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Poets are athletes of the mind... Excerpt from the Introduction of: The Old Formalism – Character in Contemporary American Poetry -- by Jonathan Holden -- The University of Arkansas Press; Fayetteville, 1999
Poets are athletes of the mind; but the performances they put on do not take place in stadiums or on television. The performances take place in books, and the quality of the performance depends almost wholly upon the existence of an educated and willing reader; for the art of poetry is preeminently an art of reading.
A lovely little poem about the contract between writer and reader is the poem "This Book," by William Stafford. "This Book" is the prefatory poem for his most political collection, Allegiances, published by Harper and Row at the height of the Vietnam War. Although the poem does not say so explicitly, it presents reading as a political act. The speaker is a book.
Late, at the beginning of cold,
you push your breath toward home.
You stamp, go in, start the fire
from any part of the room I suddenly say
Quiet as all books, I wait, and promise
we'll watch the night: you turn a page;
winter misses a stride. You see
the reason for time, for everything in the sky.
The poem envisions what I think of as both the ideal reading situation for poetry and the ideal use for it-as a source of sustenance for an alienated citizen who finds himself
like a foreign traveler in his own country. He returns home to a book. It is like finding a bottle of fresh milk left in the refrigerator. Gratefully, he drinks. But what he imbibes is something less palpable than milk: words.
...courage is tied with speaking a truth... -- Excerpt from a talk on poetics given at Goddard College January, 2004 by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Ph.D., award-winning writer, professor, and the author of five books, including three collections of poetry. ► Read Samples of Goldberg's Poetry
To take ourselves, in the words we inhale or exhale, to new places where we don’t know our way, where we have to learn new ways of riding our minds and lifting the wings of our heart is always an act of courage. That courage is tied with speaking a truth beneath the realities of our culture or the myths we hold to in defining ourselves or being defined by others. That’s why it’s so effective as explains Audre Lorde in her essay, “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” in breaking silences, in speaking for the unheard or marginalized or invisible. That courage to dwell in the wild of shaped language, of language made of careful attention to sound and image and movement, takes us beyond compasses and maps that reinforce what we already know, where we’ve already traveled. Yet it can lead us toward a kind of verbally-launched ecstasy, a place we can dwell if we’re lucky enough in: a poem.
Avoiding cliché -- Common Knowledge
A cliché is a phrase that has been repeated so often it no longer communicates anything fresh. A cliché may be false or true, but it is so familiar to a writer's or reader's ear that they simply don't think about it. Clichés fool writers into thinking they are saying something meaningful. AVOID the trap of Clichés! Clichés take away from any form of writing. Some examples follow:
WHEN WRITING FREE-VERSE POETRY