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Joshua Wilson

on 26 August 2016

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Transcript of Poetry

Today, we'll talk about 2 things:

1. Things good poets do...


2. Things good poets avoid
What you "like"
is unrelated to the work of this class.

What you can begin to recognize and what you can understand are of supreme importance.

Expertise takes practice. And it takes time.
This class is about learning how to read, how to think and communicate, and how to comprehend literary language more deeply than you did before you arrived in this room.
So what makes a bad poem...bad, exactly?
Here are a few things to avoid...
Things to avoid:
1. Melodrama: “I knew that the stars were put there for you and I.”

A couple more things that good poets handle carefully
7. Totalities: "all, never, everybody, always, none, forever and ever and ever and nobody"

Go easy on melodramatic feelings
lest you sound like this person looks.
2. Clichés: "A trite, over-used expression that is lifeless.”

For example, “When the grocer, who was fit as a fiddle, had taken stock of the situation he saw the writing on the wall, but decided to turn over a new leaf and put his house in order by shooting for the stars—a new day was dawning, but then he woke up, realizing it had all been but a dream. lol.”

More things to avoid:
3. Heavy-handedness: “I cried tears of pain and blood all through the night.”

4. Redundancy: "The dinosaur was huge and enormous and humongous.”

5. Archaisms: thee, thou, whilst, doth, etc...

Unnecessary explanation
6. "He deliberately kicked the little dog in the leg because it was obvious to everybody around that he was very mean and cruel.”
9. Exaggeration & hyperbole.

“I wanted to die a thousand deaths with you and live beyond in a thousand heavens.”
8. "Go in fear of abstractions": that is, nouns you cannot touch,

like "truth," "beauty," "love," "hatred," etc.
10. Avoid vague language: "We ended up having a great time at a fun party."

11. Avoid predictable and overly-familiar phrases: "He paced back and forth."
So what do
good poets actually even do already?
First off
1. Imagery: "the mirror still reflects a crescent moon"

2. Music: "in a Tex-Mex restaurant"

3. Metaphor: "The first man she saw naked was the rain."

(8, 9, 7)
4. Sensory language: taste, texture, & scent:
"I wake up holding / the skull / of a wolf"

"I woke / with his thumb in my mouth"

"The skin of your deity smells like gasoline."
(7, 9, 18)
Formal attention & play
To manipulate the form and the shape of the poem--

such that the poem can develop its own way of moving down and across the page,
its own way of breathing, its own logic.

Surprise & leaps in
"Fingers are rooting inside a violin to pull out

The last scraps of birdsong"

"The snake hisses. The snake is torn."

"Bark, dory, punt, skiff"

(10, 29)
"Once, borracho, at breakfast,
he said: The heart can only be broken

once, like a window."

They create
1. Tension without melodrama
2. Emotion without sentimentality
3. Surprise without exaggeration
4. Detail without explanation

Use the poem to
to show and discover not merely to tell or say:

"I was one of ten women. Our mouths were taped.
I was spit on. I was slapped. The other women were raped."
"You mistook a group of ghosts for an orchard

You, coward."

Trust that an image will speak for itself
"We slipped through a fence like mice,

& waited in a neighborhood park."

They develop

A variegated terrain of emotion

That racism, humor, immigration, manual labor, bugs bunny, apples, Oregon, the Mexican desert, two languages, and sex all appear in a single poem of Corral's. ("In Colorado..." 9)
"But I don't like poetry!" you say?

I aim to change that.

And I will not fail.
Finally, variety
A mix of emotion, detail, character, voices, sounds, senses, utterances, surprises, images, sentences and lines.

Each line is unique. Each line contributes to the potential meaning a poem might offer.
A.R. Ammons
Having once experienced the mystery, plenitude, contradiction, and composure of a work of art, we afterwards have a built-in resistance to the slogans and propaganda of over-simplification that have often contributed to the destruction of human life. Poetry is a verbal means to a non-verbal source.
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