Been writing a lot this first part of the week and this soundtrack from Kwame Dawes has been in my head most of that time thanks to my writer-friend Yao:
MEMOS TO POETS
a ‘twitter’ journey
#1 Banned: The metaphorical heart. ”Heartburn” is allowed, however. ”Heartache” too, only if a coronary is involved.
#2 The moon is always “distant”. It’s not like we are going to forget.
#3 Why not just call them “line-fractures” or “fractured lines” if that’s really what you mean? It’s a line ending, people.
#4 Only one poem about writing poems a year. They are all the same poem written when we have nothing to say.
#5: Epigraphs. From the Bible always use original Hebrew or Greek–it throws off the God-haters, and you get to look smart.
#6: Prose poems: they might be double-agents, be on the alert…
#7: If the poem came from God don’t ask me to edit God.
#8: Whose inept idea was it to ban articles and natural syntax from English language
#9: Metaphors are hams, divas; they hate to share the limelight and too many in a room can be blinding.
#10: A simile in a simile in a simile in a simile is a brilliant parlor trick, yes, but it’s not great for poems.
#11: Rhyming is one of the most under-appreciated forms poetic of improvisation.
#12: More often than not a well chosen verb makes an adjective superfluous.
#13: This just in: “Gloaming” has been banned from poetry, especially Irish themed poems
#14: “Difficult” does not necessarily mean “Deep”.
#15: Ekphrasis: great way to rip off ready made images and get credit for it.
#16: Exercise: “carriage”/ “porridge”–shape a couplet with that rhyme. GO!
#17: The poet’s bane is the gap between the beauty of a vision and the limits of her language to express that vision.
#18: If a poem’s clues are hard to crack the jackpot better be worth the effort.
#19: “‘Voice’ is about how you fix your poems.” Ellen Arl
#20: Some moments demand a sermon, or a speech, or fist, or a bowl of water, or a rose, not a poem.
#21: To say “it’s raining chipmunks and squirrels” always trumps saying “it’s raining cats and dogs”.
#22: Often cutting a line is the easy fix, not the best fix.
#23: Perhaps all memory is fiction & all fiction is memory.
#24: Writing a poem is not the same as publishing a poem. No one’s watching, so let ‘er rip.
#25: If you do not read poetry to avoid being influenced, save me from the same fate: don’t ask me to read your poems.
#26: One day the teacher asked of a poem “what does it mean?”. It all went downhill from there.
#27: Unfair, yes, but the days of forced syntax to suit meter and rhyme are gone. Now it’s rhyme, meter AND natural syntax.
#28: At their best our poems have taught us things we never knew we knew. We just have to let them.
#29: Here is a tricky one: the poem is not so much in the image itself but in the moment that demands the image. Consider it.
#30: Call it subconscious, call it art, but a poem wants to go where it wants to go. If you let it, aahh, bright wings!
#31: The poem, too, is sound: the music of vowels, consonants, stresses, silences, rhythms, tones–a universe before meaning.
#32: Morning workout: Describe a scent without a simile or adjective. Do five reps.
#33: The best improvisers are those with the broadest palette of choices. Wise poets keep adding to their palette of choices.
#34: Make sure when you say, “I don’t write ghazals” you don’t really mean “I don’t know how to write ghazals.”
#35: Can a musician be great without mastery of her instrument? Can a poet be great without mastery of her instrument?
#36: You can write about anything you want, but some subjects come with greater responsibility than you may want to take on.
#37: Poets, a lot can be learnt from the timing of the best comics: pacing, economy, judiciousness, silence, rhythm, reward.
#38: Most folks fear that a poet is merely someone who knows something and expends all energy making it unknowable.
#39: Exercise: Write a love poem without the word ‘love’ as noun, verb, or adjective.
#40: Poetic Stamina: A six hundred word sentence of seamless, most natural language.
#41: Always be sure that a question in your poem does not have an answer more interesting than the question. Answer it and see#42: Adjectives are butter.
#43: Writer’s block is a myth we writers invented to blame something other than our lack of anything interesting to say.
#44: There’s nothing sacred about a first draft. It is merely a doorway; walk in; see the rich vistas spread for you..
#45: If you lose your note book full of poems, weep for a day, then fill another notebook.
#46: When you accept that not everything you write is special you will write much more than you ever dreamed you could.
#47: At the very least find out why they say the “greats” are great before you dismiss them for being dead and not like you.
#48: Original? Not so much. Like it or not we are shaped by poems we read and hear. Good stuff in…You know the rest.
#49: The high bar: “to purify the dialect of the tribe”. How is that going?
#50: Sometimes a poem is hard because it’s trying to say hard things.
#51: We trade in feeling. It is the poets’ first currency.
# 52: The true art is knowing how to discern what is interesting and what is not interesting.
#53: The truer art is making the uninteresting interesting.
#54: The truest art is seeing the genius of ordinary things
#55: A part of the poet’s mind will always be elsewhere: sifting, prospecting, foraging for what must be kept. Pity her.
#56: To steal from the poet you must kill the poet–come to the page with your hands slick with blood and sweat…and tears.
#57: You never hear a carpenter complain of carpenter’s block, do you?
