My Poetics [#6]
edited: Monday, February 09, 2004
By john k zimmerman
Posted: Monday, February 09, 2004
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Poetry is a job of work.
“In my craft and sullen art”
There is a perception out there that poetry is a matter of inspiration and that any suggestion of craft or rational process in the writing of poetry is heresy. This perception seems most prevalent in the younger poets. While not minimizing the role of inspiration in poetry I argue that poetry is first and foremost a job of work, a task of the skilled craftsman and that only as such can it proceed to art.
Let’s define some terms:
INSPIRATION: For some it is almost a form of automatic writing where the writer simply “channels” the poem from the mind of the muse to the page. For others it is the emotional response to the current moment that gives authenticity to the poem as a record of that instant. The former reduces the poet to the role of passive recipient; the latter overemphasizes one aspect of the poet’s humanity; both require the poet to be less than full human.
For me inspiration is seeing the poem within the data, so a walk in the park, a session in the garden, even rereading an old poem may be the inspiration for a new poem.
CRAFT: A craft is a set of necessary skills pertaining to some human endeavour. Joinery, basket weaving, wood carving, black smithing are all crafts; poetry is another. A craft can be taught, learned, evaluated, and studied.
ART The difference between art and craft is an old and long standing debate, not germane to this discussion. Let’s just say that art is craft that transcends the particular to the universal.
My point has to do with what it means to be human. Human beings are choice makers—we choose our friends, we choose our clothes, we choose our weapons, and we choose our words. Both art and craft are the product of the rational choice of elements on the part of the artist/craftsman. A painter does not simply use green but rather chooses the exact green that is required for that particular area on a particular work. The cabinetmaker chooses not just the wood spieces, but the exact portion of the particular board to build a piece.
As poets we choose our words with care and precision: Not just in the formal genre (sonnets, odes, haiku, and the like), but also when we write in the allegedly less formal free verse. Perhaps more so. For without formal rhyme scheme and meter free verse depends entirely on language…word choice. In choosing a word we consider not just connotation, and denotation, but the sound, the cadence, the taste on the tongue. A further criterion is the fit of the word in the total context of the poem.
Now it must be admitted that there are people who can not write poetry simply because they can not see the matter within the matter. They are deaf to the voice of the muse. But those who hear the voice still have a job of work to write poetry . . .