts, plus re-oxygenates you if you're the type, like me, who stops breathing and freezes when tense so as to become invisible, I guess.
Like · Reply · 12 December at 15:10
Stan Burfield I see, so where does the 4-7-8 idea come from?
Like · Reply · 12 December at 15:10
Barbara Green Stan Burfield I *think* it's yogic ... here's a video about it: https://youtu.be/gz4G31LGyog
Asleep in 60 seconds: 4-7-8 breathing technique…
Like · Reply · Remove Preview · 12 December at 15:13
Stan Burfield Great. I'll watch the video. I have the same problem you do of stopping breathing. Linda's always looking at me typing and saying, "Breathe!" It seems like something I should try, not just for sleeping. (And speaking of sleeping, I have a mild case of sleep apnea, which means that when I sleep on my back I will quite often stop breathing. So I don't let myself sleep on my back. Which is one of my theories for why I keep waking up all night, so I can consciously roll over onto my other side.)
Like · Reply · 12 December at 15:17
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إبراهيم أشعياء عوض Lol in a word meditation?!
Unlike · Reply · 1 · 12 December at 14:22 · Edited
Barbara Green And I like the poem. I really like the "leathered over" image although it is bumping up a bit against the smooth and ridged shell of the conch . I like the "rousounding" description a lot, too, the the reaching for the flux, especially "that throws the colour". Could you contrast the flux -- which is aliveness and change, unpredictability, the contrast to the safe-but-dead world encased in a calcium shell, a bit more pointedly?
Like · Reply · 12 December at 14:23
Stan Burfield Good point. I'll have to think about it. I'm going to take it to our next workshop, and I'll bring your ideas. Thanks, Barb.
Breakfast out in the morning air,
mind still mumbling over some strange dream
as it picks its slow stumbling way towards possibly
a fresh day.
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My poem is coming out in the anthology, Another London, to be published by Harmonia Press this fall. It’s only the second time I’ve ever submitted a poem for publication. The first time was about 25 years ago, to Descant Magazine, which sent back a letter saying they would publish it if I would just cut out some of the fat first. I could see what they meant but never got around to it, or to ever trying to get another poem published until now.
Why now? Because I couldn’t resist the idea of this anthology, and I can’t wait to get my copy. Imagine: an extremely diverse group of poems written by a very diverse assortment of poets, all about this one small city, and living in it! How could anyone not want to read that?
My poem is a description of my experience taking part in the Guerrilla Poetry aspect of last November’s Words Festival of the Creative and Literary Arts. Tom Cull, who has just now become the city’s new Poet Laureate, created this very weird, strange and scary (for such a shy person as me) event. Four little groups of readers ventured out on the streets of downtown London to startle unprepared pedestrians with poetry. My group contained Tom, Andy Verboom (who is now a member of London Open Mic’s organizing committee), and a wonderful, humourous reader named Aileen House.
Prior to the event, two Facebook friends, Donald Brackett and Al Broudy, suggested I read Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and so I did, two poems called Dog and Underwear. They were perfect for the situation. I had never read Ferlinghetti before and one of the pleasures of the event for me was reading a lot of his poems in advance, as well as ones by other poets I had never touched before. Reading them casually, just to see if they would be appropriate, instead of tackling their intricacies and profundities with as much mental force and energy as I could muster, which is my normal reading strategy, allowed me to just enjoy them, to let them sneak up on me and go, “BOO!” So now I read poetry like that all the time, on my first reading, and then bear down on the second. Big lesson.
Plus, I and my shyness survived doing it.
I AM STANDING ON A CRATE READING LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI
I am here now. This
is no longer an alternate future, or someone else's.
I am stretched up tight on this crate
looking down at these
my spine hard against
the stone edge
of Starbuck's window wall,
buffeted by wind and buses
that bellow around this cold corner--
this dark Richmond and Dundas
where I would not be.
Yet I am only two barefoot beatnik blocks down
from City Lights Book Shop
nicely named for Ferlinghetti's own,
in Frisco way back then.
And now up on the crate I too am wearing
that F-beard in which he preached to his
beat colleagues passion
for all these dead poor
these no fame no friends
these leaning here into the slow tide of the block
drifting through time's
pool out of jail for a while
getting by as if free
to like each other or one or some.
I am calm standing on this crate,
wearing this body here now
like someone else's or no one's--
and anyway no one looks at me; my eyes
are always in the book, my ears on my sonorous
voice; and elsewhere
enticing his empathetic, liberal
Empty out our pockets
Missing all our appointments..."