#58: The best poems are fantastically organic, they grow as we grow, in depth, complexity and power.
#59: A poem will not build a bridge, nor will laughter, yet we keep laughing.
#60: Every new child, every casket, every wedding kiss deserves the blessing of an elegantly crafted, true and honest poem.
#61: Imagination is dime a dozen, the thing the sets the poet apart is craft.
#62: Perhaps not you, but some poets believe we serve a community with our art. This, too, is noble service. This too is art.
#63: Who shall be our poet now?”–a boy exclaimed at Robert Burns’ funeral. An most enviable eulogy for a poet.
#64: A worthwhile Lowell thought: “The poem is the event not the record of an event”–a mantra narrative poets should chant.
#65: The sin that keeps on giving: Envy among poets.
#66: Poetry: Think a horse in full gallop, the rider goading, coaxing, hanging on–HALLELUJAH!!!
#67: Keats’s poet is a tool of art and thought and society: “[S/He] is constantly informing–and filling some other body”
#68: “There is a perception that the desert is emptiness, desert is nothing.” No, it is the poet’s playground.
#69: Treat all poems like a building–come to them from all angles, enter each room till you find the best way in.
# 70: “I write for myself.” A quaint motto for poets, especially those flogging their books in the market place.
#71: Sometimes too much knowledge stymies the imagination. Art is found in the balance.
#72: A city is a pulsing, breathing, idiosyncratic organism waiting to be discovered, written street by street, lane by lane.
#73: There is little new under the sun, but our art is to combine ordinary things to make something extraordinarily new.
#74: Whole crispy sea bass, steamed sea bass, a bed of greens, soy sauce, friends communing is what a poem, well-made, can be.
#75: A poem knows its way around a dense forest of prayers–the dialect if familiar.
#76: In the names of a city’s streets lie the secrets of its making and unmaking. In the calculus of names lie poems.
#77: Plato was wrong: the landscape of the imagination materializes the real. The mystery of our art: we live in our heads.
#78: Plato was right: Poets are dangerous–they unsettle the idea of reality. They speak in tongues.
#79: Tongues: the irrational utterances of the heart; the language of groans and moans. Poets must sometimes speak in tongues.
#80: A true poetic line is like a cover drive: fierce, balanced, timed, fluid, effortless, assured, graceful, and irrevocable.
#81: Like a haunting scent, a good image evokes a universe of feeling and thought. They are rare, but we keep trying.
# 82: Great chefs remind us constantly that we can train our palettes in the pleasures of good taste. Great chefs are poets.
#83: “Words strain,/ Crack and sometimes break, under burden,/ Under the tension, slip slide, perish./ Decay…” T.S. Eliot
# 84: We learn where our truest poetic voice when we admit to the poems we secretly love–not those we think we should love.
#85: “I stay young becoz of poetry, each new poem is a new beginning… And I keep buying younger clothes.” Charlene Spearen
#86: “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”. T.S. Eliot (East Coker)
#87: Often our poems take the shape of the page we write on. Choose well, embracing variety.
#88: Sometimes the quality of light is all the music we need to sing poems.
#89: Sometimes before the idea or even the thought, there is that swirling eddy of feeling driving us to make.
#90: I envy music’s ability to move without words. I reach always for the craft of sound in my poems–a sweet frustration.
#91: Fishing guides and mushroom hunters are poets–they know the secret places of plenty and fiercely guard this knowledge.
#92: Were poetry my religion what would there be to aspire for with poetry?
#93: Eventually, unpredictability becomes predictably unpredictable.
#94: You will find, if you try to describe a taste without simile or adjective, why poets turn to metaphor and metonymy.
#95: Like our children, our poems must eventually find their own way, but the least we can do is given them a fighting chance
#96: Our bodies are poems–our scars, aches, wounds, quirks, beauties, ugly bits; our pulse, our textures–a universe of poems
#97: A better metaphor for the writing of poems: henna or tattoos. I choose henna-a fleeting graceful art, temporal as breath
#98: “Those who steal books from libraries… they are the poets.” Paraphrasing Nikola Mazdirov
#99: In Jamaican, to create the superlative we double or triple the words: what a sweet-sweet way to write.
#100: I cannot give you your model for a poet for your times–I have Bob Marley; my art has Marley’s example. I’m grateful.
#101: The dubious good fortune of poets: Our tragedies can become the source of elegant poems.
#102: It is my fantasy that everyone is capable of at least one great poem–how fantastic is that?
#103: They say Mandelstam would compose his poems aloud and his wife would memorize them. The path to poetic hubris or joy?
#104: After silence, poems will come. So will memos to poets.
#105: Every poem is an elegy. Every line an elegy to what has passed: paraphrasing Derek Walcott
#106: Aspiration: To write a poem so direct, so clear it makes critique redundant. Paraphrasing Derek Walcott
#107: Study Lee Scratch Perry, poets, and learn the are of the populist surreal. Genius manses!
#108: We learn by allowing ourselves to enter places where we are ignorant and then listen, try to learn, then start again.
#109 Nothing wrong with navel gazing if you navels are interesting. (Yes I said navelS).
#110 So it rhymes and pentameters, so what?