Since I live in the wild west, a round up of sorts seemed in order. So here are some mini reviews about a few of the books I've been reading lately on poetic craft. Yes, I have more books than this in my line up, but reading four at once is about my limit. I think.
First up -
The Art of the Poetic Line
by James Longenbach
Logenbach delves into the function of the poetic line in poetry from metered to free-verse. In its most basic form, poetry consists of the arrangement of lines, and how the arrangement and rearrangement of the line changes and expands the meaning of the poem. Through examples, Logenbach shows how choosing an end stopped line over enjambment can heighten emotion, and how judicious use of enjambment can ratchet up the tension in a poem. Much of the book is a primer on how to expand and relax the tension in lines for optimum effect. The lesson from Logenbach is how every word, syllable, meter, rhyme and punctuation in a line of a poem can be fine tuned to improve your work.
Ordering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems
by Susan Grimm
A collection of essays by different poets on how to put together a book of poetry. Some of the authors have obviously given deep thought about the order of their poems in a book, others have taken a more whimsical approach. Several discussed 'backfilling' with new poems to make the collection reach the theme or goal they set for themselves. A few essays touched on naming the collections – not as many addressed this as I would like, sort of a 'chicken or the egg' question I'm curious about. There was also discussion on how to arrange the poems for maximum impact, including the radical suggestion of letting a third party do the arranging. The unifying thought through all the essays, was 'there is no one right way to arrange a collection of poems.' I'm not sure if I find that thought comforting... or maddening.
Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft
by Tony Hoagland
Real Sofistikashun is another collection of essays on poetic craft, very accessible and interesting. Hoagland doesn't pull any punches in his analysis of several contemporary poets and their methods, indeed one essay drove me to seek out the poets mentioned and analyze their work more deeply. After I did that, I was ready to cast a more critical eye on my own work. The book is full of examples from a wide range of poetry, mostly contemporary. One of my favorite essays concentrated on Fragment, Juxtaposition, and Completeness.
Hoagland keeps the tone light while imparting his information, one of the last essays is titled Fashion Victims: The Misfortunes of Aesthetic Fate, about the fickleness of styles in modern times. This is an entertaining and interesting collection, well worth reading more than once.
After Confession: Poetry as Autobiography
Kate Sontag, David Graham, editors
A fascinatingcollection of essays on the "autobiographical impulse" in poetry. What makes poetry more prone to confessional missives than most other forms of writing? Essays range from the history and background of the autobiographical poem, to contemporary usage. One theme becomes clear; doing an autobiographical poem well can be tough. Connecting private suffering with public audience is something none of the poets take lightly. The concern is making the poem universal enough to connect with a collective, and finding a truth that can't be ignored because the 'right' truth in poetry touches everyone. It's a fine line between self-indulgence and relevance. The confessional nature of autobiographical poetry has the potential to scare readers away, but done well, the "I" in the poem speaks volumes for us all.