Inspiration from Hell

I’m currently taking a class solely concentrated on Dante’s Divine Comedy (right now we’re journeying through the Inferno). Normally, I wouldn’t be exactly psyched about this, but I think the class has proven to be more creative inspiration than I had originally thought.

The first “surprise” response came to me when the professor made it clear that Dante was NOT a novelist, an author, a narrator… he was a poet. This I knew, but I think calling Dante Alighieri and Grace Gilbert by the same title felt uneasy. Nonetheless, thinking of classic literature as inspiration seemed pretentious and overused until the moment I realized that Dante was, indeed, the poet of poets. I thought about the conversations I would have with him concerning his thoughts on contemporary trends in poetry and “tumblr poetry” and of course, clarifications I would appreciate after reading and studying his work.

While reading his work, which has a really intriguing and vivid storytelling capacity, I noticed ways that I related to his writing style. Though I don’t have the patience or intellectual capability of writing in perfect Italian rhyme consistently throughout 100 Cantos, I think my poetry tends to take on a sequential or narrative style that can border on prose. My biggest concern with my poetry is that I think my narrative voice strangles my budding poetic voice to the point where I have trouble defining poetry in general. What makes it a poem versus a snippet of prose? Is a poem only one page and no more? is there some scale reminiscent of the one used in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to judge prose from poetry as they judge bad eggs from good eggs? These are questions I’ve continually asked myself as my poems often don’t seem to fit the binary.

Regardless, I admire Dante’s ability to intermingle extremely captivating storytelling with beautiful, breathtaking poetry…and hope I can do the same (not by way of becoming an epic poet, I think our similarities are drawn quite thin).


One Reply to “Inspiration from Hell”

  1. “My biggest concern with my poetry is that I think my narrative voice strangles my budding poetic voice to the point where I have trouble defining poetry in general. ”

    If this were said in class, I would have snapped my desk from knocking so agreeably. I’ve always been confident in telling a narrative, but I think poetry does something different, that is hard to explain. For me, stories can be crafted with wit and elegance, but progression and clearness are the most important features, and often, they are the only essential factors to convey a story.
    Poetry on the other hand is boundless. The form, the language, it can be impossible to pin down. At least for me anyway. I used to believe that I had more of an abstract way of thinking, but perhaps I am more of a concrete thinker than I’d like to admit. When writing poetry I’m always attempting to conjure up some “magical” way of phrasing an idea, when all my brain wants to do is express the idea in the most blunt way possible. That’s not to say that poetry is classically unclear, I just find it very interpretive. One strategy that is helping me branch out my writing is making lists on word associations. This way, I can acknowledge my most obvious thought patterns while finding new ones via relation.

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