A letter to the students of From The Ground Up and Buds to Blossoms.
|I have made this letter longer than usual, because I lack the time to make it short (Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue parceque je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte)
~Blaise Pascal, Lettres Provinciales (1656-1657), no. 16.
What Blaise Pascal said for letters is even more appropriate for literature. While it may at times seem easier to write poetry than prose, it is in fact more time consuming, and often more cumbersome to write within the constraints of meter, rhythm, and rhyme than it is to just put pen to paper and spill forth prose.
As some writers can pen one, or even two, full length novels a year, it is not uncommon for a poet to spend days, months, or even years weighing the value of a single word within a piece. Often, these debates can have monumental consequences for the tone and meaning of a piece.
How would it have felt for Frost to walk through a deep brown wood, as opposed to a yellow wood?
Choose, select, opt and settle all have similar meanings, but drastically change the tone for the reader.
Which is more vibrant in your mind: red, or crimson?
Is a brick wall a metaphor for stability, or obstinacy?
Poetry carries with it hidden meanings and emotions. It can tell entire stories with scant numbers of words, and transport us to worlds where single words paint vivid scenes.
Poetry is powerful in that, in such a small place, one can express enormous emotions, heart-wrenching stories, awe inspiring landscapes, fleeting moments, or the wonders of the mundane, all within a tight space.
The first butterfly of spring
this creature without bones
alights on stiff plum blossom
Just as it takes longer to craft poetry, it also takes longer to read it. Poetry is not something that can be skimmed or casually glossed over. Poetry is meant to be analyzed, debated and reflected upon.
When you read a poem, do not just read it once, claim it to be “nice”, and then move on. Read it again. Then read it a third time.
Look at the way in which the words dance across the page. Think about how the nouns and the verbs interact with each other, and how the adjectives come into play. Where are the conjunctions? How does punctuation, or line length, or enjambment, play with the way the lines are meant to roll off of the tongue?
It is my hope that, as we move through this class together, we will all be able to find the keys within our own poetry, and the poetry of others, that bring to life poetry for each of us in personal ways. The goal here is for each of us, myself included, to stretch our boundaries and to begin polishing our craft of poetry. As we go on, questions will undoubtedly come up. Some of these questions will have no answer. That is perfectly fine. As we begin to ponder these questions, as we begin to look critically at poetry, the answers will come.
As the great poet Ranier Maria Rilke once wrote:
“You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
Thank you for taking this journey with me!