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Pete_C
August 30th, 2017, 10:21 AM
This has been spurred by a recent conversation, but is something that comes up time and time again on WF and in other crit groups. It's the instruction to cut work back, or the converse to add metaphor, emotion and imagery.

What tends to happen, especially with developing writers, is that they put together a poem, read it and think that it isn't poetic enough. They add some imagery, insert metaphors, weave in some fluffy poetic devices and show it to the world. They are then told to cut it back, remove anything that doesn't add to the message.

This is one of the most common comments when criting poetry, and that's because one of the most common errors is overwriting. Poetry tends to bring out the verbose in all of us.

I just saw a crow flying past. That becomes a demonic crow flapping his way across a bruised sky. Actually, the sky is stormy and bruised, like the face an orphan. The crow suddenly has a beady eye. A beady-eyed demonic crow flapping with the devil's energy across a sky, stormy and bruised, like the face an orphan! That's more poetic, isn't it?

No. Feedback says cut it back!

So, our developing poet writes something skeletal and sparse, only including words that add meaning. They post it up and are met with a different set of comments. Add metaphor, add imagery, add poetic devices. It's a devil/deep blue sea situation.

The reality is that for any poem, regardless of style and content, there will be a point where the message carries no flab, every word adds sense and power, and the work will be just right. The goal is not to cut back or to add, but to find that balance. At that point a poem has focus, strength and direction. The difficult part is how to achieve that balance.

It's easy to tell people to remove any part of a poem that doesn't add strength, that doesn't help to crystalise the message, but that's not the way to get it right. It's only one tiny step in a process that every writer should apply to every piece they produce. Too little is as bad as too much, and the wrong words are another battle altogether. Get it right and you end up with strength, emotion and imagery that allows the reader to go on a journey. Yes, you're spoon-feeding them, but you're spoon feeding them nectar. At times you want them to work to get that spoonful, but when they do work what they get is pure nectar. if they don't, you've cheated them.

Some might argue, 'Well, I want my poem to meander and be whimsical'. Fine; give the reader pure meandering and whimsy. Don't just make the poem vague and drifting and hope for the best. Readers will remember a powerful message, even if it's not heart-wrenching, shocking or inspiring. So long as it's the apotheosis of what you're saying, they'll remember it. If it's flabby or too thin, if it is vapid and indiscriminate, they'll soon forget it.

Don't think cut back, don't think add; think how can I deliver the essence of what I'm saying?

So, why the obscure title for this rambling post? Many many years ago, following a traumatic incident, I penned a piece about how illusion inevitably led to disillusion. It took me around 8 weeks to write and ended up being scrawled over around 6 foolscap sheets (and I have pretty small writing). I was very proud of it, and shared it with someone who was a sort of mentor at a writing group I attended. They explained to me it was pretty verbose, contained duplication and redundancy, and it needed a lot of work. However, he then explained (better than I have done) about using the right words in the right phrases, and delivering a compelling message via the poem.

I went away and worked on it, again for many weeks. I questioned the use of every word, of every line, of every image and removed those that didn't add to the purpose of the poem. Eventually I ended up with one line: All the flowers are made of paper.

I realised two things. The first was that one line summed up everything the rest of the verbage was trying (and failing) to convey. The second was that my poem was ironically an illusion that led to disillusionment. I put it away and forgot about it. To this day I always strive to deliver only text that adds to the reader's journey.

It doesn't mean I always achieve it...

midnightpoet
August 30th, 2017, 01:36 PM
I've mentioned this before, finding the right balance, choosing the right words, metaphors and imagery that convey the message clearly enough to be understood, yet obscure enough to get the reader to wonder, to ask questions, to think. Hard work, revise, revise, revise. Poetry is more than pretty words on paper.

escorial
August 30th, 2017, 01:39 PM
excellent stuff....

PiP
August 30th, 2017, 09:35 PM
[QUOTE=Pete_C;2103444]T
What tends to happen, especially with developing writers, is that they put together a poem, read it and think that it isn't poetic enough. They add some imagery, insert metaphors, weave in some fluffy poetic devices and show it to the world. They are then told to cut it back, remove anything that doesn't add to the message.

This is one of the most common comments when criting poetry, and that's because one of the most common errors is overwriting. Poetry tends to bring out the verbose in all of us.