No one hears.
And these, with no appointments
to miss, don't care.
His friends aren't here.
Even so, we few crate poets
yes we have left our safe homes
our cars in the overnight lots
our cell phones in our pockets
and like Ferlinghetti we do our hour
up on our soap boxes
dropping loud words
down into the block.
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I just got word back from Andreas Gripp & Carrie Lee Connel,
the editors of the anthology, Another London, that they've accepted my poem "I am standing on a crate reading Lawrence Ferlinghetti".
I'm off for my MRI now. I'll dig it out and post it when I get back.
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We're all stuck
with the lives
we're stuck with.
But we decide when
to dig our graves,
and, if it's done,
whether to dig deeper
or dig ourselves out.
From Facebook: Likes....8: Linda Eva Williams, Meredith Moeckel and 6 others
Magnus Grendel Samson Coleman IT ALL DEPENDS ON REALLY HOW BURIED WE ARE AND COVERED IN DIRT WE ARE FROM THE INSIDE OUT... SOME OF US HAVE HAD THE CONSTANT FEELING OF BEING BURIED ALIVE BY LIFE WITH NO MATTER WHAT EVER WE DO... THE SOUL CAN ONLY GO SO FAR BEFORE IT ACTUALLY FEELS, DEAD AND BURIED, A PERSON CAN ONLY DIE SO MANY TIMES INSIDE BEFORE THEY ACTUALLY FEEL LIKE A PART OF THEM IS PERMANENTLY LITERALLY DEAD INSIDE (F-O-R-E-V-E-R-), I'VE BEEN FEELING THAT WAY MY WHOLE LIFE... I'VE NEVER REALLY ENJOYED LIFE, OUTSIDE OF THE ODDITY, OF MY OWN EXISTENCE, TO FORBEAR, WITH MY ART FORM.
Unlike · Reply · 2 · 13 July at 16:09 · Edited
Magnus Grendel Samson Coleman AS SAD AS THAT MAY SOUND OR PATHETIC, EVEN.
Like · Reply · 1 · 13 July at 16:11 · Edited
Linda Eva Williams Good luck to you. It hurts to see so much hurt.
Unlike · Reply · 2 · 13 July at 20:05
Stan Burfield It would be nice if we all could see our lives as clearly as Magnusdoes. (By the way, the little poem above came from a conversation just now with Magnus, giving him first shot on the comments.)
Like · Reply · 1 · 13 July at 18:15 · Edited
Meredith Moeckel I read this poem a few times before deciding what to even write. I'm not sure if this applies, but I get the impression that part of this poem can apply to being in a rut. And I believe that I may have already shared with you something that my father used to say when I'd tell him that I felt like I was in a rut & needed to get out. He'd say, "The only difference between a rut and a grave is dimension!". I can apply my father's quote to your poem.....I prefer to do my utmost to dig myself out one way or another. Sometimes, it's easier//harder than others. I am curious about Magnus' art form.
Like · Reply · 1 · 13 July at 22:48
Stan Burfield That's pretty good, Meredith. What sparked the poem to me was something Magnus and I were talking about. That a person can reinforce a negative direction by dwelling on it, by talking about it, by making it into a part of a person's persona, self-image. I think that negative idea is then taken by the subconscious to be the background to its world, kind of the way our conscious minds see the real city and our social world as the background. Whereas, if a person consciously decided to think in the other direction, even if they didn't feel like going in that direction at all, it would soon change the background of the subconscious, eventually making it the new reality. Thus the image of one digging oneself out of one's grave.
Like · Reply · 2 · 13 July at 23:01
Meredith Moeckel Stan, I truly believe the theoretical proposition that you have written. I am a firm believer in the power of positive thinking...and many times I do believe that our thoughts can have great power(s) to change our minds...both the subconscious & conscious parts. I'd write more, but I'm too tired, sorry!! Nice food for thought & as always I enjoy your writings---I haven't been on FB much this past week, so I've missed a lot, I'm sure. I'll catch up eventually!!!
Like · Reply · Yesterday at 01:11 · Edited
Stan Burfield Meredith Moeckel Ha ha. Well, I do a lot of thinking about things, but I'm not very good with following through. It seems like it must work like this, but in reality it's probably a lot more complicated. Anyway, it's all fun.
