Linda Gregerson on Moving Forward by Going Elsewhere

12 04 2014


In “Going Elsewhere,” her contribution to The Rag-Picker’s Guide to Poetry, Linda Gregerson discusses one of the central paradoxes of poetry: as she calls it, “moving-forward-by-going-elsewhere.”  Gregerson writes:

“Often, when I have drafted, oh, three-quarters of a poem, something more than half in any case, I find myself at a peculiar sort of impasse.  The trajectory has begun to assume some clarity; the poem has begun to turn toward home.  And just-on-the-edge-of-fulfillment is exactly the problem: were the poem at this point simply to complete its own momentum, it would land in sorry predictability or, worse, the default didacticism that comes from ‘topping up’ one’s own emergent understanding.  Time to go elswehere, Linda.  And begin by discarding that last stanza and a half.

“Elsewhere can be recalcitrant.  A dozen failed efforts to find it–three dozen–are nothing at all.  It must be the right, the real elsewhere, the one that deepens and corrects what has come before.”

Gregerson then discusses engaging in this process with two of her poems (reprinted in The Rag-Picker’s Guide), “Prodigal” and “Her Argument for the Existence of God.”

Gregerson’s reflection on her process in The Rag-Picker’s Guide seems to grow out of some ideas that arose in a conversation with David Baker on The Kenyon Review Online.  Of “Prodigal,” Baker asks, “How did this ending come about? Was it early or late in the process of composition when you determined how the poem should terminate?”  And Gregerson responds, “It was very late. I was stuck for a long, long time.  It’s always the hardest, and the truest, part of composition for me: reaching a point where the poem needs to go more deeply into itself by going elsewhere.  Authentically elsewhere, somewhere I haven’t pre-plotted. I often find that point by writing slightly beyond it, into a fulfillment that’s too predictable. So I have to cut back to the precipice and be stranded there for a while. It’s a very uncomfortable place; it drives me crazy. And it’s where the thing either does or does not become a poem.”

This going elsewhere, this “hardest” and “truest” part of composition, this working at the point where a poem either does or does not emerge, of course, is the search for the right kind of turn for a poem, one that leaps away from the poem but also is deeply (and wildly) appropriate to it–a turn, that is, that has fitting surprise.  Seeking out and deploying thrilling turns is not only a part of Gregerson’s process, but also is a part of the process of poets such as Billy Collins and Mark Doty.  …And, I’m certain, many, many, many others.  It’s just nice, and fitting, that poets have started to articulate how difficult and vital a poetic element the turn in fact is.

Punch-in-the-Face Poetry

9 04 2014


So I’m kind of groovin’ on a site that’s new to me: Punch-in-the-Face Poetry.  This site posts some slammin’ good poems.  Among the criteria that the site’s editor looks for in a great poem is “a strong turn.”  And there certainly are turns-a-plenty at Punch-in-the-Face.  So, check it out, and check out Voltage Poetry, and Voltage!  And let those great turns do what they do so well: knock you out!

“If Hitler also Spelled Hiedler,” by Joe Dolce

17 03 2014



If Hitler also Spelled Hiedler


Hüttler or Huettler

at seventeen had remained

in watercolour been accepted

at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna

even become a priest as once intended

the swastika would still signify

auspiciousness in Sanskrit

Israel wouldn’t exist

no Berlin or West Bank walls

holocaust would refer to

a burnt offering of Moses

WW I would still be The Great War

I would have had one more uncle.




One of the things I like best about my online work with the poetic turn here and over at Voltage Poetry is that it’s allowed me to come into contact with some great folk, terrific artists, poets and thinkers. Most recently, this work has put me in touch with Joe Dolce, who has allowed me to reprint the above poem, which, among other things is a great example of a list-with-a-twist.

