Millennial Poetics: A New Way Of Thinking About Craft

I’ve written about the Millennial school of poetry before. What I haven’t done yet is codify any principles that define the Millennial School. I’ve not done for a number of reasons.

No. 1, I don’t want these principles to be seen as rules. In my view, rules – literary rules, mind you – should be broken. And if you’re going to break them then why have them? Literature is life sans the rules.

No. 2, Rules have a way of stifling creativity. Principles, on the other hand, cause creativity to flourish, so I prefer principles.

Thirdly, there is simply no way to enforce a rule. There is no governing body, no police force, no literary enforcement agency to impose a fine or incarcerate someone for breaking the rules. It just seems too parochial to even concern ourselves with rules.

Finally, these points are more for opening a door to discussion with regard to the future direction of poetics than they are in establishing anything set in stone. I’m not concerned with making sure people follow a rigid order as much as I am concerned with helping to foster a new form of creativity.

While rules in literature are bad, I do believe principles can be of much more importance. The Millennial School of Poetics came about in my mind about eight or nine years ago as I was struggling with my own direction and voice. I had started writing poetry in the late 80s and stopped in the early 90s after a conversion to Christianity. I started writing again a few years later after I realized that religion is not so much about giving up what you enjoy in lieu of following a set of useful precepts. Rather, Christianity is an established set of principles, a way of ordering life, within the constructs of a particular rubric. I felt that my poetic talents were as much a gift as a craft and should be used for a purpose rather than denied. I am not an ascetic.

But religion aside, the Millennial School is not a religious order, I was in the process of defining what I wanted my poetry to be. My voice was already distinctive. It always has been. I’ve never really struggled with finding my voice. But I have struggled with finding direction and I still have problems with that today. It must be my Gemini spirit. I am scatterbrained, flighty, and get bored easily so I tend to meander despite my tendencies toward reason and logic. I am a daydreamer by nature.

But it’s not about me. Nor is it about religion. What the Millennial School is about is studying. It’s about craft. And rather than codify rules, I thought I’d put together a set of principles that would define my idea of poetics. These principles are flexible; they are not commandments. They are simply a list of principles that help me understand what my poetry is about and why I write the way I do and how I think poetics should be approached in the new millennium.

Following the history of Western literature, from the Metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century to the Romantics of the eighteenth century, the Victorians and the Symbolists of the nineteenth century, and the proliferation of schools and movements of the twentieth century including Modernists, Postmodernists, Beats, Imagists, Confessionalists, and several others, you can see that many later movements get their motivations by rejecting special tenets of previous schools of poetics. There is nothing wrong with that from a philosophical perspective, I guess, but I find it limiting in scope. I prefer to see something in every school or movement that I can draw from and learn from. To me, whether or not a line begins with a capital letter or whether rhyme is used or not is a prejudicial preference that ought to be rejected. Better it is to take elements from each school that are useful in advancing a personal poetic that is effective in craft. And that is why I felt it necessary to seek a set of defining principles for my own poetic.

The following principles, as I said, are flexible, and, I might add, incomplete. I may add to these as I go. But I thought this would be a useful starting point. I’d be interested in your feedback and if you wish to add to the list then feel free to add your own poetic principles. These are mine:

  1. Craft is of utmost importance – A poet should study elements of craft and employ them as useful for presenting his poems in the most effective way.
  2. There is no room for prejudice – All previous schools of poetics are worthy of study. All poets and all movements have something to teach us about poetic expression and therefore should be made available for study of craft.
  3. Form is just another element of craft – Form is not some mystical act of poetry nor is it an obstacle to verse; it is another element of craft and should be studied along with other elements and employed as necessary to craft poetry that is effective in presentation.
  4. Creativity and craft go hand in hand – Creativity is as important to craft as craft is to poetics; the poet must have imagination and wield it convincingly as the most dangerous tactical weapon.
  5. No topic is taboo – Poetry is as full of grit and grime as it is full of beauty and truth; the beautiful and the dirty can appear side by side without loss of virtue in either facade; the religious and the profane are equal in terms of subject matter – though the mode of expression, form, or other elements of craft may naturally restrict certain subjects from appearing together or even the manner in which they are presented – but the Millennial School of poetics allows for all subject matter to be explored.
  6. There is no such thing as language that is too archaic – Language cannot be anachronistic; a mode of expression, a word, a phrase, a dialect, are only appropriate or inappropriate for a particular poem.
  7. All poems are individuals - Every poem is different, even if written by the same poet or written on the same topic or during the same time period; every poem deserves its own qualities.

That’s my start. This is the beginning of a discussion surrounding Millennial Poetics, a school or movement of poetics, or way of thinking about how to approach poetics. I think these principles can be achieved and put into practice on a wider scale than they are used today. I see many poets who seem to already grasp these principles, though I wonder if they’ve given them any thought. If so, then they may very well be ahead of me in terms of my thought processes. That would be a good thing.

Edited Note: Two more additions to this list of principles:

  1. There is no acceptable method to writing poetry – Writing poetry is not scientific or mathematical; any attempt to impose a method is rigid and must be rejected.
  2. All convention should be shunned – Poetry is the realm of the unconventional; let no one establish your paradigm for you. Reject all external conventions like the plague.

Related posts:

  1. Poetics: Silliman Hits The Millennial Nail On Its Proverbial Head
  2. Poetic Craft: Rilke’s Letters Prove His Devotion To Poesy
  3. Poetic Craft: Rilke's Letters Prove His Devotion To Poesy
  4. Poetics: What’s Your Philosophy?
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2 Responses to Millennial Poetics: A New Way Of Thinking About Craft
  1. angelawd
    February 27, 2008 | 9:08 am

    This is an excellent list. I think the most positive points relate to the fact that good poetry must rely on good craft and deep creativity.

    I’m curious, though, about your addition that states poetry should shun external conventions. I am not sure what this means. Can you explain?

  2. the poet
    February 27, 2008 | 4:18 pm

    There are people who say that the first letter in your lines should not be capitalized. That’s an external convention I don’t accept.

    Another one is that your poems should appear on one page. Says who? I guess that would take all epic poetry out of the realm of acceptable verse.

    Postmoderns for a long time had a prejudice against any kind of rhyme, but that was an unneccessary convention that made no sense. Of course rhyme is an acceptable element of poetics. Why wouldn’t you use it?

    In my view, these types of prejudices aren’t necessary. They get in the way of good poetics. Only you can decide what is an acceptable convention for your poetry. If you don’t like to use rhyme – and rhyme is difficult to master – then that’s your personal poetic. If you prefer not to capitalize the first letter of your lines then you can write your poetry that way, but if someone else likes to capitalize the first letter of the line because that’s the way they write then that’s their personal convention. Don’t let anyone tell you that your preferences with regard to acceptable elements of craft are wrong or invalid.

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