Like · Reply · 1 · Yesterday at 01:13
Meredith Moeckel I definitely think it's much more complicated ! When I began writing, I quickly realized that there is much more that one could go into & being so tired, I decided to call it quits. Yes indeed it's all fun! :)
Unlike · Reply · 1 · Yesterday at 05:20 · Edited
Here's a fascinating discussion on Soundcloud of the revival of some old, discarded ideas by modern science, including stoicism by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (with the intriguing goal of serenity, vs happiness), also, with varying degrees of success: pan-psychism, putting insects back on the menu, some "zombie ideas", the debate about consciousness, free will, etc. I love the way the author Steven Paul talks. I would give anything (well, within reason) to be able to go on the way he does.
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Barbara Green That was fun, Stan, thanks! Leslie Morris, there's a section on the revival of Stoicism at the beginning.
Unlike · Reply · 1 · 23 hrs
Stan Burfield How is it that I always seem to come on here just when you do, Barbara Green? Telepathy?
Like · Reply · 23 hrs · Edited
Barbara Green Stan Burfield It's that panpsychism thing.
Like · Reply · 22 hrs
Stan Burfield I've got an easier answer to swallow: it's just another weird thing in a very long line of weird things.
Like · Reply · 22 hrs
Stan Burfield I'm just now working on that poem you dug out of that prose I put on here a few days ago. It's coming. So far I've reworked the first half. Tentatively. The second half is pretty much the same yet.
Like · Reply · 22 hrs
"We halted and so knew that the quiet night was full of sounds..."
- T. E. Lawrence, "Seven Pillars of Wisdom"
The best part of walking
is standing still,
but not to stare at,
to grab, paint, snap
the voluminous universe
or to jot a note, perhaps,
on the crest-fallen "lopsided pose"
and the whoit whoit whoit
of cardinalis cardinalis
that is "given within sight of mate",
but instead to leave the world of movement-through
and enter the other.
In these moments
I do not watch the leaves in passing;
I live with them.
a tree shades a bush
as it has since the swelling spring
when its leaves enlarged,
and now they wobble in the slight breeze
that flows between them,
across which a spider is slowly
picking its deliberate way
above the grasses
and low herbs.
and it is only a painting on a gallery wall.
we are all here.
Like · Reply · 8 hrs · Edited
Four years ago I decided, like Nemo in The Matrix, to leap off the roof of the skyscraper in hopes I would learn to fly before hitting the ground.
Well, I have. And it's an amazing feeling.
That leap was a last-ditch effort to rid myself of shyness, which had been seriously trashing my life since I was a kid. Finally, at 62 and semi retired, I could see that if I didn't take this last opportunity to cure myself, I never would.
I started out by attending Ron Stewart's poetry workshop, which would have been a simple thing for most people, but not for me. It took months of steeling myself up. Then, when I finally got used to that, I threw myself into the most extreme fear-causing role I could imagine, that of organizer of a new poetry series, London Open Mic Poetry Night. I thought it would probably be far too big of a leap for me, and yes, for the next four years my anxiety was very high, nearly unbearable at times.
But that social organizing did miraculously rid me of most of my shyness. However I was very disappointed to find that I was left with a generalized anxiety, and assumed I would be stuck with it for the rest of my life.
I had pushed myself through those four seasons with sheer determination, but anxiety-driven willpower doesn't help a person get to sleep at night. At some point, I began taking a sleeping pill. And, as sleeping pills do, it slowly lost it's effectiveness, forcing me to increase the dosage continually. Finally, a couple months ago, I decided to get off of it. To do that, my doctor said, I would have to decrease the dosage by a quarter pill a week, while taking melatonin, which would make up for the difference. Well, I finally did get down to hardly anything, just a quarter pill a night, only to find that to go from that to none is very nearly impossible. My body had come to rely on it to get me to sleep.
That was ten days ago. For these last ten nights I've gone without a single good night's sleep as I tried to force myself to fall asleep naturally. Until last night. I was reading an easy spy novel in bed and suddenly woke up four hours later! I was so excited I didn't think I would be able to fall back to sleep at all, but in an hour I was zonked out for another three!
And another good sign: at our special indigenous poetry open mic two days ago, when I began to read my poem during the open mic section, the sheet of paper I was holding didn't shake at all! For the first time it was totally still. Always before at least my left hand would shake. And usually my right would as well, with the least bit of anxiety. (This is called familial tremors, inherited from my mother.) Suffice it to say I was astonished. I very nearly lost my place in the poem just from watching that paper not move.