A little about Joe:

Born in Painesville, Ohio, in 1947, Joe Dolce moved to Australia in 1979, becoming a citizen in 2004. He is known internationally for the most successful song in Australian music history, Shaddap You Face, number one on the pop charts in fifteen countries, holding the record for the largest selling single in Australian music history for 33 years. Over the past twenty years he has achieved award-winning recognition as songwriter, composer, poet, and essayist. He set fifteen poems of C. P. Cavafy to music as well as works by Sappho, Sylvia Plath, Les Murray, Ali Cobby Eckermann, and others. In 2010, he won the Launceston Poetry Cup at the 25th Tasmanian Poetry Festival. He has had poetry and essays published in Quadrant, Monthly, The Canberra Times, PEN (in English/Arabic translation), Meanjin, Etchings, Overland, Cordite, Journey, Carmenta, Vine Leaves, Eye of the Telescope (sci-fi), Contrappasso and Antipodes (USA). He lives in Carlton, Victoria, a suburb of Melbourne. His website is here.

Two New Filibuster Poems

10 03 2014

Two terrific new (at least to me…) filibuster poems:

“No Insect,” by Steve Westbrook, and

“This Morning I Could Do a Thousand Things,” by Robert Hedin.

Check ‘em out!

Voltage Poetry 2.0 Launches Tomorrow!

17 02 2014


Tomorrow morning, at 11 a.m. (CST), the next round of contributions to Voltage Poetry launches!  I hope you’ll check it out–

(Teaser: for the first post of the new launch, David Mason reflects on the stunning turn in Cally Conan-Davies’s “Wompoo Fruit Dove”…)

As noted on Voltage Poetry’s “About” page, in “Lyricism of the Swerve,” Hank Lazer asks, “Is there a describable lyricism of swerving?  For those poems for which the swerve, the turn, the sudden change in direction are integral, can we begin to articulate a precise appreciation?”  Voltage Poetry continues to strive to undertake this important articulation and appreciation.

Co-edited by Kim Addonizio and yours truly, Voltage Poetry is an online anthology that collects essays written by some of today’s most exciting poets and critics about poems with great turns them.  Right now, the site features over 70 essays on some amazing poems.  As with the first round of publication, each week approximately three new essays will be posted.  As we currently have over 30 new contributors, the site’s conversation about the turn will continue to evolve for approximately the next three months or so.  However, submissions also are accepted (interested? click here for information)–so the conversation may continue.  In the months to come, I look forward to further reflecting on the turn here at the Structure & Surprise blog by examining ideas and questions raised in and by the essays on Voltage Poetry.  I hope others also may be inspired by Voltage Poetry and begin to think and write more about the poetic turn.

Voltage Poetry has been a collaborative effort from the start, and it remains so.  It has been a deep pleasure to get to work with Kim and all the site’s contributors–a group of truly amazing poets and critics.  Additionally, many poets whose poems are featured on the site offered gracious assistance when it came to attaining permission to reprint their poems.  And numerous permissions and publishing professionals continue to be generous and supportive of this project.

This round of publications in Voltage Poetry has benefited greatly from the dedicated work of its editorial assistant, Erica Kucharski.  Student assistants Colleen O’Connor, Nicole Pierce, Maggie Zeisset, Kristina Dehlin, Mike Dickinson, and Danielle Kamp have helped with proofreading.  Michael Gorman’s technical expertise has been invaluable.  My heartfelt thanks to all involved with this stage of the project…

I hope you, too, will get involved with Voltage Poetry–if you do: thank you!

Bob Bray’s “David Lee”

9 02 2014

david lee

he was my friend
and then he wasn’t
he got wild
I went to college
he loved a girl named ann
she loved him back sort of
he played the saxophone
he had a band

tenor        ramrods

ann went somewhere else
he got wilder
he broke a window
he stole a naked manikin
they put him in the asylum
he died there of something
and then he wasn’t
he was my friend

–Bob Bray


My colleague Bob Bray shared with me the above poem which he wrote in tribute to a high school friend, and I wanted to share it with the readers of this blog. I deeply admire this poem–its humanity and humility, and also its craft, its care. It is a gorgeous, understated elegy, an acknowledgement of both complexity and loss.

Jack Gilbert’s “Islands and Figs”

28 01 2014

Islands and Figs

GREAT turn at the end of this poem.  Enough said.  …Well, except for this: enjoy!



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