A view on poetry

I'm calling this 'a' view on poetry because that's exactly what it is, a view. Mine. So feel free to agree, or disagree, as you please.

English was, pretty much, the only thing I was interested in doing in school. My entire day was just something to get through so that I could sit in English class, especially if it was a Monday or a Friday, when we usually concentrated soley on poetry. The other days were alternated between whatever novel we were studying and whichever play of Shakespeare's we were knee deep in at the time.

I had always liked poetry but didn't get the fuss about it. Until two things happened: we read Plath's poems 'Morning Song' and 'Child' and Derek Mahon's 'A Disused Shed in County Wexford', which is deceivingly and stunningly intricate in both its metaphors and the analogies within it.

Plath was the poet who hit me first. I say hit me, because I felt upon reading 'Morning Song' that that's what had happened. I remember my initial thoughts after my English teacher finished her reading of it was 'Jesus, I've never seen someone do that with imagery.'

'Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements...

...All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses.I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear...'

What was this witchery?! Dickinson didn't do it, Heaney did something else that I loved but no poet had so far used imagery the way I had enjoyed as much. Which probably explains why I was consistently ranked better at use of imagery and language as I was with technicality in my writing- I'm highly visual, so naturally Plath's work intrigued me. The technicality in writing took me a long time to get a handle on. It's still not great, but I'm getting there.

I was a teenager and like all teenagers when they get into something, I became extremely- embarrassingly- intense about poetry. I bought several books about form and structure and set about trying to write decent villanelles, sonnets and cinquains- any type of formal poetry I could read about, I broke down the syllables and had at it.

I now am always impressed by sonnets but do not like them- rhyme was never my thing but I can always appreciate when it's done well- and I have a bit of a thing for cinquains. Especially tri-cinquains, which is a cohesive poem made up of three stanzas, each in the form of a cinquain to a metre of 2, 4, 6, 8, 2. It's not as easy as it sounds, but it's a fun challenge and the real challenge is doing it and making it seem natural.

I did this kind of thing for years, often writing really awful poetry in the process but occasionally writing something good. The constant work with metres and structure taught my ear to hear rhythm, the assonance and alliteration became something I started to do unconsciously. It wasn't about the imagery anymore but a combination of the imagery and the sound.

Then, because it was getting tedious, I stopped being so strict about form and structure and started to write free-verse. A line break happened only when the image allowed it, or to cause a jarring effect in the reading, or to enhance the next image. Now a stanza, for me, ends when the imagery dictates it.

Like in 'The Snare', published in Octavius Magazine, I let the images dictate to me when to break the line:

'This is night then, draped in its vacuous black.
The window is a void in the wall I cannot get to.

Outside the moon admonishes the stars
in their cold multitudes.:

I am not important-

empty vessel of shrieks the walls muffle and eat.'

Before this, it took me a while to learn when it was best to break to the next line, when it worked most. I learned what lines could be cut out, that didn't serve a function or add anything to poem as a whole- often, they were lines I actually liked.

I couldn't have learned this, I don't think, without rigorous practice with form and structure. Any poet who says, 'I don't need to do that, I write free-verse, this doesn't apply to me' is wrong. I don't care how much flak I get for saying that, I believe it. Poetry is an art, it doesn't come out fully-formed from your fingertips at the keyboard, it requires diligence if you want your name to stick around for a hundred years, it demands practice and it'll still never become perfect because it can never be perfected but you can at least aim for it.

It's like someone calling themselves an artist, without ever taking any lessons.  You can fiddle around with the implements all you like, just don't expect to be the next Monet.

Which brings me to a point: I don't like most of the poetry floating around right now. It's a phase, and these things always go in phases, but to me, free-verse poems that look and read and are as shallow as a passing thought, is not a poem. It's a poetic thought in five stanzas and it's shaped like a poem sure, but it's not poetry.

I can feel the proverbial hot water descending as I continue typing this and call me a purist- which, I know, I am- but sue me. No decent poem is written in half an hour. It takes work. Seamus Heaney's poem 'Digging' compared his father's digging in the garden to his work as a writer, digging. That, to me, perfectly sums up what poetry is about.

If you haven't had to dig for it, you're not doing it right.

Clearly I am extremely passionate about poetry. But hey, that's why we started Anomaly in the first place. When we said on the submissions page, that we want only the highest quality- this whole post is pretty much my explanation of that. We want to see that the poet has worked, hard and seriously, to produce what they're sending us and many of them have.

Speaking for myself, personally and not for Oliver or Roseanna (though I know they'd agree), if I was getting paid I probably wouldn't be so intense about it. But we're not. We're doing this out of our own back pockets and our own time. So we do care, we know there are those poets out there. If you write poetry and you've been reading everything that publishes it online and just thought 'Really? How did that get in?'- that's why we started this.

This is what poetry means to us. Send us the best.