Poetry time

I was reminded today that my weblog title includes Poetics and Travelogues. I included those two topics fully intending to blog on those items, and yet I have been woefully lacking in both categories thus far. Time to rectify that.

I've been in a dry spot lately. Not a good thing when you're getting paid to write. But I've been doing some research for this class where I'll be an assistant this quarter, and I've been rereading an essay by Seamus Heaney from his book of prose entitled Preoccupations. The essay is entitled "Feeling into Words" and deals largely with finding a voice and the difference between what Heaney calls "craft" and "technique."

Simply put, "craft" is the ability to form lines of poetry into metrical units that are pleasing to the ear, that might rhyme or not, and that show that you were indeed paying attention and not just vomiting onto the page. As Heaney himself puts it, "Craft is what you can learn from other verse. Craft is the skill of making."

"Technique," however, is a bastard of a different sort. It involves craft, but it includes much, much more. Heaney says, "It involves also a definition of his [the poet's] stance towards life, a definition of his own reality. It involves the discovery of ways to go out of his cognitive bounds and raid the inarticulate: a dynamic alertness that mediates between the origins of feeling in memory and experience and the formal ploys that express these in a work of art." And far be it from me to dispute a Nobel Laureate.

But for me, there is one other element that must be included. Honesty.

I'm not talking about factual accuracy. Accuracy is something that we should demand of our journalists. Honesty is something that should be demanded of your poets and storytellers.

In his poem "Poetry and Religion," Les Murray writes these lines:

You can't pray a lie, said Huckleberry Finn;
you can't poe one either. It is the same mirror:
mobile, glancing, we call it poetry,
and I think he's got it exactly right there. In order for poetry to last the ages, it must, absolutely must, contain some truth and it must be honest about it. Leave short-sightedness and lying to the politicians. Poets should be made of sterner stuff than that.

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