Another thing that has done wonders for my anxiety lately is suddenly having more people working with me on this endless poetry project. This last couple of weeks, I've been feeling quite strongly that making it go isn't all up to me anymore. They're taking a lot of weight off my shoulders. They're even coming up with ideas on their own. And carrying them out. There's nothing more wonderful than discovering that others have met and discussed a project without me even knowing about it!
Here is all
blank walls of buildings
of ordinary life.
It must be
my own life exists
in some other place,
one I might
the way I do
(I wrote this some years ago, before I figured out how to properly tackle my shyness, by moving towards people.)
This is my Day-5 poem of the 5-Day Facebook Poetry Challenge.
I was nominated for it by Martin Hayter and Kevin Andrew Heslop. I, in turn, nominated Koral Scott, Scott Alderson, and Andy Verboom.
4 Facebook likes
Watching the horrors that are continually erupting around the world these days, it's becoming obvious that no one with real power cares at all about anybody but themselves. The only people who do have no ability to influence events. We watch in horror and bleed for each other.
July 21st, 2014. My thanks to Penn Kemp for inviting me to present the week after her on this Virtual Blog Tour. Some of you may have come here after reading her own excellent presentation which she posted July 14th. If you missed it, you can always go back and check it out. And from there you can check out the other two bloggers, along with me, whom she asked to present after her, and also the ones who came before her, the immediate one being that of Debbie Okun Hill in Sarnia. Penn asked me to write about my writing process and then introduce one or more other writers with active blogs, who will in turn discuss their writing process for the rolling blog tour on July 28, and they will introduce more writers for the following week. And so it goes…
To see my choice for next week, scroll down. Then set your calendar for next monday, July 28th. Enjoy and happy writing!
1) What am I working on?
Until two years ago I've never written poems for others to read. Only for myself, for my own pleasure -- especially for the thrill of creativity and the insights that often come with it. But in the two years since I began organizing London Open Mic Poetry Night, I've been continuously and heavily exposed to poetry that was written not just for the poet's own benefit, but also for others to read. And that's made me realize that a certain amount of empathy with the imaginary reader is a necessary aspect of writing decent poetry, poetry that's more than just a self-indulgence. It's changed the way I write. Or, I should say, it has added another dimension to the layers I'm used to working my way through. I've been learning this partly because I've read a lot more poetry lately than I ever did before. But workshops I've attended have also helped me see my poetry through others' eyes. Now my new poems are much different than they would have been. And when I don't have a new one to work on, I just pull an old one out and rework it, adding that extra dimension.
Aside from poetry, I write the occasional "personal essay" for the blog (the links are in the sidebar, as are the links to a few of my poems). My strongest passion in life is to understand things, and a personal essay allows me to get carried away in describing some little revelation of understanding in a way that's not too difficult for a reader to follow, and while it's fresh on my mind. Personal essays are definitely fun to write. And I've received a few positive comments, so they must not be too hard on the reader.
Lately I've been looking back on my life, trying to locate the thrust of it, the reasons for its peculiar meander. How did it get me to this completely unexpected place? In the process, I've rediscovered a lot of interesting byways and situations. So I've decided that for my next project I'm going to pull some of these things out of the past and plop them down on the blog, as alive as possible, with as many fingers feeling out from them into the world and the flow of time as I can reassemble. Don't know how it'll go, but there's no harm in trying.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? Why do I write what I do?
I think I'm going to get carried away answering this one. Because, having gotten to know to some small degree the poets who have read at London Open Mic, I've been struck by the tremendous differences between them. I'm one of them, and I'm as different from them as they are from each other. I could try to be really objective about all this and make a Venn Diagram of the sets of all the factors that go into making poets different from each other. Each poet is more or less heavily endowed with each factor. If there were only two or three factors, there would be a very limited variation amongst poets and their poetry. But there are a huge number of factors, and each poet differs from all the others on each of them. I think all of us who've listened to the poets read have realized this. There's nearly an infinite variety.
I'll use myself as an example: On the scale of education, I have very little, especially as compared to those with an MFA, but not none at all. Ambition? Also very little. Amount of poetry read? On the scale of one to ten, three. Practice? a middling amount. Appreciation for substantive content? Nine. Reliance on inspiration vs craft? Maybe eight. Talent? Now this is a meta-set for sure, made up of sliding scales of intelligence, creativity, receptivity vs judgement, and much more. I'm okay talentwise. But we haven't even touched on the myriad of social and family factors that affect poets and their products. And things like class, actual background, treatment or mistreatment. Memorable incidents. Random memorable incidents with certain effects. And on and on. Essentially, everything in a person's life has an effect to some degree on a poet. I guess that's a prerequisite in itself. So I'm in there somewhere.
