Concrete the Abstract
edited: Friday, December 09, 2005
By c patrick durkin
Not "rated" by the Author.
Posted: Monday, November 28, 2005
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Some advice about craft that has helped me and I hope will help others
Perhaps the best advice I can offer any starting poet is to concrete the abstract.
For the years I have advised students about their writing, or worked on poetry editorial boards, I find that many poets often overlook this notion. Often, budding bards who send voluminous amounts of poetry regarding such subjects as love, freedom, or metaphysics, are usually the first writers to receive the rejection letter. The reason why is that these works are often very unclear and do not bridge ideas between the reader and the writer.
No, I do not believe it is wrong to write about love, freedom, or metaphysics. I find that these ideas make great subjects, but need proper justification through craft. Let me define this further. An idea like love is considered abstract due to both the difficulty and subjectivity of its properties. In other words, if I don't properly define my idea of love for you as a reader, you may never get my point, unless you encounter my work with my preconceived notion of love. The experience is unfair for both parties. Many might argue that writers like Shakespeare and Dunne would always say lines like: "A greater love never has been like this." The issue here is that these writers wrote in an era where Christianity was the common reference for ideas and morals, in Europe at least. In the 21st century, we accept many more doctrines, so pinpointing the meaning of "love" becomes more subjective, and more difficult. An abstraction without base in the text forces a fog on the reader that he/she has to navigate through. This forced convolution often repulses any further progress the reader will make in the poem.
I have found the best solution for this is to use imagery; clear, unique, and unpretentious imagery. If you want to write about love, freedom, or metaphysics, what in your everyday world represents these ideas without saying so directly? This thinking will allow you entry into the world of symbolism and will therefore make you learn more about the craft of poetry. Often, when I consult with a student about this issue, they either look confused or get upset. After explaining why using images and symbols would communicate their message more powerfully, I see the lights turn on inside their heads. In an instant, their hunger for more knowledge of the poetic craft increases. The young poet now sees his/her work as an opportunity to "bridge" their thoughts through symbols, imagery, etc.
The clearer we are about abstractions through precise, unique, and common imagery, the more moving our work becomes. And the better our chances are for finding our latest work published. Take those ideas out of the air, mix them with the tools of your craft and make them concrete!