As a part of some work with a colleague to rethink a particular poetry writing course, I spent a terrific two hours this afternoon sailing through Clayton Eshleman‘s Novices: A Study of Poetic Apprenticeship. A strange and magical book, I think.
As its subtitle indicates, Novices primarily is an excellent collection of reflections on the fuller demands of poetic apprenticeship. One of the aspects of the book that I like very much is that it presents some “plans,” “outlines,” and “curricula” for a training in poetry that other poets have suggested, including those by Charles Olson, Gary Snyder, and (though Eshleman is critical of his “daydream College for Bards”) W.H. Auden. Perhaps my favorite chapter in the book is Chapter 9, in which Eshleman uses Snyder’s “What You Should Know to Be a Poet” as a springboard to launch himself into a discussion of his own theory of apprenticeship, which consists of four “nodes”: “EXPERIENCE,” “RESEARCH,” “SELF-REGULATION,” and “EXPERIMENT.” Worth looking into.
(Those intrigued by the prospect of thinking more deeply about a fuller poetic apprenticeship might also read H.L. Hix’s “Training for Poets” in As Easy as Lying: Essays on Poetry.)
Of course, though, what also caught my eye (trained on the turn) was a passage from Novices‘ Chapter 7 in which Eshleman emphasizes the role of the turn (or turns) in poems. He states:
“There is an archetypal poem, and its most ancient design is probably the labyrinth. One suddenly cuts in, leaving the green world for the apparent stasis and darkness of the cave. The first words of a poem propose and nose forward toward a confrontation with what the writer is only partially aware of, or may not be prepared to address until it emerges, flushed forth by digressions and meanders. Poetry twists toward the unknown and seeks to realize something beyond the poet’s initial awareness. What it seeks to know might be described as the unlimited interiority of its initial impetus.”
Whether a labyrinth or something else, it certainly is true that poetry twists and turns. While in the process of learning much and cultivating a variety of necessary dispositions and skills, any apprentice to the art of poetry must attend to this aspect of poetry, considering and practicing the art of the turn.