Linda Gregerson on Moving Forward by Going Elsewhere

12 04 2014

gregerson

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

punch

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

dolcephoto

 

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


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.





Turning the Bad Poem into the Great

16 01 2014

gabbert

Over at The French Exit, Eliza Gabbert critiques Danielle Cadena Deulen’s “The Needle, the Thread,” a poem included in the most recent issue of Crazyhorse.  Gabbert’s critique is multifaceted–from noting grammatical problems to registering that the poem “oozes sentimentality”–however, the heart of Gabbert’s critique, it seems to me, is the poem’s lack of a turn.  Gabbert notes that the poem contains a “pretty flat register of emotion: awe all the way through.”  And, as a result, “there’s no real tension.”  What Gabbert would prefer is more drama; she states, “Give me a big Rilkean ending any day. But in a Rilke poem, you get 13 staid lines about a bust of Apollo before the flushed demand of the ending. There’s a sense of subtlety, a sense of balance.”  Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” of course, is famous for presenting a particularly stunning act of turning, of, in the words of M. L. Rosenthal, poetic “torque.”

In her contribution to the “Endless Structures” section of Structure & Surprise, Rachel Zucker discusses “Archaic Torso of Apollo” as a kind of turn that she calls “the Epiphanic structure.”  About poems using this kind of structure, this pattern of turns, Zucker states, “The pleasure in this kind of poem lies in the surprise (an ambush really) of the turn and the following resolution.  The sudden utterance at the end of the poem, sounding very much like a non sequitur, collides with description like a driver running a red light.  Whiplash, double-take, brief confusion ensues, but in this case, almost as soon as confusion registers, the rhetoric of the last line aggressively co-opts the description and defines the entire scene.  What seemed at first a rogue bit of language is suddenly manifested as the essence of the poem.  Dissonance gives way (rather quickly) to a feeling of rightness, of inevitability.”

Sure, some interesting poems don’t turn much at all–consider Ron Padgett’s “Nothing in That Drawer” or Peter Gizzi’s “Protest Song.”  And, of course, it’s a tall order for any poem to approach the strange majesty, the authority, of Rilke’s poem.  And there certainly are ways to value “The Needle, the Thread” outside of its relationship with the turn.  However, it also generally is the case that most successful poems work the way that Randall Jarrell says they do–Jarrell states, “A successful poem starts from one position and ends at a very different one, often a contradictory or opposite one; yet there has been no break in the unity of the poem.”  That is to say, they, as Gabbert notes in the comments section of her post, “surprise.”

*

Danielle Cadena Deulen’s “Corrida de Toros, it seems to me, is a Jarrellian “successful poem”–check it out here.





Super, Smart!

15 11 2013

FULL DISCLOSURE

The wise old
beginner—an applecheeked boy

practically—
born

laughing
into a huge white beard

is a sometime
friend and weird-

ly potent little
notion of mine

when-
ever I feel—that one

too many
lids are closing—

*

Since I don’t know how long, my friend and former student Dan Smart has been posting (at least!) a poem / day on Facebook.  Just at the level of quantity, it’s an impressive project.  What makes the project truly awesome, however, is the quality of the poems–so many sudden revelations and glorious surprises!

As with so many of Dan’s poems, “Full Disclosure” grabbed my attention.  And, as it seemed to me to be a new emblem poem, I thought I’d post it here for fans of the turn.

Many thanks to Dan for granting permission to reprint the poem, and for sharing his daily discoveries over on Facebook.





There’s a Turn There, Too

13 11 2013

 

sneakyhatespiralturn

Turns are everywhere…even, alas, in the all-too-familiar “sneaky hate spiral”





Billy Collins on “The Ride of Poetry”

6 11 2013

alphaomega

I recently read with great interest “The Ride of Poetry: Collins on Metaphor and Movement,” by Billy Collins (in Contemporary American Poetry: Behind the Scenes, edited by Ryan G. Van Cleave (New York: Pearson, 2003), pp. 66-69).  In this essay (a brief afterword to a selection of his poems), Collins discusses his desire for poems to present him an opportunity for “imaginative travel,” to transport him “into new territory.”

Though Collins does not specifically mention the turn in this essay, it’s clear that the turn is implied.  Turns simply are the ways that poems travel.  Collins states, “In teaching or reading poetry, a question I habitually ask my students or myself is how does the poem get from its alpha to its omega.”  And this sounds a great deal like Randall Jarrell, who states (in “Levels and Opposites: Structure in Poetry,” a lecture focused on issues related to the turn), “A successful poem starts from one position and ends at a very different one, often a contradictory or opposite one; yet there has been no break in the unity of the poem.”

Additionally, Collins simply seems to be a fan of the turn.  He employs the turn again and again in his own work.  (Many poems by Collins appear on this blog’s pages devoted to specific kinds of turns, including “Duck/Rabbit” and “Marginalia.”)  And, as an anthologist, Collins tends to select works that feature prominent turns–I don’t think it’s coincidental that the subtitle to Collins’s influential Poetry 180 is “A Turning Back to Poetry.”

Collins’s “The Ride of Poetry” simply further confirms Collins’s interest in, and deep and abiding engagement with, the turn.  Here are some selections from this essay:

“Of the many pleasures that poetry offers, one of the keenest for me is the possibility of imaginative travel, a sudden slip down the rabbit hole.  No other form can spirit the reader away to a new conceptual zone so quickly, often in the mere handful of lines that a lyric poem takes to express itself.  Whenever I begin to read a new poem, I feel packed and ready to go, eager to be lifted into new territory….

“If we view poetry as an affordable–cheap, really–means of transportation, we can see the development of a poem as a series of phases in the journey, each of which has a distinct function.  The opening of the poem is the point of departure; the interior of the poem is the ground that will be simultaneously invented and covered through a series of navigational maneuvers; and the ending of the poem is the unforeseen destination–international arrivals, if you will….I am hardly alone in saying that the poem can act as an imaginative vehicle, a form of transportation to a place unknown.  But I expect my company would thin out if I admitted that I usually fail to experience the deeper, more widely celebrated rewards of poetry, such as spiritual nourishment and empathetic identification, unless the poem has provided me with some kind of ride….

“I do not mean to suggest that poetry is a verbal amusement park (or do I?) but I do hold up as a standard for assessing a poem its ability to carry me to a place that is dramatically different from the place I was when I began to read it.

“To view a poem as a trip means taking into account the methods that give a poem vehicular capability.  It means looking into the way a poet manages to become the poem’s first driver and thus first to know its secret destination.

“In teaching or reading poetry, a question I habitually ask my students or myself is how does the poem get from its alpha to its omega.  Obviously, the question does not apply to the many poems that exhaust themselves crawling in the general direction of beta….”








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