Last night I posted the first in a nine-part series related to the Millennial School of Poetics. The principles I am discussing are reprinted below:
- 1. Craft is of utmost importance
2. There is no room for prejudice
3. Form is just another element of craft
4. Creativity and craft go hand in hand
5. No topic is taboo
6. There is no such thing as language that is too archaic
7. All poems are individuals
8. There is no acceptable method to writing poetry
9. All convention should be shunned
If you haven’t read that first post then I encourage you to start there. That post dealt with the necessity of craft. You can read about the necessity of craft here then return to this post after you have started with the beginning.
There Is No Room For Prejudice In Poetry
There is no room for prejudice in poetry. By prejudice I do not mean bigotry. I am not referring to any sort of racial pride, nationalism, misogyny, or homophobia. This is not about social prejudice. I am talking about poetic schools of thought, movements, ideas.
Poetry is first and foremost an intellectual pursuit. Poetics is a branch of philosophy. I do not mean that in any esoteric sense. I am simply saying that poetics requires a process of thought.
Poetics has many definitions, but the one I like the most comes from Answers.com:
1. Literary criticism that deals with the nature, forms, and laws of poetry.
2. A treatise on or study of poetry or aesthetics.
3. The practice of writing poetry; poetic composition.
What I will be dealing with in this series is the first definition – literary criticism. While this definition is succinct and to the point, I prefer principles instead of laws because laws imply that there is no reason to break them, that doing so involves consequences. Principles on the other hand are more flexible and are applied differently according to the circumstances. Therefore, I deal in principles.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle was perhaps the first person to build a philosophy around the nature of poetics. He created a whole philosophy around the idea of poetic craft and one of the principles that I learned from Aristotle is that poetry, or art, should create catharsis. A catharsis is a cleansing of the emotions, a purifying, a purgation. Note that this catharsis is to take place within the reader, or the audience. It is not a catharsis for the writer.
That is not to say that the writer of poetry does not feel, or should not feel. Rather, it speaks to the nature of the relationship between the poet and his audience. The poet should create the atmosphere that leads to the cathartic moment for the reader. In order to do that properly, the poet must put thought and action into the process. It is a process of deliberative thinking.
So how does the poet learn to do that? Does it come naturally? Is it something that can be learned?
I do not believe it is natural. I do believe it can be learned. And if it can be learned then it can be taught. The poet must learn how to think. She must learn how to think about craft. She must develop her own personal philosophy of poetics. But to do that most effectively, she must first learn how others thought about craft. What were their philosophies of poetics? The poet learns from other poets, other craftsmen, other philosophers of the craft. That is how learning has always been done and it is no different with the craft of poetry.
How Poetic Mentoring Is Done
Poetic mentoring can, though it need not necessarily be done this way, but it can be done in person through one on one teaching sessions. It can be done in groups through workshops and poetry exercises. It can also be done through time, from one poet to another through the reading of poetry written in the past and through correspondence from other poets. I don’t think there is any one best way. I think a combination of ways is best, but there must be some mentoring and discussion regarding the elements of poetry.
Contemporary poets rely mostly on peer mentoring. That is, they learn from their poetic equals. That is not a bad way to pick up new skills and influences, but it is bad to rely on that method alone. This is like putting a group of first graders into a room alone and asking them to be on their best behavior. It isn’t possible.
Poetry must be read. Not just contemporary poetry, but all poetry. Too many contemporary poets couldn’t recite a handful of lines from poetry of the past. This is absolutely necessary for the development of a proper poetic conscience. The learning of the craft of poetry begins with the intimate familiarization with the masters who have gone before us, from Homer to Bukowski.
I chose these names on purpose. Homer represents the most ancient of poets. He is the epic hero poet. He is the poet of formalism, of lyricism. How far apart in style and voice are Homer and Bukowksi, not just divided by time, but by philosophy as well. Bukowski is modern, not formalist at all. His poetry is the poetry of the downtrodden, the cynical. His narratives are written in free verse. Far from epic heroism, the poetry of Buk can best be summarized as the heart sputterings of a tragic anti-hero. Yet we can learn from him.
Even the most high brow of poets can learn from Charles Bukowski. Garage poets can learn from Homer, or Chaucer, even Milton. There is no poet out of reach from us. From Basho to Sappho, there is something to learn. The poet who reads Khalil Gibran should also read Ezra Pound. You don’t have to like what you read, but you should read it anyway. As much can be learned from bad poetry, or poetry that you don’t like, as can be learned from good poetry.
This is what I mean when I say there should be no prejudice in poetry. The poet who is serious about studying craft should study all of craft. Feminist poetics is no more worthy, or no less, of our study than Romantic poetics. The Victorians can teach us as much as the Beats. Japanese nature poetry is beautiful, but it isn’t the highest beauty. It is another beauty. The poet who studies all craft and schools of poetics with the intent to cull from them what he can in terms of seriousness of skill will have the most tools available to him in every poem he writes. The more you know, the better able you are to find that right turn of phrase or to pick the proper device when time comes to make your poetry stand out. If you simply write from the gut, off the cuff, pouring out your heart, with no thought as to where you poetry is going or what its purpose is then all you’ll ever get are murmurs. Poetry of the highest order must strive to be something more than a mere murmur.
Poetry and craft go hand in hand. Poetry and prejudice do not. It is time for serious poets to embrace every school – from the Homeric to the Postmodern. You do not have to employ all the devices that you learn from each school, but you should be familiar with them. Study them with the idea that you can use them if you need to. The more tools you have at your disposal, the more likely you are to create poetry that is readable, accessible, and lovable.