I just saw a crow flying past. That becomes a demonic crow flapping his way across a bruised sky. Actually, the sky is stormy and bruised, like the face an orphan. The crow suddenly has a beady eye. A beady-eyed demonic crow flapping with the devil's energy across a sky, stormy and bruised, like the face an orphan! That's more poetic, isn't it?

The crow example made me laugh. Pete that's me. I write the words, then add more words... ah a metaphor turns into a conceit... and what happened to the turn?... yes more words... I NEEED more words... so after days of procrastination... I post the poem to the workshop

Feedback says cut it back!


So, our developing poet writes something skeletal and sparse, only including words that add meaning. They post it up and are met with a different set of comments. Add metaphor, add imagery, add poetic devices. It's a devil/deep blue sea situation.


Yep...


. The goal is not to cut back or to add, but to find that balance. At that point a poem has focus, strength and direction. The difficult part is how to achieve that balance.

It is difficult to achieve that balance without cutting so much 'flab' or burying the poem so deep in metaphor we fail to reach the reader.


the wrong words are another battle altogether.

I try not to just choose a word for the meaning but also sound and meter.


Get it right and you end up with strength, emotion and imagery that allows the reader to go on a journey. Yes, you're spoon-feeding them, but you're spoon feeding them nectar. At times you want them to work to get that spoonful, but when they do work what they get is pure nectar. if they don't, you've cheated them.

That is the balance... how important are the readers? Or should I say: How many times have you read a poem ... read it again... and again... and still have not the faintest idea what message the poet was trying to convey?

sas
August 30th, 2017, 11:49 PM
Right on, Pete.

Per Coleridge: Poetry consists of the best words in the best order. (I'd add to use word economy. I wrote an entire year,in strict syllable count, to discipline myself. If not, write prose...it's much easier).

I always try to avoid adjectives and adverbs. And, metaphor always is better than a simile. And, if I need to google a word in someone else's poem, they should consider the fact that I've left it, perhaps permanently. Don't try to impress me with vocabulary. Ho-Hum. Impress me with crisp poems. Each and every single word considered (even "the") separately. Each and every one.

Darkkin
August 31st, 2017, 03:10 AM
This is why classic forms of poetry are a great tool for honing one's selective edges. By working within fixed parameters writers learn to become more discerning, not only about word choice but things like flow, context, and progression, as well.

sas
August 31st, 2017, 12:32 PM
I couldn't agree more, Darkkin. I've found, however, that I am too much of a wild maverick to write, in any accomplished way, with a strict form. So, I have come to read more of it. Perhaps I'll retain something through osmosis, but outlaw poetry appeals to me.

PiP
August 31st, 2017, 12:36 PM
This is why classic forms of poetry are a great tool for honing one's selective edges. By working within fixed parameters writers learn to become more discerning, not only about word choice but things like flow, context, and progression, as well.

Spot on, Darkkin, and that's what why we encourage poets to step outside their comfort zone by taking part in the Pip (Poets in progress) Challenge (https://www.writingforums.com/forums/229-The-Purple-Pip-Challenges).

Firemajic
August 31st, 2017, 04:22 PM
I asked them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poems room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem,
waving at the author's name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Author: Billy Collins

sas
August 31st, 2017, 07:27 PM
I asked them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poems room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem,
waving at the author's name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Author: Billy Collins


I have always loved this Billy Collins poem! Yep, yep, yep. He is spot on. Of course, Professors encourage the beating. No wonder people come to dislike poetry. Glad I did not take a single poetry class.

Firemajic
August 31st, 2017, 07:56 PM
I have always loved this Billy Collins poem! Yep, yep, yep. He is spot on. Of course, Professors encourage the beating. No wonder people come to dislike poetry. Glad I did not take a single poetry class.


I agree... poetry should be full of fire, passion, mystery [ but not obscurity!!] it should intrigue, inspire...
I refuse to turn my poetry into a struggle, just so I can meet the criteria of someone else... I would lose my passion if I had to obey rules.... sure, rules are guidelines, and if you are going to write a Sonnet, you damn well better be able to understand what makes a sonnet, a sonnet... anyway, poetry is as personal and as intimate as your private midnight fantasies...Ooo ;)