Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Donn Taylor

Last week I wrote that too many poems today have the poet's self as both the subject and the speaking voice of the poem, and that this approach limits the poem's interest to a broader audience. I then described and illustrated two methods of writing poetry outside "the box of self": making the speaker of the poem someone other than the poet, and making the subject of the poem someone or something other than the poet.

Today I'll name and illustrate three other methods of writing outside the box. The first of these is a partial contradiction: to begin with the self, but then expand into a general principle. (This can also be done with a fictional narrator.)

This illustrative poem began sixteen years ago with a minor personal catastrophe: a blocked artery gave me a small blind spot in one eye just below the focal point. If I close the other eye and look at a white wall, the blind spot appears purple, and it is shaped like a lizard. This generated a poem that begins with that intensely personal experience but opens out into a subject of more general, perhaps universal, interest.

REPTILES (© 2008)

This purple lizard-shadow in my eye,
Where vision used to be
Till some intruder blocked an artery,
Implants a ragged scar to vilify
Each perfect pattern with its roughly fret
Reptilian silhouette.

Thus, once, another alien came to bate
Or mar our inner sight---
To blend, with all that's beautiful, a blight.
To canker every good we contemplate,
He left a loathsome gift, with hue of coal:
His cobra in our soul.

A second method is to develop metaphors that violate natural laws, as happens in the following poem:

HORIZON (© 2008)

In two dimensions, all agree:
This circle marks our boundary.
A third dimension coincides,
Yet simultaneously divides.

For some conceive the world a bowl
Centered on the acquisitive soul;
Whatever falls within the brim
Flows inward and accrues to them.

But others find the world a sphere,
Themselves at pole; and they, from there,
Flow outward toward the planet's girth
With gifts of self, enriching Earth.

A third method is to reach back into Medieval and Renaissance times for the mode of allegorical landscape, sometimes called psychological landscape. In allegory, many things that occur in the literal level of the poem also have figurative significance, and the figurative meanings connect with each other to form a systematic second level of meaning. Reading allegory requires a good bit of reflection and meditation. The title of this poem, "A Fair Field..." alludes to the Medieval Christian poem Piers Plowman, in which a tower represents heaven, a dungeon represents hell, and between the two lies "A faire feld ful of folk," which represents the world.

“A FAIR FIELD....” (© 2008)

“I don’t look that way often,” says my neighbor.
“This field demands attention. At my feet
So many wonders glitter that my eyes
Draw down to earth---each blade of grass
An emblem, life triumphant, and this trumpet vine
Circles its bush and vaults into the treetops,
Binding in gleaming green of symbiosis,
Blazing in orange bloom. That single squirrel
Scampering, arcing, leaping across the lawn---
Instinctive ecstacy and pride of life---
Is miracle enough to ground my thoughts
In duty here. What tragedy to lose
Even one species! Thus my day is filled
With deep concern to keep right ratios
Of worms, wolves, and woolies. So that strange
Enigma yonder can’t compete. That’s why
I don’t look that way often. When I do,
It seems a mirror where I see myself.”

He finds this path I journey on too narrow,
Hedged on either side by poisoned thorns
Of “Thou shalt not.” Yet from this place I see
His field entire, but in a different light
Revealing all its pleasures and much more
Beyond, above. And while these hedges guide,
My path lies clear before, inviting me
A few more reasoned steps before it turns
In ways I can’t yet see, or drops away
Though valleys of a depth I don’t yet know---
Perhaps, at times, to unimagined heights.
It’s mine to follow, confident, secure
In destination. Light is different here:
That’s not a mirror but a window there,
To show vague shapes and tantalizing forms
Of glorious things beyond, assurances
That there, all turnings done, at journey’s end
The mystic window will become a door.

To summarize these last three posts: Sound is an important structure of poetry, and should not be neglected. We can write poetry outside the box of self by making the speaker of the poem someone besides the poet, making the subject something besides the poet, beginning with the self and expanding into a general principle, using metaphors that violate natural laws, and asking a bit more of our readers by resurrecting Renaissance allegory. Other methods not discussed include writing narrative poems and building poems on dialogue between historical or fictional characters.

As mentioned in my first blog in this series, I would like to encourage aspiring poets to write to a general audience, as Robert Frost and Edwin Arlington Robinson did a century ago. Too much of contemporary poetry has little or no audience outside the graduate schools or other restricted groups. And too often, that avant has little or nothing to garde.

Many thanks also to Janetta for allowing me to visit on her blog. It has been a pleasure for me, and I hope it has been helpful to others.

You are SO welcome, sir. I enjoyed our Tuesday's together. And, I hope next April we can get together again to help inspire people to pen some poetry.


PS: Please go to Donn's website at www.donntaylor.com to find out more about his writing.

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