Saturday, January 15, 2005


One of the books I have been reading lately is called Road Trip: Conversations with writers by Shelly Clark and Marjorie Saiser. I did not realize the scope of this book when I checked it out from the library; I thought it was nationally oriented, a broader view but in fact was very Midwestern oriented. I was surprised.

Here are a few exceptional quotes I tagged and was struck by:

From poet Don Welch: “But a poem, because of its narrowness, requires you to squint, draw your attention down, be ready to focus right now.”

Now his poem:

Note To a Young Writer

If you’re one of the ones
For whom the best sounds
Are like conch shells
Held to your ear,
Swirl out of yourself
The hard whorl of words.

And think of it this way,
Your journey over,
Your poem’s just begun,
Listen to what laps out of silence
And comes ashore at the edge
Of the word.


Jonis Agee says in this book:

“For me it’s digging into a psychic place of aloneness”


Ron Block says:

‘Sometimes people think a poem is a poem because it has metaphors in it, and you excuse the use of metaphor, but metaphor always involves a distortion of the truth. The man in fact is not a wolf; he is a man. Metaphor involves something that is ontologically untrue.”


I was waiting while I read these. I was caught in this book’s web, an interview of midwestern writers, especially poets. I am not sure what I was expecting, maybe just the surprise of the personal nature of the interviews that were followed by the poems. A connection. Some of the writers I had heard of, Kooser specifically as well as William Kloefkorn. But the purpose of the books is to talk to writers about writing, teaching, young poets and place. Welch’s section talked a lot about reading down into the poem, not seeing the words, that they should be invisible. The thing beyond the words (my words not his). I think that is the part of the truth of poetry. It is what touches us. His poem then is sweet and inviting. Poetry can be a fearful intimidating thing, everyone wants acknowledgement so his poem sooths.

Agee’s quote struck me because when I am writing, I do not feel my loneliness. It becomes invisible because I hear my voice fully. I find that very comforting. I am alone when writing; hopefully, not always given my life, and the words spring forth. Hopefully. I do not feel the boundaries of me when I am writing. It is a peaceful invigorating place.

I found Block’s quote interesting. If the man describes himself as a wolf, even if he isn’t, does that alter the fact of the poem? I don’t think so. Those are two different things. I would not judge it like he seems to, but I would agree that there is falsehood. But there is truth in another depiction of something; it doesn’t necessarily make it false. They both can be true even within the falsehood. The metaphor may be false, but the man can be a wolf if he so chooses.

This brings me to The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser that I purchased last night and have been skimming all day today. He takes the view that that the poem needs to be accessible. You choose your audience by your poem. It is a judgment call and if you want to write something that is incomprehensible, go right ahead but do not expect a readership. If you want to write in Middle English, that is all well and good, but you must have to realize that your readership will be quite small. A cost benefit analysis, as he was an insurance exec in his work life. His poetry appears to be quite simple, small town, but each poem has been know have 40 major revisions. He will be giving a poetry reading here soon, and I intend to attend. He is frightened by fame, public acknowledge. He is embarrassed by it. Being the Poet Laureate must be taxing.

How all of this ties together I am not sure. I am dabbling into other writer’s lives, because I think the personal is important. I think what makes the writer makes the poem. It has to affect the end product. It would not be real if it did not.

Plus I used the word whorl in one of my poems, a line of which I am quite proud.

You were one of two
Whorls in winter

I like that word. I like whelped too. Wh’s seem to work for me. How sounds touch us. Another topic for another day.

Have a good one and thanks for reading. Comments always welcome!

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