Monday, December 11, 2017

Experiments in Poetry- Acrobatics or Expression?

For most of my writing life, I have been a practitioner of the style commonly referred to as “free verse.” My only nod towards form is to imitate common speech, allow the lines to fall as the breath does. I will throw in a dash of alliteration here and there, if the situation allows, but more often than not, the result ends up feeling obvious and corny.

In high school, I experimented with formal styles, like sonnets, haiku and the like, but abandoned any hope of producing substantial work along these lines decades ago. Cummings could do it, Shakespeare created the mold many of us seek to shape our work by, but beyond those two examples, not much good, in my experience, can come from us mortals using the same rhyme patterns.

Every few years has brought a shift in my work, whether subtle or jarring. Recently, due to exposure to the work of Anne Gorrick and Adam Tedesco, to name a couple of local examples, I was inspired to try some more abstract methods. I took a workshop with Katrinka Moore, whose work transcends the seemingly simple procedure of erasure. I clipped and blacked out, drew random words from a cup, reversed lines and tore papers into shreds.

As a matter of fact, that last one is one of my favorite RANDOM WRITING exercises. I have participants work on a rough draft or a freewrite, and then ask them to tear the work up into chunks. We tape the scraps together, and examine the new, convoluted text for intriguing phrases created by juxtaposition. New poems can often emerge from these accidents. I like to use this exercise to help participants to loosen then hold on first drafts, to learn to not be married to the words as they fall on the page. More than one poet has gasped at these instructions, but warmed to the activity soon after.

I began to employ these methods with my own writing, to see where they would take me. After a couple of years, I must admit that I myself am perhaps too “married” to the basically autobiographical roots of my work to feel much satisfaction in writing from abstractions. The Ziegfeld poems I discussed last week are based on actual events, not my own life, but for the most part, my poems have been inspired by my own activities, emotions, and observations. I’ve been able to craft some pretty decent fictions from some of these exercises, but I still can’t get past the feeling that for me, they feel like parlor tricks, and not actual expressions. I’ve regarded them as a sort of lesser body of work.

I’ve tried fitting them into readings, since they are by no means works that I’m ashamed of, but they are so very foreign to the majority of my poems I’ve never been comfortable presenting them. The reaction consequently has been lukewarm. I pulled a bunch of them together into a small chapbook, creating a home for my seeming orphans. I called it Llama Love, after the longest poem, based on Facebook’s poor translations of a friend’s Egyptian posts. They sold well, but I have to attribute that to my llama sketch on the cover (see above). I only printed up a few, and even collecting them together was unsatisfying.

I’m glad I pushed the boundaries, and may go back to these experiments from time to time, but as far as where I’m at now, I’ll be to returning to my former narrative full-time. The poet I am is a reporter, a witness, and not the abstract wordsmith type. It works for many I know who produce rich, textured work, but not for me.

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