Writing Poetry for The Times That Are In It (more unsolicited advice)

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Writing Poetry for The Times That Are In It

Avoid the polemic, the rant,
the bromide
be all you can be
avoid the hackneyed phrase
the weak-kneed phrase
the self-consciously poetic line
the moon, a pale orb in the evening sky
never call the moon “an orb”
never call the sun “a fiery ball”
your waves should not
crash on the shore
they should collapse
like marathon runners
avoid foliage
excessive leafiness
too many trees
the reader needs to see the poem
and remember it’s unlikely
that your poem
will be an agent of change
no one is going to march through the streets
chanting your poem
unless your poem is a three word slogan
but your poem can chronicle change
bear witness to change
and one day someone might read it
at a rally in front of a large crowd
if the lines resonate
if the lines generate heat
meanwhile concentrate on
impressing yourself
avoid lines ending in “ution”
the rest will take care of itself.

 

The prompt from Brendan over at earthweal is as follows:

“For this week’s challenge, write about the challenges you face as a poet trying to write sufficiently to the moment. What is most difficult to capture about the time? What new tools or calibrations might be required?”

The above poem is a stab at it. It’s a very interesting question, because is it possible to write sufficiently to the moment? Yeats wrote his poem “Easter 1916”, about the Irish Easter Rebellion, between May and September of 1916 but the poem wasn’t published until 1921 in the collection “Michael Robartes and the Dancer”. Undoubtedly the poem must have gone through countless revisions in the interim period and of course is a better poem because of this. If Yeats had a blog, he might have turned out something more immediate and inferior. But it’s interesting to look at how the first verse ends:

Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

The last two lines are repeated at the end of the second and the last verse, almost like a chorus. I think there lies an answer to how to write more immediate poetry, poetry of the moment – use a form that is close to that of a song, get yourself a rhyme get your self a chorus. It may not turn out like Yeats but hey you don’t have the time for that.

Here’s one from a little while back:

IMG_0269 (10)

Drain The Swamp Rag

(Walk that back
walk that back
I know I said it
but I walked that back.)

Attack dog surrogates
inveterate invertebrates
re-stock the swamp
with old white males.

Post logic, post truth,
snake oil and kool-aid
re-stock the swamp
with old white males.

Mike Pence, John Bolton
Rudy Giuliani
re-stock the swamp
with old white males

Inveterate surrogates
attack dog invertebrates
re-mail the stock
to the old white swamp

re-stock the swamp
with old white males.

 

15 thoughts on “Writing Poetry for The Times That Are In It (more unsolicited advice)

  1. sarahsouthwest

    You find that sweet spot between funny and painful. I can see that the second poem is more chantable – that repeated refrain is the key, isn’t it? That hooks into the brain, that’s the take home message. And I think you’re right. I left a comment on Kim’s post about this – the poems I always dreaded (silently, obviously – I’m polite) at poetry readings were the ones “I wrote today, inspired by this thing I heard on the news”. Usually important issues, bad poetry. Things need to brew a little.

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  2. earthweal

    Great idea here–the poem as the poetics of what titles. This exhortation is perfect: “your waves should not / crash on the shore / they should collapse / like marathon runners.” And yes, there is never anything truly anthemic in our poems — or it exists in the tiniest accidental fraction of them. So why worry? But every poem bears that burden, and even in a fleeting media like online poetry publication, the fleeting moment bears immense value. (Lots of other things we could be doing.) And yes, one wonders whether Yeats could be Yeats online, whether the result we have today could not have such mighty foliage without the long distillation and revision. I can’t think of any poem I’ve read in the past 20 years which carries that weight. Maybe it’s impossible to do so any more (which answers my question). I wrote songs for years before I started writing poems in earnest, so I get the power of verse amplified. It’s just easier and less cluttered and cheaper and possibly much more complex without the Marshall stack. Thanks Jim —

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    1. sdtp33 Post author

      Thanks for these challenges Brendan! Always gets me thinking. I did make a brief foray into song writing and it was a lot of fun. Though I never did like the third verse requirement, with poems you can say what you have to say and leave the building!

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  3. Sherry Marr

    Afantastic post! I especially love your first poem – “your poem can….bear witness to change.” That is what we are doing – bearing witness, difficult as that is sometimes. I had to smile at “avoid lines ending in ‘ution’.” Good one.

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  4. kim881

    I love the irony of the first poem, Jim: ‘Avoid the polemic, the rant’, and the list of all the things that many of us do in our poetry every day, especially calling the moon ‘an orb’ and the sun ‘a fiery ball’. Why does any of it matter? I especially like the honesty in the lines:
    ‘…remember it’s unlikely
    that your poem
    will be an agent of change
    no one is going to march through the streets
    chanting your poem
    unless your poem is a three word slogan
    but your poem can chronicle change
    bear witness to change’.
    Not a bad reason to keep writing – and we can ruffle a few feathers, ripple a few ponds at the same time. :).

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