Wisdom from a Poetry Mentor

Nancy Flynn Apostrophe Blog Archive, Poetic Form, Wisdom, Writing

The Apostrophe Blog

Musings on Writing and Life.

I am a firm believer in the value of finding a poetry mentor, someone who will encourage and push you to the next necessary steps in finding your voice, in doing the creative work. When I first returned to writing poetry, way back in 2005 and 2006, I took a series of classes through an organization called Writers on the Net. I was incredibly lucky to stumble on an outstanding teacher, Bob Haynes and his courses, Daydreams I and Daydreams II. In both of these, Bob asked his students to step outside the conventional way of thinking about crafting a poem, to wildly experiment, break the rules. We wrote about objects. We wrote a draft forwards then backwards. We mirrored then later shadowed the language in a first draft seeking to find new leaps and linguistic connections. We worked with Richard Hugo’s concept of “the triggering town.” We cut a draft into pieces and then picked them up one-by-one to arrange them into a new poem. And, for our final assignment, we crafted our own personal poetry aesthetic, a document I continue to use and revise to this day. Bob was a fan of Gason Bachelard’s book, The Poetics of Space; many of his ideas grew out of his deep engagement with that book.

How do the best poems work? By creating a sense of time’s suspension. Through the use of real-world objects. By breaking apart linear narrative. By offering the reader an experience of daydream, of reverie. For Bob, the function of poetry is to give us back the situations of our dreams. Finally, a poem and the poet must discover the language in which to speak. The language must balance itself against the criteria that creates the form; the form involves both craftsmanship and experimentation.

Poetry is a speech act. Poetry is the art of naming things. Words themselves are names. The practice of naming is the urge to create one’s own language of things. We seek dynamic rather than static images. We create metaphor through real objects taken from the world and connected to our interior thoughts and reveries. You only see what is connected as you observe the world and begin to collect and name the objects and actions you see in it. How to collect such numinous and useful objects? Through clear seeing, vision. With a physicality that defines shapes and contours. By listening to what is unheard in the object, what silent voices are contained inside. Using imagery—what does the object remind you of, what surprise does it contain? By paying attention to living sounds. Through music, through riffs that you carry along, that inhabit the idea. And all the while, caring for the words—what they represent, what is their vision, their noise, their silence, what colors they cast, what sounds they shape and contain.

I will dive back into my notes about creating your personal poetry aesthetic and draft a few more Apostrophe posts on that subject in the future. Stay tuned!

The public domain image above from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows a small portion of the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), a dwarf galaxy and one of the Milky Way’s nearest neighbors, lying only about 200,000 light-years from Earth.

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