The Prompter Room

For Wednesday, March 23, 2016:


“A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.”

W. H. Auden

“There are two men inside the artist, the poet and the craftsman.  One is born a poet.  One becomes a craftsman.”

Emile Zola, in a letter to Cezanne

Far be it from me to suggest that the venerable Auden is not entirely right.  I think Zola is more correct.  Of course poets love language with a passion, but I don’t think that comes first and foremost – at least it doesn’t for me.  I can’t speak for every poet – nor do I presume to – but I’ve been reading and writing poetry for over 50 years (including Auden, of course), and, from my experience, something else comes before language and is more vital.

I believe poets are born with what I call a poetic sensibility, a way of looking at and experiencing the world.  Even before they have words, before they know the magic of language, many poets – most, perhaps – feel and pick up on things a lot of others don’t see.  They can pinpoint subtleties of light, movement, smell, touch, color, the general aethos around them that many people miss.  They remember them as well, to use later, even from childhood memories.

The discovery of language and words was, for my own budding poet, pure gift.  I remember feeling like I was complete when I wrote my first poem at age six.  My exhilaration was almost visible as I sat on the sand dune in the late afternoon of a North Carolina summer. The thrill went through my entire body and was so intense I had to hug it to myself.  That and my little notebook with those three simple stanzas.

My parents read to me from the time they knew I was in utero, so I had a sense of poetic form and structure from nursery rhymes and the like, which meant my first poem rhymed.  Since then I think I’ve written fewer than ten rhyming poems that are halfway decent.  I didn’t know free form poetry was a possibility when I was six.  If I had, I know I would have written some poems before then.  As soon as I learned about it, though, I took off and filled notebook after notebook, stray scraps of paper, and the backs of restaurant paper placemats.

As I progressed in school, I was almost as thrilled to find out there were more ways to write poems as when I wrote my first one.  This is when I discovered how passionate I was about language.  This is when I discovered I could be a craftsperson, too.  I had to, if I was to be true to myself and my poet’s muse.  Some poetry was like putting puzzles together, others made me search for just that right word and put it in just that right place in the line so it made more sense.

I don’t write as much poetry nowadays as I would like, but I think I still have some of the sensibilities.  The open roots of a particular old tree in the yard keep calling me to craft a poem about them, in fact.  If I don’t do so in words, I hope to with a small garden at least.  Sometimes a poet doesn’t need words.


6 thoughts on “The Prompter Room

  1. At first, I memorized every rhyme I ever heard. It didn’t take much, then, to start making up my own – which I did, like you, quite early in life. And I knew nothing of ‘freeform poetry’ perhaps until high school. I was also (and still am) extremely sensitive, so I did not accept criticism at all well. In fact, it was not until my 40’s (and VC, bless its hallowed halls) that I began embracing some of it, and if I could recreate that experience, I surely would. It changed my life in significant ways. And made me Such a better writer. No longer did I consider myself a failure if I edited my original work(s). I no longer felt despair if something I wrote wasn’t good enough for others to pass eyes over.

    And so, I agree with both your quotes, but feel Zola’s more impactfully. Without the craftsperson part, we may rage against the machine, but offend others with that kind of passion, for example. And I had plenty of that fire in me – still do. Only now, I realize more clearly what humans are capable of, for better and for worse.

    Aloha, Genie! Thanks for writing. It’s something I truly look forward to reading. Sound bites. Islands of inspiration or understanding in the midst of my days. I still want you to curate my work one day, but I just can’t seem to figure out quite how. Perhaps early next year, once I finish design school. ❤


    1. And now this one – where have I been?!? Apologies again …

      As always, thank you for your generous spirit and responses. I love your phrase ‘curate my work’! May I borrow that somehow, someday? With proper attribution, of course. The time will come, dear friend – and when it does, be assured I will embrace and take good care of your words.

      As I’ve said elsewhere, there’s a huge difference between critique and criticism. The latter is aimed at the person, the former is *on behalf of the words* to make them the best they can be. That’s what we received at VC. In the long run, and for the long run, we end up being better persons as well. I will venture to surmise, too, that VC stoked and fanned the fire in you, rather than quenching it. I’ve often wondered if that’s why I found such a good niche with editing – the positive feedback and critiques from everyone at VC, learner/teachers and teacher/learners, supported and encouraged my processes so much that I was able to put aside the criticisms from earlier in life and pay forward what I gained from my times in those hallowed halls.

      Love, thanks, and blessings ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are so sweet. And yes, VC was wonderfully informative. I appreciated it at the time, and will never forget the experience. If all kids could wait long enough to fully appreciate and embrace a college experience that was like ours …. wow. What a change would take place in education! And in our little corner of the human race. Love to you, Genie!

        Liked by 1 person

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