Why do I write what I do? Well, for starters, I tend to get excited when a lot of things suddenly fall into place, when I see a great expanse of reality all at once, when I get outside my tight self and into the world. I get very excited. I want to keep that vision, retain it so I can build upon it later. Yet I know that, as with a dream, as soon as I take my mind off it, it will disappear. So I try to write it down before that happens. But an intuition like that doesn't (can't) come in words so the only way to write it down is to imply it, to write around it so that in future I will be pointed in the right direction by the poem, pushed into it by the walls of the poem, and then see it again just as I did the first time. To me, this is the ultimate use of poetry. As far as I've been able to discover, poetry is the only means of recording and communicating large intuitions. Every other literary form points to things the reader already knows, simply putting them together in new combinations. But a poem, by convention, is allowed to actually say something that can't be said, but only implied.
I also write poems simply for the rush of energy that sometimes comes with putting them together. And also for the new ideas and insights and intuitions that writing them often inspires. And occasionally for fun. I've even written a poem just to have something new to read at the next open mic. And I've written my share of descriptions. There have been moments of astonishing beauty that no camera could record. So I would try but usually fail to capture them. At least they would remind me.
3) How does your writing process work?
I'm not fast with words. I talk slowly, usually, and it doesn't take much anxiety to muddle my sentence building to the point where I can hardly speak at all. But I can see pretty clearly. Which is good in terms of the imagery most poems are built upon, and very good in the sense of intuition, as I described it above, since intuition seems to be pre-verbal. But being more visual than verbal makes writing poetry a fairly slow process. Other, perhaps better, poets, for instance the one I've asked to feature next week on this blog tour, are equally adept at both tasks. And thus faster and smoother and have more of their brain power left for the art and content of the poem. But not me. I go at it in spurts and sputters. I feel like a painter slowly dabbing on bits of colour until the image comes together. At some point the flat canvas, and hopefully my poem, becomes three dimentional. And even then I will rework it a number of times. I really like to go back to a poem that's so old I've nearly forgotten it (even better, one I've completely forgotten), and see it for the first time just as someone else might, and so then rework it freshly for the new me.
4) And here is the Guest Blogger for Next Week’s Tour!
On July 28th, Kevin Heslop will respond on his blog (and probably his Facebook page as well) to the four questions above, and then hand the baton on to one or more other bloggers of his choice. Mark July 28th on your calendar!
Kevin Heslop is a young writer from London, Ontario. He attends Western but sees the process of writing and learning to write as a solitary one.
2nd place is definitely not too bad considering it`s the first time I`ve ever entered a poetry contest! It`s got me really motivated. Now I`m going to go out and buy my first ever lottery ticket too.
Concerning our Glorious Future by Stan Burfield
As I lift the spoon
from this morning’s coffee
I feel the same long pull of time
that my father did
that their parents did
a chain rattling down
into the well so far
I cannot imagine.
And up, out of that darkness
into this present,
all of it –
the slow ages of our reptilian forebears,
our fearful hominid ancestors,
the entire charging ascent of Man –
comes to a juddering halt
at this drop
from this spoon.
We are stranded here
at the endpoint
of time, banging
on the ceiling.
When I wrote the first draft of this poem Linda and I owned a flower shop in Vancouver. One of my jobs was to buy flowers at the auction. I would have to get up at about 4:30 those mornings. For a night owl like me that meant a lot of coffee. I would arrive at 5:30, do a walking tour of many of the wagons of flowers to decide which ones to buy a bucket from, then get a cup of coffee and take my seat in the buyer`s gallery. My desk, shared with another buyer, was near the top. I would look down onto the heads of the roughly 150 other buyers who sat there in a large arc, at the centre of which the wagons of flowers would enter, pause till all their buckets had been purchased and then exit. On this morning, I sat slouched with my coffee, my mind half asleep floating in the usual cloud of blended voices, my chin resting on my hand. About half of the people around me were of Asian origin, owners of corner stores all of which had large flower displays out on the sidewalk. I began to notice them, to slowly think about them and their stores, and imagined a lot of them were sitting in the same desks their fathers sat in before them. And maybe their father`s fathers even earlier. And yet the present moment was all that existed there in that large sleepy hubbub. And now that past. And its past. I started to wake up. I plucked my pen out of my pocket. A poem was coming on.
