dropped arbitrarily on a page
as if shaken
from a container
A word or two
forms an image
expresses an emotion
blocks of letters
and white space
I’m not a student of poetry but I know what I like. Some great poems and some great poets have influenced me greatly. My favorite poem is “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T.S. Eliot. It was read to me aloud when I was seventeen, by a girlfriend’s father, at dinner, with wine and jazz on the stereo. The setting could not have been better. It affected me then and has affected since. The words evoke a nurturing melancholy that I choose to indulge. The poem touches me on a spiritual and physical level. It’s difficult to explain, but I guess that’s poetry.
Another poem which caught me early was “The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost. His simple words have provided a guiding hand for the big decisions I’ve made in my life. I’m also in love with playful poets, such as ee cummings and Ogden Nash. And Dr. Seuss.
I fall for the authors whose novels are poetic. James Joyce, Jack Kerouac, John Updike. Katherine Anne Porter. Jhumpa Lahiri. There are so, so many. I’m always amazed when I find poetry in unexpected places. For instance, I’m reading Marya Hornbacher’s memoir of anorexia and bulimia, called “Wasted,” and I’ve been captured by the stunning, lyrical quality of her poetic prose.
I’m also taken by the gritty poetry of Charles Bukowski. I like writing that is accessible. I like to experience the reflections of writers dealing with painful, often tragic issues. I like honesty in writing and I search it out in the poetry I read. Bukowski gives me that. He always makes me think, and he grounds me.
I suppose I strive to achieve a sense of poetry in my writing. I had an English teacher once who told me that everything I write should be original, that I shouldn’t depend on the creativity of others to form my thoughts. He was talking about my use of cliches, which he succeeded in eradicating from my work. But I took it one step further and applied it to the sentences I write. The last draft or two I do when writing a novel is dedicated entirely to finding ways to rewrite every sentence. I search for poetic, often obscure ways to reinvent the paragraph. It’s exhausting, but it’s my favorite part of the process.
Although I love poetic prose, I don’t consider myself a poet. I really haven’t put in the hard work to learn what I feel I should know about poetry. I don’t know any of the classic meters, I don’t recognize any of the literary references. I’m sure that Pound and Whitman and Yeats have amazing things to say, but I tell ya, I don’t understand the half of it. Someday I hope to enrich my life with a college class or two on the subject.
You can imagine how honored I was when Gerald So asked me to contribute some poetry to his fourth issue of the crime poetry magazine, THE LINEUP. I’m especially honored because the other authors I’ve joined are so renowned—Reed Farrel Coleman, David Corbett, Ken Bruen, Keith Rawson and numerous other authors whose works I’ve just been introduced to.
The work of these authors does what I had hoped—it takes me to a place of enraptured contemplation. Their poems examine the dark side of life, the moral ambiguity that drives people to commit crimes, the consequences that criminal behavior has on its victims. Bukowski-esque. Poetry about crime—what a great concept. The collection brings new insight to the phrase, “poetic justice.”
I hope you’ll check the book out. Copies can be purchased by clicking here, where you can also hear a free sampler of the poems being read. You can hear me read my contribution, called “Street Girls: Selected Memories.” You can imagine where that will take you…
Meanwhile, Gerald’s offer to participate has prompted me to dig out the poetry of my past. I wrote a lot after my father’s suicide, and while dealing with decaying relationships, and while searching for a place in this world. The stuff everyone writes about. And I’ve purchased a few more books of Bukowski’s work, just to keep the rhythm going in my head. Maybe Gerald has set me on a new course. If so, I’m indebted to him for getting me started.
Who do you feel are the “essential” poets to read? Who are your favorites? How does poetry affect you differently from prose? What do you think I should do to become a more learned student of poetry?