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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

On "Awful Poems"

Writing, composing, or otherwise expressing our thoughts in an interesting way is inexplicable. It is a great deal easier to learn how not to write, and develop your voice and style from what you are made of. When you have something to say and do not chain it in trite and tired phrases, your style will carry through. Not everyone is a poet, but anyone who respects the process can produce real and interesting poetry.

“The less you talk about emotions in general terms, the better. The more you describe events and convey emotions, the more effective your writing will be.” (Kowit p.40)

How should I express without exuding sticky emotions? Nobody wants to read a pity piece or gaudy love claims. Somehow, I find myself embarrassed when thumbing through an outrageous poem, as if seeing the writer's nakedness through a lack of something important: skill. Real emotions do not look like red roses or blue. Steve Kowit expands upon this idea in his book, In the Palm of Your Hand. Particularly in a section titled, "Awful Poems", he shines a harsh light on poor poetry technique.

It is not a lack of feeling in the verse, but a terrible execution that clamps my jaw or burns my cheeks. I believe that anyone can have feelings translatable into poetry. However, the skill and devotion to execute something worthwhile accounts for at least half of the process.

“…the attempts at poetic syntax… are similarly artificial and unintentionally comic in their attempts to sound poetic. Far from being more genuinely poetic, such phrases have just the opposite effect: they create bathos and insincerity where the poet wants genuine feeling and believable expression.” (Kowit p.40)

Steve's advice concerns the cliché methods of writers who hide their message or expression in excess. I have to agree with him on this basic and true view of the common issues with dabbler poems. A recipe is not the sum of its spices, but the combinations of flavor. In poetry, an amateur uses preconceptions about verse syntax and rhyming to “spice up” his piece. Regardless of whether the poem contains his attempted expression, it will feel cumbersome to read.

Despite the soundness of the advice throughout “Awful Poems”, I found some of his ideas to be subjective; particularly the section on “Inappropriate Imagery”. He states that the images used in an example poem within “Awful Poem” are incongruent with the poem’s theme. However his criticisms of a “boatless winter lake” were narrow. As the reader, I had no trouble picking up on the writer’s intent with this image of sadness and stillness. I did not enjoy the poem as a whole for multiple reasons, but the sparse imagery was applicable where it could be found.

1 comment:

  1. "Nobody wants to read a pity piece or gaudy love claims."

    At this risk of sounding snarky, I totally wish we could put this in our submission guidelines.