Watch your tone

I’ve been going over the very useful observations of my poetry made by the leaders and participants of the Colrain manuscript conference I participated in. One group of poems was flagged for having too much the same tone and falling in the same way to the end. I both understand this point but feel a bit helpless as to how to address it. It seems like all my poems fall similarly. Which got me thinking about style. How is it that some writer’s styles are so quickly recognizable? And how can some poets create an entire book in their own “style,” and that style never seems to get old through the course of the book. And yet, I love, for example, Kay Ryan’s work, but can’t read an entire book of her work because the style and the tone, for me, DOES get old. What is style? Tone I have a better handle on. And some of the poems in that flagged group had a kind of hallowed tone I get that I hate. But if it’s a problem of falling to the end in the same way, one of my favorite editing tricks is to flip poems upside down, or set them entirely backwards, or start them in the middle, or carve a line of words down the middle or moving diagonally and see what they do without all the other words. This is fun work. But if I end up with something that “falls” differently, will it still be my style? Maybe it’s bad to have a style. Too predictable. But I read a judge’s comments about a recent manuscript contest winner’s collection – the judge said it had “remarkable cohesion.” Is that a statement on subject matter? If so, it seems like “remarkable” is a bit of a big word for poems around the same subject. People do that all the time. He must have meant something more holistic. Maybe something about style. Maybe something about tone. If only I could remember what contest it was.

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