I’ve been writing some crappy poems lately. As I brood upon them I think most of them suffer from, at the very least, a problem of tone. I’ve written in other posts about the issue I have with poems of mine that sound overly grandiose. Like I’ve suddenly taken on a British accent or something. I want to say to the poem, “Get over yourself.”
The poems are stumbling around some fairly abstract concepts and this tone is the trap I often fall into when I’m writing from an intellectual interest in an idea rather than from a more visceral reaction to some stimulus.
But I love poems that do a good job of getting their fingers gripped onto the elbow of a good hardy abstract concept. I know it can be done.
One of the crappy poems has a tone I love, but the poem itself goes nowhere. I think the problem with that poem is it doesn’t have a central concept around which it’s stumbling.
The balance of idea and tone is crucial; one must match the other, and one cannot move forward without the other, it seems.
It occurs to me that one of the editing approaches I can take with tone is to radically pare down the words, to move away and away from prose, to introduce white space and silence. Sometimes this can unsettle the plummy tone and begin to allow the poem to get its feet under it.
In contrast, with the poem that goes nowhere, one approach I can take is to keep writing, to write toward something, often starting with the prompt “what I’m really trying to say is:” and asking my mind to move around the image or memory that presented itself, and why it arrived, and why now. Then once I’ve got a lot of prosaic words that may be heading me toward the central idea the poem is wanting to consider, I can begin paring back toward something interesting.
At least these approaches are a place to start. If I get nowhere, well, then I guess I’ll just move on (see post: https://marilynonaroll.wordpress.com/2017/11/13/know-when-to-run-or-when-work-in-progress-is-not-making-progress-or-giving-up-as-part-of-the-poem-editing-process/)…