Friday, July 28, 2017

What Makes Good Poetry?

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit for lovely Linda at A Word Edgewise for Roundup.

Recently the question "What makes good poetry?" appeared from a friend in my in-box. And since it is something I think about pretty regularly, I thought perhaps I would share some thoughts here.

First, here is a graphic I created to share with students when I teach poetry workshops:


And here is my quick email response to my friend:

In general I would say I respond to something that moves me, and sometimes that's not particularly polished, but raw. The one element that I find myself really requiring in a poem is the element of surprise. This can be a surprising image, or a fresh metaphor, or even unexpected subject matter. Sometimes even language itself can be the surprise! When I look over my own work, I always evaluate it from that vantage point first. Does it contain a surprise? 


For the past few weeks I've been listening to an audiobook ROMANTIC OUTLAWS: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon. Fascinating women, fascinating book! And lo, I stumbled upon a section that sent me back to the library for the print version so I could accurately record it. Here's what Mary Wollstonecraft had to say on the topic:

"...in 1797, she [Mary Wollstonecraft] defended her aesthetic choices, in an essay she called "On Taste." A good piece of writing should be spontaneous and honest, she said. The mind and heart should appear on the page. Writers should not try to seduce their readers with a "mist of words." The point of a good book was to provoke both ideas and emotions in the reader, not to engage in a battle of wits with a straw opponent."

And THAT reminds me of son Eric's (stage name "ErBeeko") newly-released album TRUTH, about which he says, "My only hope is that at least one of these raps will make you rethink something in your life. 

Apparently Eric's work has succeeded, because he's had some heartfelt reactions to his songs -- songs that speak to our current social media culture, sex, drugs, relationships, and everything you'd expect from a 17-year-old, and more.  Give it a listen on your favorite music server.

And here is the latest video:


Finally, here are a few words from Eric in response to some controversy. They also speak to me about "what makes good poetry.":  Controversy. This is the struggle of an artist. It connects me to Ben Haggerty and Kendrick Lamar, and it allows me, if not the world, to grow and better understand the issues I speak for. Truth was made to start conversations, and I believe the talk it starts up is its biggest impact on the world, whether it's positive or negative... knowing or defensive... There may not be a difference after all. The truth is simple, but the world is complex. I hope people see that when they hear the album's contrasting muscles pumping and connecting, sometimes with success, sometimes without. It is meant to be the start of something, not the end. There is no way to capture the whole story in one album, and I believe this part of the story leads to many more. I intended the album not to show perfection, but to exemplify the beauty of a young man struggling to find the truth in his world... a life concerned with making the world a better place, not necessarily knowing how, but trying all the same. I look around and I see so much wrong that no one talks about, and I know that if I don't stand up, no one will. So I decided to be that guy. I sacrificed my comfort for this. I dedicated myself to the album like I do with everything else in my life, and I made all my crazy dreams about bravery and revenge and redemption come true. I did everything I wanted to do, and I still love my life. Can you say the same?

Poetry Friday friends: what do YOU think makes good poetry?

19 comments:

  1. There is much that asks for response here, Irene. I think that poetry does ask for surprise, but in an individual way, it will touch many different parts of someone. Eric's ideas of taking that step when others will not is part of the surprise, and it happens in the writer when writing first, perhaps? I know that when I begin something, the words often follow into places I didn't expect. I enjoyed Eric's firm beliefs shown in his performance, hope that he is pleased with it, too. Thanks for sharing much to ponder!

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  2. Like Linda, I'm sometimes surprised by words I've written. I love when that happens! The element of surprise is not something I've thought of as a requirement for poetry, but I'll try to remember it now! Thank you!

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  3. A lot to think about here, from mother and son. We are dealing with our clutter, whether Southern or just American. A very insightful song. We aren't just us. We are our ancestors, our country, our artists and our poets. We are complex, beautiful and full of hope. I believe that words and music can and do change the world. I'd hug you both, if I could.

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  4. A young man trying to make the world a better place. Your mama heart must be so proud of this young man. I saved your "Writing Poetry Is" graphic. I like it. I like your words - "I respond to something that moves me..." Poetry that I love always moves me in some way. Thanks for so much to think about today.

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  5. I read this post earlier and came back and read it again....there is a lot of thought here. I am grateful and impressed that your son shared his thoughtful words here. All of our work should strive to be the beginning of something....not the end. That is a beautiful statement. And, what makes good poetry? I love your answers. I am going to be thinking on that today as I jump from blog to blog. Thanks for sharing that query.

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  6. I love the idea of "the element of surprise." Such truth. The poems that delight me, that I want to read again and again, that resonate on my lips or in my heart almost always, I think, have that element of surprise. I copied your quote to think about some more.

    And I love your son's work. The last line of his video has that same element of surprise. "Wait, we weren't talking about heaven." But then I have to go listen to it again, because maybe we were. He seems like an amazing guy! I'd be a proud mama if this were my son!

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  7. Wow! Your son shares such wisdom here. I love the idea that his work is to begin a conversation, not end it. There are so many things to think about in this post, too.

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  8. I like your ideas here on what a poem is. It's something my students and I hash out every year. Thanks for sharing your son's words, too!

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  9. I saved your poetry acrostic to share with students very soon. I can imagine dinner time conversations are interesting in your house. What hope and optimism in your son's words! Thanks for sharing his music and words with us.

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  10. Nice to see your son following in mm's poetic footsteps - even if it is to the beat of a different bassist. ;) He's got a good sense of both poetry AND purpose...you must be proud!

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  11. I am so struck by the words of your son, Irene. He is obviously a thoughtful, engaged, and caring person. You have every reason to be proud!

    I love your requirement of surprise. I feel the same way, thought don't always know how to add it. That's where revision comes in, isn't it?

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  12. "Be a leader, let heaven speak." brilliant, heartfelt, truthful words that's what makes poetry. I loved this ending line of your son's wrap music, he's putting himself out there and can only go upward. All the best to him on his journey! Thanks for this rich blog post Irene, "Romantic Outlaws" sounds wonderful too!

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  13. Wow. Lots to think about here. I never thought about the idea of requiring the element of surprise. I do like the thought. I also love Linda's observation that sometimes the surprise is in the brilliance of The Muse and the way words just come out that you didn't expect.

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  14. What makes good poetry? I agree with your graphic, and I agree with Mary Wollstonecraft, and I agree with Eric about sacrificing comfort. I'll go all Louise Rosenblatt/transactional reading theory on you and say, good poetry needs the right reader at the right time.

    (Sidebar -- aren't you just amazed that that is YOUR son in that video and writing those passionate literate words?!?! Your heart must burst with pride!)

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  15. I love your graphic. May I use it? Poetry is using all the senses and surprising the reader.

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  17. The element of surprise has always been a "thing" for me in my writing. I wasn't really aware of it as such, but when I write, I write until the surprise in some form happens. Then I know it is done.
    Love your graphic. Good truths about about writing.
    I know what your son means about sacrificing comfort. I, for one, am proud of his stand - bet YOU are, too! I also listened to "Bella", and forwarded links to my daughter and her husband. Thank him for me.

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  18. I remember as a student being so frustrated and disillusioned with poetry because our teachers always emphasized all the complex rules, which just felt so restrictive. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realised that poetry can actually take so many incredible forms, and is meant to free the poet, not hold them back!

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  19. I'm so proud of your son! Way to go, Eric! I love his logo as well. LATHAM POWER!

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Your thoughts?