Musings #6

In these Musings, what can I write about and how can I be authentic, interesting, likable, and well-boundaried all at once? Particularly when musings about poetry, like poetry itself for me, turn to depth and intimacy before I know it.

And what am I qualified to say? It’s not as though I remember much from my English Literature college major, and I am not as well read as I ought to be. Nonetheless, for more than thirteen years I have not just been writing (doing) poetry but thinking of myself as (being) a poet. And so I have read, taken workshops, and practiced, practiced, practiced. Each week, the Gamuts (my poetry group) meet to critique each others’ poems. From all this , I at least have a strong sense of what I want to achieve in my work, and what qualities in others’ work cause me to fall a little in love with the poets.

But a new problem arises. Twice now, as I have sat down to write about an issue in poetry (editing, titling for examples) – before I know it, paragraphs break into stanzas, sentences into lines and lines are inhabited with symbol and image, twists and turns. Should I take out all that and go margin to margin so as not to write a poem as a musing? What dull prose that would be.

This raises the question of what forms our writing can and should take along the spectrum from poetry on one end (rhymed, lyric, narrative, post-modern) through the prose poem and lyric essay to prose. Barbara Kingsolver’s prose (in novels like The Lacuna and Flight Behavior) is so lyrical and full of fresh language, there is no better adjective than poetic to describe it, is there? And in recent years, Kathryn Winograd, author of Air into Breath (I admire her as much as a poet, as a teacher, as a person), has been writing lyric essays more than poetry.

And if it is poetry in which we work, what shape should each poem take – sonnet, villanelle, couplets, no stanza breaks, long or short-lined? How much air and white space does the poem need, how dense and packed, how much space in which the reader can pause, take a breath, absorb and feel? I can only speak for myself and I can’t say I am always right, but I just seem to intuit how the poem wants to lay itself down on the page.

Does your poem want to be wrapped up close in a cocoon, afloat on white paper clouds, racing headlong down, near to tumbling, or sprawled across the page – as if it were asleep on silk sheets in a king-sized bed?