January 20, 2007

Evolution of the Poetic Concept

I love to write poetry. Period. As I become more and more educated in literature-- both traditional and contemporary-- my perception of what is "poetic", or even "artistic" changes so often. The first semester of college was spent trying to perfect poems of meter, rhyme, and traditional form. I even tried to write a sonnet once...

Stretching out Your hand as if it were rain
You chose to touch my dark and sordid face.
What motivation! Still, my mind refrain
From choosing to run this long, horrid race.
And lo, my heart [still mute] will reprieve this;
That I may remain living while still dead
And I shall refuse to live in true bliss.
Still my soul would surely choose this instead,
To cast away its cares or simply cope.
For there must be some unfeigned way to
Live in full peace and to know sincere hope--
To love and be loved by One who is true.
How lost in Your wonder is my small mind!
None have I known, compared to Your kind.


Last spring semester, I read a lot of ee cummings. A LOT of ee cummings. I annotated. I mimicked. I came to love the idea and challenge of controlling words without meter or rhyme. The abstract structure of American poetry in the 1950's caught my attention, and I decided to try to work on this beautiful idea. Here's one of my favorites...

dancing, like ballet
across the surface of the sea,
like air
the art of you sculpts fragile memories
like cool marble stone
in a still quiet museum.
all around, the people
bustle away
while you, like the sun
rise and fall,
creating your masterpiece.


I think I am slowly evening out my style, and I am extremely excited.

Last night, I found a poem by a Palestinian-American poet, Naomi Shihab Nye. Her use of language and control of tone and atmosphere astounds me, as well as the power of her imagery.

"Making a Fist"

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

"How do you know if you are going to die?"I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,"When you can no longer make a fist."

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

-Naomi Shihab Nye


I have read and heard many of Nye's poems in the past week, and all morning before church, I had two lines of poetry in the style of Nye that would not leave my mind: "I never knew what my house looked like from the highway/nestled in the earth, and life, and willows." So, after I sat down before the service (and through the whole thing, I admit), I began to write it down. But... how do you finish a pome like that? Where is it supposed to go from there? I added line by line all morning, and I ended up writing this;

I never knew what my house looked like from the highway
nestled in the earth, and life, and willows
with a creek bubbling behind and six cars parked in front.

I've always wondered if it looked like home from a mile away
filled with the truth, and smiles, and singing laughter
with tears behind us and bright hopes ahead.

But I realize, it's not about what it looks like on the outside
not earth, not willows, not six cars parked out front.
It's about living out the smiles.
It's about singing out the truth.

This semester, in all four of my literature courses, I hope I can take away even more ways to refine my poetic concept. I'll share with you all the poetry I write, even if it scares me to death to let anyone see it. You all encourage me. You inspire me, and inspiration is the best kind of poetry... it IS poetry.

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