Often, the urge to make a poem comes from that ticklish phrase or image that snags my attention, and I get caught in it. So caught that I forget to take a risk, look deeper at why that particular bit of language or sensory input tugs on my sleeve and pesters me to come out and play. Impish or angelic, these sniggles want my full attention; they want to show me something I didn't know, or remind me of something I know but don't want to think about. Cleverness can be a good thing, if it leads to real insight, like an attractive sign leading to an overlook where we can see for miles. Often those miles are really years, and the view is of ourselves or those we love or thought we loved. Then, and only then, is a real poem on the page. Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist, described the hero's journey as dark, lonely, risky, and fruitful. We can all be poet-heroes if we dare.
Friday, February 6, 2009
Discovery and Poetry
For several weeks now I have been cleaning out my poetry notebook and deciding which pieces are worth revision and which ones need to be tossed, maybe gleaning a line or two to store in the journal. Throwing away poems used to feel like treason; how could I just crumple a poem that had tickled my brain and grown from a little phrase into a living piece of art? Easily when I gained enough perspective to recognize the difference between art and artifact. Artifact as in static, noise, unimportant background that masks the real message. My friend Merrell used to tell me there was a difference between a clever poem and a good poem. And he had the guts to say that to my face when I lost my edge, not an unusual event. I still take his advice, although we have not talked in years. As I ripen, I am more willing to see that some poems just don't have the guts to say what they mean. I have learned to question the cute, easy, superficial lines and images that might entertain me, but that teach me nothing. They are all pose, not poetry. There's no discovery there.