Some 25 years ago, I took an interest in poetry as a form of expression. Enthusiastically, I trotted off to the local library for books on the craft of writing it. I was transfixed, steeped in such things as metrical feet, syllable stresses, alliteration, assonance, and so on. What I wrote then frequently turned out disjointed, repetitive, doggerel-like, lacking inspiration and counterpoint and having that concocted feeling.
|Poetry – framing with form the formless experience of the heart.|
Early critiques indicated that my attempts were too restricted. Not surprising, after my deep familiarisation with the craft and the way it took hold of my endeavours. Someone suggested I should write in prose and then turn it into poetry. The value of this suggestion would later help to free my writing, loosen it up so to speak; but to this day I can never go about a poem by transforming it from prose to poetry. Such a process would hopelessly to interfere with what naturally flows from the subconscious. I struggled with my restrictions for some years without any tuition. And then I began to read the great poets.
Indeed, I wondered then, how their work flowed effortlessly within the parameters of the craft. If one reads and remembers yards of material from various poets, it does have an effect. I am always talking to myself in Eliot's words because I have a passion for them. Sometimes I even think I sound like him, though no doubt some critic will accuse me of exorcising his ghost! I have no illusions when it comes to that maestro.
The point is, such reading does have an effect, if only to leave a certain dissatisfaction and a filling of the waste paper basket more often. Then one day, something emerged, as if from my subconscious. It struck a balance between the restrictions of form and the freedom of formlessness. I got excited! Delusions of grandeur reigned for a time, only to result in what Larkin calls, "bitter stalks of disappointment." Breaking into free verse or formlessness, I fancied myself as a Walt Whitman!
Gradually, I returned to form again, in varying degrees, and then found an equilibrium for myself. Soon, I discovered new trends set by Eliot and Auden; yet for me, both were at their best when firmly within the crafted work of form. Larkin seemed to me a great observer of life. In his poems Toads and Toads Revisited, he presents two opposing views about work. As I studied the poems, I wondered what his personal views were on the subject. Metaphysics, however, was an area in which he treads very lightly. Whereas Eliot is profound in his mystical utterances – "let the darkness be the light and the stillness the dancing."
All this reading and studying is part of my poetic development. Yes, poets develop with time. I read some of Auden's first and second drafts of his poem Lullaby. I noticed that certain words were missing and he had just filled them in with nonsense; and then later the right words appeared. The form and trochaic meter were all there but seeing it come to life was quite magical. Like the painter with just the right brush strokes, so is the poet with just the right words. Form and language integrate in such complement that to express it another way just does not work.
I look mostly at nature, and in so doing, find simile and metaphor that point to the metaphysic I wish to express. I use my imagination in concert with actuality, remembering as a default that all poetry "must," in the words of Leonard Bernstein, "be rooted in earth."
Technically speaking, I like to be spare with the adjective and let the verb do it all. Some poets have a particular bent on enhancing and praising what is seen. By definition, they must use many adjectives; and they do it superbly. If the work is not good, it can read like a list.
I have always found the most moving poetry simplicity itself. However, if it looks easy, just try to write it! Clever poetry is of the brain but seldom moves the heart. Of course one could argue that this was not it's intention, but you get my point.
To sum up what I've learned of writing poetry, initially one must have some understanding of the craft in order to get a degree of freedom from it. One's own style, of course, will develop with the very experience of writing. You must have a passion for what you want to say. In younger poets, perhaps not "a lifetime burning in every moment," but no matter the writer's life experience, there must be the ability to see – moments of perception when the brain is relatively quiet. If you do not like what you have written, bin it and keep writing.
Read Roy K. Austin's excerpt from Towards Atman.
Roy K Austin is retired from public service and has written poetry for many years, dealing with 20th century sage paradigms. His paperback book "Mysticseed: Echoes of the sages: is a body of poems in this vein. Towards Atman is a hardback book of a further series. He lives in Dorset England. For more information, visit: http://www.zalivanda.com/id3.html