Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

"The Practise of Poetry" by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell (eds) (CollinsReference, 1992)

A book of Workshop Exercises introduced by practitioners. Some of them are standard and vague ("keep a dream journal"), others are quite tightly constrained. I don't go to many workshops, so many of the suggestions were new to me. I liked

  • Michael Water - Each pupil creates an opening line which the group explore the potential of, the line going to the person who, according to the author, offers the best suggestions.
  • Garrett Hongo - "Make up a secret about yourself"
  • Jack Myers's - Write 2 pieces and alternate the lines of them ("By alternating the actions and characters from the two separate scenes, a third, implied quantity arises. This will be true of almost any two things placed side by side")
  • J.D.McClatchy - Type a poem out triple-spaced and fill the gaps in. Then remove the original poem and tweak
  • William Matthews - Ruin famous lines of poetry with the smallest possible change
  • Maggie Anderson - Variations on the photograph-based exercise: a poem addressed to the photographer, a poem addressed to someone in the photo, a poem by the photographer, a poem by someone or something in the photo addessed to the photographer, a poem about the scene just before the photo was taken

A few of the commentaries raised my eyebrows

  • "don't use rhyme until you develop the necessary skills to keep the rhymes from distorting your sentences and squelching the discovery process", Andrew Hudgins. I wonder what type of distortion is being alluded to here - away from "normal language"? If so, shouldn't imagery, disjunction, and line-breaks be used with similar caution? And rhyme can force the poet away from habitual associations; it can distract from logic.
  • "it directs your attention to crucial questions for beginning poets (and, hell, for advanced ones too): what is a line of poetry and how can I make lines work for me?", Andrew Hudgins. The option of leaving out line-breaks isn't considered. The enigma of the line is cultivated.
  • Roland Flint's idea is "Write a poem, eleven to fifteen lines long, in which you tell a story ... the lines may vary from nine to ten to eleven syllables". He adds "Why not start ... by writing it out as prose ... then cast it into lines " and later writes "The assignment is intended to teach you the structural rigor of the sonnet without the compromise of rhyme and a fixed metric". I don't think that cutting prose up involves much rigor

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