October 19, 2006

Little Things

Postcard from the Poetry Bus--definitely my favorite one so far. I once had a bad ostrich run-in myself, after taking my sister to a petting zoo. I was wearing a shirt that had a glittered design across the chest, and guess what? Ostriches peck at anything shiny. Anything. Didn't even buy me dinner first.

I was complaining to a fellow writer today about how casual we are in being perpetually exhausted and stressed--too comfortable, as if we either lack the discipline or desire to make things change. Then I ran across this guest entry on The Happy Booker, "Work More, Sleep Less (And Take Good Care of Yourself)," which at least assures me it is not a DC-centric phenomenon.

For a variety of reasons I have been reading multiple poetry manuscripts recently, and I find myself internalizing a few questions that come up again and again--things to check for myself in future drafts, little ways I interrogate the strength of the manuscript. They include:

-If your last line is distinctly longer or shorter than the median length of those previous, is this an intentional move, or a sign the poem hasn't "settled" into its optimal lineation?

-Is the use of the confessional second person a shortcut of drawing the reader into the poem, or does it genuinely communicate information that would not be available in the first or third person?

-Is the "you" a displaced "I"? If this is being done over and over in a manuscript, why?

-Do the poems derive dramatic thrust using both rhetorical gestures (hyperbole, negation) and figurative gestures (metaphor, simile)? Are grammatical marks (ellipses, exclamation marks) being used to compensate for an emotive lack?

-Do you find yourself using the same rhythms and syntactical patterns, over and over, to create a sense of closure in each poem? Is this a conscious, formal choice? What are the consequences?

-What would you describe as the most unusual coherent aspect--the hook--of this MS?

...just a few ideas, from one editor. I'd be intrigued to hear from others.


newzoopoet said...

Thanks for posting the exhausted/stressed link, Sandra...it speaks to me (minus the healthy/exercise part - hehe).

Don said...

I think I worry when the last line is smaller or longer than the previous one. I wonder if I'm not saying enough or if I'm saying too much. Or if I'm disturbing the beat of the poem by being too abrupt or too slow. I think the small line can seem like a trick on the reader; I don't know why. The longer line, maybe less so, but still not good. Is this a prejudice the current poetry world holds and it's not necessarily a good rule? Are there times when they're justified.

Ryan W. said...

I remember several years ago a friend sent me a poem w/ one line that was much longer than the rest, and I kind of balked. she insisted on it, tho, and may have been right about that one. I've loosened up, if that's the expression, quite a bit since then... I tend to think that line is often just a trick I play on myself as a writer to try to keep myself interested in what I'm writing. I do all sorts of ridiculous things w/ line length, anymore, but there's always a feeling that accompanies it that makes sense to me. ultimately I think there is something unknowable about line & line length.... I don't think the answer to the question you post in your first bullet is always knowable.

I kind of hate the device of saying "you" to imply "I", but I still do it when I'm feeling ridiculous, which is often the case.

those are all sensible checks/questions.