PDA

View Full Version : Help a newbie with Poetry



tony1
05-05-2006, 04:53 AM
I have recently started to read and enjoy poetry. I don't have any formal training in the art: as far as college, workshops,or groups--I slept thru it in high school, now i'm paying the price, it seems. My question is can anybody refer any good books or tips in understanding(interpreting), and writing poetry to me, in a easy to understand fashion(other than poetry for dummies). I have written some pretty decent stuff, for a beginner, but, there is something thats holding me back and I can't put my finger on it. I can't seem to break through to the," next level," so to speak. Thanks tony1

veinglory
05-05-2006, 04:56 AM
I suggest that you read a lot of poetry, track down the poets that really impress you and learn by doing. he next step is probably critique of the work you are unsatisfied with, by people whose poetry you know and respect.

William Haskins
05-05-2006, 05:06 AM
veinglory's right on all points.

the academy of american poets (http://poets.org/) is a great site, and not just americans. in addition to browsing the works of many, many poets, i would suggest checking out the section on the various poetic schools. knowing some of the movements that have occurred in the past is a good way to compartmentalize different approaches and motivations in your mind.

it would also be helpful to see some of your work, to maybe point you toward poets that would expand your horizons in a similar style, and then use that as a springboard to chart new waters.

best of luck with your writing.

-william

Bret
05-05-2006, 06:27 AM
To build upon the prior sage and insightful comments, take a look in the library. Grab a couple anthologies. That's where I found my favorite writers. Since I prefer modern poetry, I concentrated on poetry published since the fifties.

A couple favorites of mine:

Poetry 180 &

180 More (the sequel) both ed. by Billy Collins

Great is the Voice Within Us ed. by Hayden Carruth

A Book of Luminous Things ed. by Czeslaw Milosz

With anthologies, you get a big buffet of voices and styles. The ones you like, you can keep an eye out for.

I used my (not the library's :) ) anthologies as poetry manuals. I noted the poems I liked the best and wrote down the most intriguing parts to try to "reverse engineer" the mechanisms that made them so compelling. You can figure a lot the techniques out. My books have notes in the margins, highlighter marks, circles, and arrows etc.

My favorite "how to" books were Ted Kooser's The Poetry Home Repair Manual and Kim Addonizio's The Poet's Companion. Both easy and fun to read, great examples and things to try, things to avoid.

Break a leg tony!

Ultra
05-07-2006, 02:50 AM
Used bookstores, Tony. Read ten whole books for every poem you write as you get started. Read read read.

And don't worry too much about the "how to" books-- that's not to say that they're not useful, but if you're just getting started, the best thing you can do to get your footing is to read poems, poems, poems. And as you read, don't worry too hard about interpretation or symbol, just pay attention to what enchants you. Do you find that you like the sound of a poem? Then read it again and pay attention to why.

Once you start paying careful attention to the poems you're reading, and start to figure out what makes them great or terrible, that can't help but show up in your own work.

Sassenach
05-07-2006, 04:09 AM
Ditto on Kooser's book. I currently reading and enjoying it a great deal.

tony1
05-09-2006, 10:25 PM
Used bookstores, Tony. Read ten whole books for every poem you write as you get started. Read read read.

And don't worry too much about the "how to" books-- that's not to say that they're not useful, but if you're just getting started, the best thing you can do to get your footing is to read poems, poems, poems. And as you read, don't worry too hard about interpretation or symbol, just pay attention to what enchants you. Do you find that you like the sound of a poem? Then read it again and pay attention to why.

Once you start paying careful attention to the poems you're reading, and start to figure out what makes them great or terrible, that can't help but show up in your own work.

"And as you read, don't worry too hard about interpretation or symbol," This is what bugs me the most. I spend so much time trying to figure out what the poet is trying to say, that I kind of lose the bueaty of the poem. I guess I'm rushing things. I love the way poetry seems to flow off the tongue.I'm not looking at it thru those eyes anymore, now it seems like I'm out to coquer something as if it's a test. Thank you for clueing me back in. Just Read. Tony

Ultra
05-10-2006, 12:49 AM
I'm glad that was helpful.

In a startling contradiction of my own advice, I'm going to paraphrase from one of those "How To" books.

Richard Hugo wrote a book about writing called The Triggering Town. In it, he basically argues the case against being too tied to meaning in your poetry, or rather, to a singular intent. I don't mean to say that he thinks poetry shouldn't have meaning-- he clearly thinks it should-- but he does caution that a common mistake for beginners is that they come to a poem with an idea of what it should be "about." That notion often works counter to the logic of poetry, and hinders the poet's discovery of what the poem is really about.

One of the best pieces of advice that he gives is this: When you have the urge to write, exhaust that impetus, then continue the poem on a completely different note. Change courses. Surprise yourself. When you come back to add the connective tissue, the language that makes sense of the two seemingly unrelated topics you're working with, that's when you're most likely to discover what the poem is really about. Our subconscious will push us to make some amazing choices when we follow this advice. The finished poem will often look like it was headed in that direction all along.

But, for now, keep reading! Read as much as you can get your hands on. I've not been on this forum for very long, but one thing that has left me amazed and aghast is the relative absence of discussion about books and poetry magazines. (I give Bret mad props for his suggestions above.) You will learn so much from talking about the poems you're reading with others... but you can't have those discussions unless you're widely read!

