Connecting To Poetry

When I read new poets, I often have a hard time connecting with the poem. Part of that is on me, part of that is on the poet. I think it can be hard to connect with a work if we’re looking at it critically. The more critically we look at something, the more we examine it under a microscope, and microscopic organisms never really give us the big picture. A single piece of a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle can’t tell us what the picture is.

So what can we do to prevent a disconnect with our readership? After all, most people who read poems are poets themselves. It’s just statistics at this point. That means that our main audience is going to be asking themselves “are they worthy” every time they read our literature. So what do we do?

As A Poet

As someone who is writing poetry, I think we can protect ourselves by passing a few tests each time we write a new poem. These all come up in the editing stages of writing, and I’ll go into more detail when I get into editing poems.

  • “You’re not the boss of me!”
    • Instruction: Read your poem like a moody angry person who is talking to their equal or subordinate. If, at any point, you can shout at your poem “You’re not my mom” or “You’re not my boss” then that area needs reworking.
    • Explanation: Whenever a reader feels like they’re being bossed around, readers tune out. It doesn’t matter whether it’s because someone’s saying “You must” or “You should always” or one of those other imperative, commanding phrases. Talking about the right thing to do with a little too much passion can annoy a person.
  • “Well, I don’t … !”
    • Instruction: Read your poem and look for places where you assume a universal truth or fallacy. If you have assumed a universal truth/fallacy such as anything with “always” or “never” then take those words out.
    • Explanation: The only time when a universal truth is a good thing to use is when you’re being contrary on purpose, such as sarcasm or satire. In these situations it works well, but otherwise, you’re likely to turn a reader off, or disconnect with them, by using what you perceive as a universal law.
  • “What?”
    • Instruction: Paraphrase your poem! Take each line or sentence, and write it in plain English. Don’t use fancy language. Don’t use difficult words. Make it as simple and short as you can.
    • Explanation: Sometimes we get so caught up in our flowery language that we forget the meaning of the sentence. It’s good to take a step back and read over your poem in layman’s terms to ensure the poem actually means something and it isn’t just a bunch of pretty pictures.

It is good to leave uniqueness in your poem, but if you overdo it, the poem can be bogged down like an inside joke, so finding that careful balance between writing a poem like you’re sharing with your best friend and a stranger is important. You want the openness of sharing with your best friend, but the explanations like you’re sharing with a stranger.

As A Reader

All of the work does not fall on the poet to create a connected reading experience. To enjoy the act of reading, it helps to step back and give the poet the benefit of the doubt. When a reader enters into a poem with an open mind, expecting the poem to meet their level of entertainment, it can be self-fulfilling. Here are some questions we can ask ourselves to help ensure we’re not hyper-critical.

  1. How does this relate to my life?
  2. What is the poet doing to make this poem imaginative?
  3. Why did the poet use [that word]?
  4. How would I translate [that] stanza into my own words?
  5. Where do I think this is taking place?
  6. When do I think this is happening in the speaker’s life?
  7. Who is the poet trying to connect with?
  8. What turn of phrase do I like the best?
  9. What is the poet trying to tell me?
  10. What would I tell the poet if I met them?
  11. What part do I really like? Why do I like it?

These questions can help keep us looking at the positive aspects of the poem rather than the negative, but it also leads to some good critiques. The best critiques of poems point out things that the writer did well and things that they can improve upon in your opinion.

If we look at questions 2, 4, 9, 11, and 12 we can see that each of these questions have the potential for being answered negatively. If the poet isn’t working very much on imaginative poetry, than 2 is a place to talk about that, and how to improve upon that. 4 is a chance to look at the clarity of the poem and if it makes sense to you. 9 is also looking at the clarity of the poem, but from a different perspective. Eleven helps the reader consider why the poem elicits a strong reaction. Instead of talking about a stanza or word, some of these questions ask about the big picture. Some others probe into questions about the style of the poem.

puzzle-1487340_1280.jpgPoetry is ultimately about our experiences as people, piecing together our own feelings, and it is best to approach poems with that in mind. How does the poem relate to me? What in the poem relates it to something in my life? If you feel an emotional reaction, something relates.

Once we feel that, we are more likely to read the poem with a kinder eye. If we have a personal experience called up in our minds, we can read the poem looking at that personal experience, and, from there, talk about what we liked and didn’t like and why. That makes us think and it might make us aware of some inner truth or demon we rarely bring out into the light.

