The Prompter Room

For Friday, June 9, 2017:

 

It is remarkable, the character of the pleasure we derive from the best books … There is some awe mixed with the joy of our surprise, when this poet, who lived in some past world, two or three hundred years ago, says that which lies close to my own soul, that which I also had wellnigh thought and said.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘The American Scholar,’ ESSAYS AND LECTURES

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.

The Prompter Room

For Saturday, January 16, 2016:

 

“A word is not the same with one writer as with another.  One tears it from his guts.  The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.”

Charles Peguy

Last night I finished the first round of line edits for the novel-in-progress (does that make it the second draft now?) and discovered, in the process, that I must have one heck of a big overcoat pocket.  There’s one word I used over and over and over, so often that I started to circle it every time it appeared so I can go back and find other options.

I’ve looked through the thesauruses but there are limited choices – which rather surprises me, actually.  I could take the easy way out and alternate among them, but not all are appropriate for the various circumstances in which the word is used.  Besides, I don’t want to dip into that pocket again.  It’s a simple and familiar concept that I want to convey, but I don’t want the word to be simple every time.

My hope is that I can follow the wisdom of Eugene Ionescu.  He writes that “The poet cannot invent new words every time, of course.  He uses the words of the tribe.  But the handling of the word, the accent, a new articulation, renew them.”

So now it’s on to the more complicated part of the process.  Along with some rewriting and reordering, I need to go into my gut and find a way to renew one little word.  Some of the time, at least.