Saturday, August 1, 2009

For the Newbie...

As writers in general, we always hear, "you gotta work on your craft." There have been many times where I've questioned what that meant. As a poet, I'm starting to hear this more often. What does 'working on your craft' mean? Specifically. What is the best advice, without using this statement, you could give to a new poet?

I'm sure the responses will be interesting.

Stay peace


John B. Burroughs said...
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John B. Burroughs said...

For me "working on my craft" means a million things as much as it means nothing at all. Sometimes it means disciplining my writing so it doesn't become unwieldy, and sometimes it means loosening my leash on it so it can breathe. It includes lots of writing, lots of reading aloud and listening and reading other poets' work and listening, and writing some more. All these lead to a better sense of when to edit and when not to edit, which is a huge part of the writing "craft." But I'm constantly evolving as a writer. What I needed to do yesterday may not be what I need to do today or tomorrow. Sometimes the most important thing is to just write. Other times it's important to shut up and be self critical. Yet part of the craft is figuring out the proper balance between being self critical and still being confident in one's voice. It also means both teaching oneself to stay within molds and striving to break out of them - and not doing one to the exclusion of the other. In other words, there's no easy answer. Just keep writing, keep reading others' work (living and dead, American and non), read your own work silently and aloud to yourself and in front of others, and reflect on it all. That's my take. For more specific exercises, I might recommend books like The Poet's Comapnion (by Laux and Addonizio) and Ordinary Genius by Kim Addonizio. Learn from others, let them influence you, but don't let others smother your voice.

Then again, I'm still working on my own craft and figuring out new ways to do it, so.... ;)

Shelley Chernin said...

For me, "working on craft" means learning to translate my "inner voice" (loosely defined to include any aspect of self or self in relation to not-self) into words (loosely defined to include sight and sound). I'll be working on my craft for as long as I write.

Helpful things are reading (to oneself and to others), writing, and listening (to oneself and to others). Much can be learned from being open to the response of others to your writing, not because they necessarily know better, but because becoming aware of different perspectives will hone yours.

Slow down. We live in a fast-paced world, but poetry takes time. Even that inspired burst of poetry that erupts out of you in the moment (Lucky you!), go back and savor it. Slowly. You may find that the seasonings need a little adjustment.

Sometimes I like to challenge myself to use poetic forms. Forcing myself to pay attention to meter, rhyme, etc. may not produce great poems, but it trains my mind to be aware of these conventions no matter what I'm writing.

The most unusual advice for new poets that I every heard, which was extremely helpful to me, was given by Christian Bok at a reading in Toronto I attended a number of years ago. The gist of his advice to new poets was to find your faults, weaknesses, idiosyncracies, and embrace them.

Wow. That opened doors for me.

Figure out what it is about you that makes it impossible for you to write like Emily Dickinson or Robert Frost or Richard Brautigan or whoever's work you most admire. Embrace that part of yourself. Bring it to light in your work.

Geoffrey A. Landis said...

I suppose that failing to think about word choice is the part of craft that I most see in poems that are almost-there but not quite. You don't necessarily want to use the first word that comes to you (although in the first draft, of course, it's good to get that word down and revise it later.)
The other thing that often fails, in rhymed poems, is that the poets pay attention to the hitting the rhyme and are slack on the rhythm.
Craft is only one small part of why a poem works, of course. The question "do you have something to say?" is most important.

sammy greenspan said...

I'd put craft up on the same level with having something to say.

A poem wins me over with just the right marriage of content to form. You don't get that match without attention to craft.

Theresa Göttl Brightman said...

the best advice i ever received regarding writing:

"If you want to be a writer, write."

You get "better" at something by doing it, I think. And "better" means something different for everyone.

Shelley Chernin said...

I'd put craft above meaning. As Lewis Carroll wrote, "Take care of the sounds and the sense will take care of itself."

pottygok said...

For me, "craft" is the teachable aspects of poetry, as opposed to those aspects that come from within the individual. One cannot teach someone how to be inspired, but one can teach another person how to use a strong image as opposed to an abstraction, how to craft a solid unique metaphor, as opposed to a cliche, how to tighten up the rhythm of a line (or loosen it, if the case applies), etc. These are issues of craft.

However, to tell a poet "You need to work on your craft," seems a bit silly without more specifics as to which aspect of craft they need to focus on.


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau