Wednesday, September 26, 2012

With Apologies to Mr. Frost

At TweetSpeak Poetry, Lyla Lindquist is starting a new book discussion today – Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within by Kim Addonizio. Today’s assignment: Read Part 1 (roughly the first 95 pages) and do as many of the exercises as possible.

There are enough writing exercises in Part 1 to keep a normal person busy for at least three months. The book is packed with simple and not-so-simple exercises you can do to help you with your writing. While the focus is poetry, the exercises actually apply to writing broadly.

I combined two of the exercises. I took the first line of a well known poem (it won’t be hard to guess which one) and imagined it going in another direction. That’s one exercise. The second: before I wrote the first word, I left the room. And I really left the room – going on a 20-mile bike ride along a trail that includes two longish stretches of woods. As I biked, I worked the first line into another first line, and then into the framework of a poem, and then into a rough draft of a poem. This was the result:

Post-Modern Man

Whose woods these are I do not know;
I vainly search for a village, though,
or even a single house but find
only woods, foreboding and forming
a filtered canopy over what may not
be a path through but only into.
With a touch of frost upon my face,
the proprietor, if he is, sends his minions
to effect the changing of the guard of leaves,
the red and the gold taking
the place of the green and fading.
I pause to rest against a tree,
and hear his whispers in my sleep,
and hear his whispers in my sleep.

“When I started to write poetry,” Addonizio says, “I had no idea how to begin to learn about it.” I had been reading poetry for more than 25 years before I thought of writing any poems myself. I didn’t think about learning to write poetry; I was reading poetry to help me become a better speechwriter. And yet those 25 years were a kind of learning time or preparation.

And then, in 2009, I started writing it. With a general sense of terror, I eventually posted a poem on this blog.

Like Addonzio, I’ve written a lot of bad poems, and some not-so-bad, and a few really good ones. And I’ve broadened the poetry I read, and now read as much contemporary poetry as I do poetry from the “canon.” The poetry I feel a particular affinity for is the poetry from the modern period, roughly 1900 to 1950 – poets like T.S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Wallace Stevens, Vachel Lindsay, Edgar Lee masters, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Sara Teasdale and others. I suspect it has to do with the fact that these were the first poets I was taught in high school, and the poets who had most influenced my English and literature teachers.

Consider joining us with the discussion. Or simply stop by TweetSpeak and see what’s happening.


Megan Willome said...

A bike ride is the perfect place to hone a poem. I like this one a lot.

Maureen said...

You make an important point here about reading, and every very good writer I know emphasizes it, too. It's a key to getting better on the way to being best.