If you tell us who you like reading, perhaps we can suggest a few other books you might like...

tony1
05-10-2006, 10:34 PM
At the moment I figured I should start with some of the classics and then work my way up to contemporary, after reveiwing some poems I'm reading: North of Boston by Frost, a bio on John Donne and an Anthology" American Poetry, The nineteeth century". I like free verse but I'm open to anything. Who's contemporary work do you recomend? There are so many contemporary poets out there. I'm trying to take it slow, I don't want to get too overwhelmed by the masses. I kind of like to take a poem apart line by line to try and get a feel of what the poet was thinking so maybe I can write like this one day. I mean I'm not trying to Psychoanalysis the poet or anything, I'm just trying to get a feel for the words. Does this make any sense? But it's kind of hard, I really don't have any poetry groups local and none of my friends are in to it. I'll take any advice your offering, Thanks. Tony

William Haskins
05-10-2006, 10:39 PM
some good stuff here:

http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets.htm

you might also want to peruse some of the stuff in the absolute poets' collections (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=30943), simply because of the accessibility of the poets around here and the opportunity that would present in terms of asking questions and getting replies.

good luck.

-william

ddgryphon
05-10-2006, 11:30 PM
In the interest of looking into the minds of working poets there is the "Anatomy of a Poem" thread in which several AW writers have elaborated on the process by which some of their work was written:

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=28631


Might be instructive and interesting.

Nateskate
05-11-2006, 12:18 AM
Poetry, like art is an expression. To see if you like art, try drawing something. Add a little color.

Likewise, try writing your thoughts. What do you want to say? It may be less about what you want to say and more about what you want others to hear.

Start with a simple phrase. Take the phrase and think of five ways to say it differently.

Eventually something may jump out at you. When you start thinking, "Why didn't I think of that the first time?" The, you'll know you're getting in the ballpark.

Another thing you might try is taking something someone else said and rephrasing it.

Write about an object. Perhaps a rock. What would a "rock's" perspective of life sound like? Why? Because metaphor and allegory can strengthen what you say.

"Hi there, I'm your mirror; please excuse my crack...but I can see your frame of mind from the front and from the back."

I've only taught a few people guitar. The worst way to teach someone guitar is to buy them a cheap guitar that's hard to play and throw twenty books at them. The easiest way is to get them a decent sounding, easy playing guitar, and show them one song.

Why? Because it gets overwhelming if you make playing the guitar seem like rocket science, people tend to think, "Oh leave this to the experts, I can nver do that." If they can see that they can do it right away, then adding on to their knowledge- one brick at a time, is easy. Try writing one good sentence, then another. See what happens.

One of the problems with people who are over-taught, is that they tend to think with their left brain. They think formula. "Oh, it has to go like this. It has to be done so-and-so." I found song writing easy. People would say, "Can you teach me to write a song?" When I tried, I realized their problem wasn't that they didn't know enough, it was almost always trying to do too much.

I'd make them take one chord, and a few notes and see what they could come up with. If you give the right person five notes, they can do some incredible things. It forces them to think out of the box, and creativity becomes easier.

Here's a fun game. Take any sentence I've written in the last paragraph. Scramble the words, and make a meaningful sentence with it.

Have fun!

Nate

Ultra
05-11-2006, 01:34 AM
Who's contemporary work do you recomend? There are so many contemporary poets out there.
I hear that, man! There's so much stuff to choose from that it's hard to know where to start. But luckily, you're in great shape, because you're starting with a great impetus-- the sonic qualities of words.

Here are a few suggestions, which may or may not be useful. But they're indicative of my tastes.

Since you're reading about Donne, I wonder if you'll enjoy poets who have a heavy sense of conceit. One of my favorite contemporary poets to read in this vein is William Matthews. He passed away a few years back and there's a pretty good selected volume, but his book Time & Money is a nice single-volume look at the titular subjects. You'll definitely see the influence Donne has on him in terms of structure, even though he's very modern.

I think one of the smartest poets around is Tony Hoagland. His book Donkey Gospel is the kind of embittered, hopeful memoir that a lot of people aspire to but very few do well. The language is very accessible (same with Matthews), Hoagland likes to tell a story with his poems, and there are moments when you'll laugh out loud or heave a sigh of relief. He's very in touch with the expectations of being a modern man.

I hope those suggestions are helpful, but don't get discouraged if you try either and don't like it. Everyone's tastes vary so much, it sometimes takes a while to figure out what's your cup of tea. But you'll get there.

tony1
05-11-2006, 11:32 PM
I feel a sense of releif, a burden has been lifted off of my shoulders. You guy's and the answers you give are great. now I Don't fill so overwhelmed, I feel I have a place to turn. I must admit, I was starting to get some anxiety, simply because I passed up the chance to study poetry when I was younger, and then all of a sudden I've taken a great interest in it. I get a joy from reading poetry, but there was a voice in the back of my mind saying," You should know this by now, how come you didn't like it when it presented itself the first time?" But,now I know there is a place where I can get an answer I can understand, its kind of hard trying to get a simple answer from a book, all the time. Thanks a million