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Poetry Critiques

Poetry is a type of artform that allows you to write it faster than read it sometimes because we always want a poem read twice. That makes it easy to spit out a poem and roll the dice that it’s going to be good, but hard to edit. Why edit, when you can just produce a new poem?

The problem with that logic is that editing is what makes a poem good in most cases. We as writers cannot make something perfect the first time around, editing is needed to give us space, perspective, and allow our thoughts to develop over time.

What I’ve found with websites like Young Writers Society is that when I get a critique on many of my poems, I have an easier time breaking away from the moment I wrote the poem and into looking at the poem from a critical eye. Other people’s opinions on what sounds poor, or what might improve, helps me develop a sense of what I want to say and where I need to change it.

Because of that, we oftentimes want to have people critique our poems without compensation. You critique mine and I’ll critique yours, but we never get around to it because we’re off writing more. If we’re honest to ourselves, we know when we sign up we’re not going to critique other people’s poems. But why?

Critiquing someone else’s work is good practice for identifying good and bad writing. Reading their work provides us with a basis for developing what is cliche, what has already been done, and engaging ourselves in the market. We should be writing poetry because we like poetry, not because someone told us to, and if we like poetry, then we should read it too.

If anyone is interested in starting a group to share and improve their poetry with me, please comment.

I think it could be a lot of fun to create a blog together with other people and critique like a writing circle.

 

 

Line Capitalization

I said I would go into details about each of the capitalization types, so here I am!

Line Capitalization is the original traditional way to capitalize poetry. It went out of fashion pretty quickly, around the time free verse started getting into the full swing of things, line capitalization went out of traditional style. It wasn’t mandatory any more, and people began to get very comfortable, very quickly, with the idea that our capitalization can match our prose writing. Poets such as William Carlos Williams were among those who challenged the traditionalist style of poetry.

It quickly became a matter of fashion whether you capitalized or not, sort of like wearing your favorite team’s colors on enemy territory. If you continued to capitalize your lines, you were standing up for tradition, for rhyme, for structure, and all the moral obligations holding to the past represented.

Meanwhile, if you capitalized some other way, typically by the sentence rather than the line, you were standing for the new free verse movement, the flow of a poem, the sounds of words on a page, and capturing the essence of nature rather than the essence of rhyme.

Today, line capitalization is a stark statement that what follows is a poem. It’s a way to declare a poem like screaming off a roof. Most reviewers don’t like it, and if you are a subscriber to a poetry magazine, it is a rare poem which actually gets published with this style of writing.

Today, it is mostly seen as the mark of a beginning writer, but that’s because it’s what poets are taught to see as poetry when they first approach the subject.

Our schools show us poetry and teach us “capitalize every letter at the beginning of a line” and “make it rhyme” as they tell us that a haiku is 7-5-7 and damage us for the rest of our lives into hating the structure and failing to see the nuances it presents.

So, when we eventually spread our wings again, and explore the crisis stage of our poetry careers, filled with navel gazing and Sylvia Plath style poetry, we’re naturally writing with the only style we know how, it has to rhyme, and it has to capitalize the first letter of every line.

The style itself is good for more than that.

It’s good when you want to create a traditional, classic feel, like putting on a suit with tails, all crisp and black and white. If you’re writing a poem honoring Shakespeare, Milton, Spenser, or any other ancient deity of our kind, it’s best to suit up for the experience, and that’s where it really shines. You have to know your classics to do the style some real justice, but since so many don’t know their classics, it’s easy to slip by until you find another fanatic.

The style has its pitfalls too.

If you choose to write this way just because Microsoft Word is your platform, and it decides to capitalize the first letter of every line, you’re going to have analysts like me assuming you’re new to poetry and that has a plethora of disadvantages. Glancing down poems on WordPress, I’m disheartened to see so many classically structured poems just because of the word blobs “With sentences Like this Because It is A poem.”

But more on that next time. I’ll go into Sentence Capitalization and you might begin to see what I mean.

Too long, didn’t read:

Use line capitalization when you’re trying to be fancy and classical. Otherwise, avoid it because it makes people assume you’re a newb.

If you disagree with me, or just want to chat, I’d love to hear from you!