The 1st place winner of the Poetry London 2014 Poetry Contest was Michael Kuiack for his poem Life is School
I just now woke up. Got to sleep in late this morning without an alarm. I woke with a last short dream of a poem. It was written on a sheet of paper. Had maybe eight stanzas. The title was one word: ‘Familiar’. I was thinking about the title, its ramifications, associations, what a poem with that title could be about, for too many seconds and so I woke up without reading the poem itself. Damn.
I kept thinking about it, drifting off and on, images came and went, some that seemed clumsy and dumb, like one of a big rough guy wearing a skirt, the kind the girls in the early 1960‘s loved, long and flaring. It just looked stupid on him, like on a World War ll soldier putting on a skit in a prisoner of war camp. A reminder of the common world when that isn’t available.
So I thought of a different, more subtle familiarity. More like the feeling of Carl Jung’s archetypes. The feelings that growing up in our common society gives us but the kind we may not want to think about. For instance the feeling of always being dragged down by common and seemingly important situations that should be positive but which always cause humiliation, personal injustice, and especially the injustice of never being able to defend against them. We can repress. Or attach ourselves to other, more common distractions that can easily bury them. We don’t even put names on these feelings. Names make their retrieval too easy.
These must be some of the familiar feelings that move inside us when we read good poems.
Now I’m going to go splash my face with water and make coffee. See ya. I’ll read this over later. And see if it sounds at all familiar. And try to figure out why my subconscious would be putting it to me.
I've never seen myself read before. Wow, I sure don't appear on the outside the way I see myself inside. But that's probably true of most people. One thing that's obvious, I better learn to read a bit faster. Even I'm falling asleep. Maybe I'm just a slowpoke. Is that a genetic thing? Or does it just come from being a farm boy? Or from being shy? There I go again on my favourite thing, theorizing. Okay, I've learned one good thing at least, from watching this video. I know now that I'm not a narcissist. Not even close.
By the way, at the very beginning, before the tape rolls, I had just said that yesterday was Linda's and my 25th wedding anniversary. So I start off with a love poem, then something of a cowboy poem.
and goodbye the memory dwindling of Ginsberg in the back of the Black Sheep Bookstore
that clear voice and mind the harmonium squeezing and goodbye the mad owner his books
in my pack and the chairs and the readings there with him not long from the madhouse
goodbye and the bookstore gone and me now too and even the West Coast drifted to sea
and Vancouver into the sky and gone goodbye a small mouse memory now that's all
I came across an audiotape of a Ginsberg reading that someone had posted on Twitter. The first poem begins ""Prepare for death," says the Lama"", and Ginsberg says goodbye to everything in his life in those long flowing, rhythmic lines that are so beautiful. I got so enthused by it that I posted it on our Facebook page. The sound of his harmonium that he accompanied himself with lap brought back this tiny growing memory of me hearing him once myself, back in the '80s. I was going to make a comment under the posting to that effect, but as I did so that infectious rhythm got ahold of me. He and Kerouac both do that sooo well.
Socializing was always rough
as if the rocks below
were other people
and to talk was a bungee jump.
But then, after force of practice,
seemed equally anxious.
Yes, a plateau of us
a plate of fruit
ripe for the angry ones
who like to grip and
force us to listen
to their tiny
so tightly restrained.
But I’m getting used to even them;
One done, then onto the next.
It’s the voice that betrays --
at first a gentle
then roll out
all that ferocity
But I’m immune.
Kind of comical now
how it’s the world to them.
(One season down and onto the next. The first few months were difficult but my skin is thicker now. So I'm looking forward to some fun times.)
Last night, when dark came,
cars packed with explosives were driven to the gates
of the prison by agents of death who shattered the walls
and entered as others fired on guards with mortars
and rocket-propelled grenades and more took up positions
close to the main highway to fight off reinforcements
as several wearing exploding vests entered the prison
on foot to free the inmates, five hundred senior members
saved from hanging before the helicopters arrived.
That is today.
I am an old man,
trying to see with clarity
a reason for my existence.
It was not easy getting this far.
My own demons
have fought constantly
with those around me.
There is no calm.
I am my harsh government
and my insurgency.
Organizer of London Open Mic Poetry. former support worker for people with autism and developmental disabilities. former farm boy, former adventurer, former florist.