Thursday, January 6, 2011

Influence Vs. Imitation Vs. Showing Off

For my Independent study with Todd, I'll be reading a series of poetry books that have won awards early in writers' careers, are first books, or are early books on presses I dig, along with the Robert Pinsky criticism collection, The Situation of Poetry. We have decided to begin the semester with the Pinsky collection, using different elements of craft and style discussed in the book as possible conversation points for the poetry collections and my own poems. After reading each book or section, I'll blog in some manner about my reaction, my application, or something else about it.

The Introduction to Pinsky's book sets the stage for the rest of the book by explaining his usage of "Modern" and "Contemporary" in regards to the poetry in point. The main sketch he makes is about influence, with the primary example being two excerpts, one from Stevens and one from Moore, as examples of presenting metaphor and images in a direct, sincere way, a trend that came into being, Pinsky says, in the Modernist era. Furthermore, he uses images/metaphors from a poem by Robert Bly and another by Mary Swenson to discuss what he calls an "exhibitionist" approach to such poetic devices, how he contends that "the aggressive yoking of unlike things can sometimes amount to little more than showing off." To the first by Bly, he labels it "a kind of gaud or badge" the writer employs to establish oneself as a writer, exploiting "an inherited mannerism without full understanding it." To the second, it sees it as a sort of begging for admiration "of the writing for its own sake", void of a solid subject.

To me, Pinsky, already, makes several valid points, at least valuable to think about in my own writing. For instance, where in my aesthetic does the practice of images/metaphors fall, and with what methods/style? I'm of the mind that one thing writing needs is an excited audience, one who wants to read more, wants to buy books, wants to talk about the writing, wants to let the writing be purposeful and helpful in some way in their lives. While I see many approaches to do this, the importance of metaphors/images, certainly a large part of our current society's everyday life, seems a valuable avenue (I'm thinking of TV in particular). Pinsky admits that the way Bly and Swenson use these devices does not necessarily need to be a forbidden practice, but one acknowledged. It is often easily "identifiable when least assimilated," and holds importance and familiarity in contemporary poetry writing, which helps point to influence.

For my own writing, my main way of attempting to get people excited about writing is to capitalize on the elements that my readers find most engaging and thought-provoking. Today's reader, or at least the ones I see my poetry most fit to connect with, are flooded with poems, not to mention all of the other, likely higher-prioritized, means of interaction with the world. The poems I've been writing lately seem to be finding the balance between attention-grabbing, often startling or thought-provoking, and tightness, in terms of language use and "point." In this way, I believe my influences will be intact and honored, while still assimilated in a manner that adds to the complexity and excitability of the piece.

After reading this intro, I sat down to do some writing, and one poem in particular struck me as in need of some serious editing, though I do feel like it is worthy of being included in this project, if I work hard enough on it. It's the poem "This Is So Romantic," which appeared late last year in Novelletum, in an admittedly less-tight and sometimes superfluous version. The part that startled me, as it threw up the Pinsky flag, was the beginning of original published version:

Ride bikes with me
with our helmets like oyster shells
protecting our pearl heads
with our feet hugging metal pedals:

After not reading this poem for awhile, coupled with Pinsky's poignant discussion, the metaphors and images jumped out as over-the-top and useless, especially in the context of the rest of the poem. The use of "like oyster shells" and "pearl heads" was weightless, lacking the purposefulness, like what does this say about the characters/speakers/the situation?, and irrelevant, as it's talking about riding bikes in the suburbs. The last excerpted line seemed way to dramatic, an attempt perhaps, with the affection theme, to get "hugging" into the poem. I felt that the beginning lacked the directness and relevancy to push the poem to the point of connecting with the reader, an valuable part of a good opening.

After tinkering around with it, the newer draft, though certainly no final draft now, appears as such:

Ride bikes with me!
Our helmets protect our heads
soft from the fossil fuel burgers:

I made the decision to cut the metaphor about our helmets/heads to a more direct line, complemented by the (hopefully) weightier and more poignant "soft from the fossil fuel burgers," a line that is not nearly as direct but also holds some connotations, with the bike riding, the suburbs, and other images that have been reworked or added into the poem. This change, I hope, starts the poem off on a different foot, adding to the focus and hopefully impact the rest of the poem shapes into being. While I certainly think the type of images/metaphors Pinsky describe Bly's and Swenson's as have their place and purpose, the biggest thing I take from this introduction is to be more careful and considerate of my image/metaphor usage.


tdm said...

Really cool post Tyler! Are you going to post both versions (or more) of the poem?

Tyler G said...

Thanks Todd.

I'll post the new version, probably with a link to the published one.

It's still a work in progress.

Good idea.


Blog Archive