Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How to be a poet

1. You read poetry.
2. You write poetry.
3. You publish poetry.
It feels like it could be a grocery list you can just tick off and then you're done. It's actually more like this: You read poetry, both old and contemporary, as much as you could reach in terms of breadth and depth. You try to develop a sensibility, identify what you like and what you don't, maybe get a solid grounding in literary movements and poetics. Know the best minds of your generation and those that come before you.

And then you write. And you experiment in forms, all the old ones, or invent new ones. And you enrich yourself--exercise your senses, distill your experiences--to find themes, insights and images that are uniquely yours. And challenge yourself. And wrestle with your language. And keep to your course in spite of your doubts. Think and breathe and live poetry.

You may enroll in a course, and learn under someone, and be peer-reviewed and learn to revise listening to others' criticism and your own convictions.

And then you will submit your work out there, to magazines and journals, to contests. To everything and anything that would possibly accept your work. And then it fails, and you struggle until one day it doesn't. And then it shows up in print, and you're higher than the heavens. And then the high fades, and you go at it again.

When will it stop? The best part is that it doesn't, not unless you raise your hands in surrender. The pursuit of poetry is the pursuit of life. I really believe that.

I'm not sure what else a poet aspires to. Residency? Grants? Publishing books? Fame? I'm nowhere near there yet. I think I would like to be the kind of poet nobody has heard of, but whose work is scattered like seeds in different publications. I want to publish poetry books, poetry zines, and be anthologized. But those are distant thoughts, distant like the ship whose sails are outlined behind the fog.

Right now I'm trying to read and learn. And write.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Preliminary Advice

from Nicholson Baker's "The Anthologist"

1. Copy poems out... Memorize them if you want to, but the main thing is to copy them out.
2. If you have something to say, say it. Don't save it up... Begin by saying what you actually care about saying, and the saying of it will guide you to the next line, and the next, and the next. If you need to arrange things differently later, you can do that.
3. Most iambic-pentameter enjambments are a mistake.
4. The four-beat line is the soul of English poetry.

What I'm Reading (and Loving)

Issue #59 of subTerrain magazine. It's has 125 poems about Vancouver in it. Some lines :

We are a spark beleaguered/by darkness     this twinkle we make in a corner of emptiness (from Earle Birney's "Vancouver Lights")

Do not live in habit. Do not take the most/basic assumptions for granted. Consider/the city of whales. If you seek it with your eyes/you will never find it. It lives only in the symphonics/of the ocean. (from Brad Cran's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Gray Whale, After Wallace Stevens and Ending with a Line from Rilke")

The time is now, and now, and now; built so fast with minds/less changed, from Expo to Olympics,/a lifetime. More than his. Most of mine. (from Sachiko Murakami's "Boundaries")