Tuesday, April 20, 2010



Donn Taylor

There is a certain sameness about much of the poetry I'm reading or hearing these days. That's because many of us are writing poems about ourselves, with the poet as both the subject and the speaking voice of the poem. That's okay if our objective in writing is self-expression, but less so if we want to interest a broader audience. Because there's no reason anyone else should be interested in me, writing about myself loses me much of that potential audience.

This is what I call "the box of the self," using the well-worn cliché to encourage writing poetry "outside the box." In my classes I teach six methods of doing this, and I'll illustrate two of these today.

The first is to let the speaking voice of the poem be someone besides the poet. The only limits here are the poet's imagination. The speaker of the poem might be a biblical or historical character, a fictional character, an animal, a space alien, a bacterium—whatever. (Yes, it might even be a whatever.) In this poem I let the raven from the biblical story of Noah's ark wonder why the dove gets all the favorable publicity. (The theologians among us will see doctrines of grace and works peeping through.)


(Genesis 8)

I'm grateful, yes---he was a nice old guy---
The food and roost were fine, without a doubt
The best I'd known. And then he sent me out---
An honor: first bird back into the sky---
A chance to show my stuff---you bet I'd try
My best---I was grateful to him. ---What lout
Would do less? I flew my tailfeathers out,
Thought nothing of it, flew two weeks, kept dry
Above the flood, alone. But where's the credit
Good works and self-reliance ought to bring?
The dove flopped twice, came slinking back and took
The old guy's charity and then forsook
Him, yet he's made symbol of everything
Graceful, I of gloom---I just don't get it.

Part of the fun was putting the raven's low diction into the sonnet form.

A second method is simply to write about a subject other than the self, as I do in this sonnet about a pioneer woman:

PIONEER (© 2008)

No woods of Carolina ever bore
The weight of loneliness this prairie held.
She stood appalled: impossible to meld
This vastness to her finite flesh, ignore
Her sense of insignificance before
Such massive seas of grassy strangeness, quelled
In heart by brute immensity, repelled
That all she saw were sights she must abhor.
But then a lizard slithered in the dust
To gulp a bug and hide behind a stone.
A grackle pecked nearby, and both were sure
With instinct's certainty. She watched, alone,
And thought, "I guess I'm smart as them." She must,
She knew, if never thrive, at least endure.

One other point from this poem: Words do not have to be pleasant or pretty to be poetic. Those describing the lizard and grackle are distinctly unpleasant, as is the woman's experience that the words describe. For that reason, I would argue that the words are poetic.

Next week we will look at three other methods of writing outside the box of the self.

Donn, thank you so much for sharing your poems and expertise with us each week. See you next Tuesday for Part 2.

Love ya,

PS: To preview Donn's array of poetry and fiction books, please visit his website at www.donntaylor.com.

1 comment:

Diana Jurss said...

Tell Mr Raven he finally did receive
his due honor by a certain Edgar Allen who holds him in high esteem.