The Editing Itch and Other Ideas

I think that the most challenging part of the workshop for me, thus far, is attempting to keep the poetry train rolling when I have so much love for one poem at a time.  I don’t know if anyone else experiences their poetry in this way, but I always want to edit a poem to perfection before I start on a new one.  I feel as if I’ve left that particular poem in the dust if I start something new, and my brain just doesn’t want to move forward to new content.  If it’s a poem I’m proud of, I want to spend forever fixing minor issues with tenses, syntax, etc.  However, I’ve noticed more and more that I can accept a poem that isn’t perfect.

While it’s human nature to move toward perfection, I’m more comfortable now leaving a poem to fend for itself and grow into something new over time.  I can flit from idea to idea and not feel as if my poems are suffering for it.  I can come back to a poem with a new perspective and still respect it for the ideas I was wrestling with at the time it was written.  I don’t necessarily believe that poetry can be perfect, though many great poems come close.  That, for me, is the power of words and the ways in which they mean different things for people over time.  A once innocuous word can gain special significance through one singular event, and that essence can be unique to just that person.  The poem is like a journey toward that word that attempts to acquaint the reader with the particular feelings and events the speaker associates with that word.

For example, plenty of people associate fall with apple cider and the smell of baking pies.  However, a small group of people may associate fall with the day they first experienced fear at the top of a jungle gym, or the crunching of leaves under loud boots as they come toward you from behind.  Those associations don’t really hold true for everyone, but I think that the job of poetry is to lead the reader to that association through words.  If a poem is a good one, it can bring the speaker and the reader to the same feelings about a word or a time or a place.

That’s what I try to do with my poems, and hearing back from other poets in workshop helps me figure out if my poetry is leading my readers to that same conclusion.  Even if the general “feeling” someone gets from one of my poems is in line with my goal, I consider it a success, but I will always want to make sure every reader can come out of my poems associating say, skin with both the sensual and the savage.  It is a struggle to bring words to the table which mean the same thing for a lot of people while also allowing the words to gain complexity.


“letters don’t talk” and the tension between poetry and music

Throughout the semester, I’ve been struggling with the tension between words as something that makes sense and words as conglomerates of sounds.  In what way are words representations of greater things, and to what extent do words speak for themselves?  Is a word itself without the proper context, and does a “proper context” even exist? I’ve been attempting, in my own writing, to use words just for their sounds and their connotations, not necessarily their denotations.  Throughout this growing process, I’ve continually found solace in the musical work of poets whom I’ve grown close to.

This week, I’ve been delving deeper into Mary Lambert’s EP letters don’t talk as well as her poetry blog to try and discover how she makes the connection between words and sounds so seamless from poetry to lyrics.  I think that, for the most part, her music and her poetry tend to lend more power to the words themselves and their vibes than the sound.  However, the way she articulates the words and sings them is reminiscent of the spoken word tradition more so than the conventions associated with a song:

“This heart is tired and old/This heart is charcoal and cold/This heart throws the white flag where it gets hard and numb” (Mary Lambert. This Heart. Dungeness Records, 2010-2012. MP3.)  While the lyrics do contain rhyme and fit nicely into the music, the song feels as if it was written on the page and then set to music, rather than the words being written to a particular tune.  Simply because the lyrics hold so much weight, I can’t see the song being more than a vehicle for the lyrics, just as form is an extension of the content according to Charles Olson.

Just as a last thought, I looked into some of her poetry, particularly a poem she read when she came to campus in the spring, called “Pistolwhip.” You can find a video of her reading it here: The way she sings and her poetry do have very different sounds, but the delivery is so in sync and one bleeds into the other and vice versa so much that even her song, “Body Love” (recorded in two separate parts) is a reading of poetry set to song. I almost wish I had a more musical mind, because I’d like to be able to challenge myself and write poetry the way she does, with a deep connection to music and rhythm but able to stand alone.