Inside Outside

Linda Gregg discusses the importance of finding a poem, but finding in the sense of detecting it inside of you, of finding the poem you wish to write. And in turn, for the interest of reading, knowing that the poem one is reading has been "found" for that poet and is, that tricky word, meaningful. Here is the formula she gives us: "two elements in 'finding' a poem: discovering the subject matter and locating the concrete details and images out of which the poems are built."

This seems straightforward enough, however Gregg goes on to say, "I am referring to finding the resonant sources deep inside you that empower those subjects and ideas when they are put in poems."

I think I might like to write poems that way, finding the deep well of inspiration stuck behind rib and below a loop of stomach, but often what ends up on the page is some rant about this or that thing, this or that injustice just heard on the radio or read in the paper because the TV is broken, and I'm mad about that, too. Or else, a poem that risks that dangerous word, sentimentalism, something I detect when Gregg says her experiences reading Gerard Manley Hopkins was "a special way of knowing the earth and experiencing God."

Though I don't agree completely with WCW's "a poem is a small (or large) machine made out of words," my poetic-inclination-meter leans more to his view than Gregg's that building a poem in this way can only achieve so much: "You can produce fine poems without believing anything, but it corrodes the spirit and eventually rots the seed-corn of the heart. Writing becomes manufacturing instead of giving birth." A desire to build a machine is still a desire, and if in machines we can create awe by their design, isn't this still valid, and won't the creator want to create something better than her last invention, pulling from something deep within?

Gregg does concede that understanding craft (i.e. how to make part A snap into part B to create the function of C where C is emotional response) is primary. Her call to look, truly look and discover, what is inside you is good advice. And though I can't say I necessarily experience God in a new way when I read a poem like this, I do feel something, I like it, and I think the poet has done something right with all of the elements Gregg discusses.


Anonymous | October 27, 2010 at 6:37 AM

good post to read this morning, joe betz! i appreciate your discussion, given that this is a month (a few, really) when i've had trouble "finding" my essays and have been more concerned with (and frustrated, at times) with the craft of them--the craft and standards of judging good craft that can feel as mysterious as the discovery of the resonant matter inside you.
now here's a question: did people in your MFA program tend to lean more towards one or the other of the elements of writing that you discussed above--craft or subject matter, i mean? i love my MFA program, but i often feel like i'm on of the minority of the students at residency who's hungrier for discussions and lectures on craft (i assume this is because i wasn't an undergrad in CW) than on "finding your inner voice" or "knowing yourself as a writer."

Melis | October 28, 2010 at 1:33 PM

Hey-o! How funny I just made a new, more literary blog on wordpress, but I have a blogspot that I post on pretty frequently with nonsense and fun. There's a link to my new site too.


joe betz ii | October 29, 2010 at 8:31 AM

@ Sarah. I'm glad you liked it! I found with my program there was more of a push to really bring out and liven up the subject matter within the writing. Of course, dealing with poetry's use of line break (or sometimes not-break), issues of craft would enter into the picture during workshop-y discussions about how to bring out X subject matter through breaking a line a certain way, or something. I assume in prose it's the same idea, in this regard, with paragraph breaks and white space and all of the other tools in the chest. There was a form and theory of poetry class that was entirely craft based and I felt that studying craft that semester (it was my first) really allowed me to examine subject matter and make craft-appropriate decisions with it. Craft is extremely fun to read about because of all of the differences in opinions, so I am on board with you there.

Post a Comment