Poetry and the End of the World
If you knew the world were to end tomorrow I don’t know how important any of us would find those unfinished and ‘as soon as I’ projects. That is unless all muse-fused, snarky, poet/songwriters were mandated to stay behind and explain, in inspired verse, what happened – besides I like the idea of second chances, and just think of all the poems and songs that would come from the residue of such an event. God has a universe-sized sense of humor – how else can you explain we humans and our world-wrecking mechanizations.
It’s said God made every woman and man
Some believe that it wasn’t a good thing
Though flawed I think we are more than worthy
Is the recall for flawed manufacturing?
I know there is poetry and songwriting in Heaven, the rub is only good poetry and songwriting is allowed. (I guess I better get to improvin’ my writing efforts) Getting better at our craft is what I’ll write about in this article. Now, nothing I ever write is written in stone, but is an exploration of ideas that I believe are worth consideration. I am about all of us bettering our poetry skills. You can take my rambling in any way you find useful.
The World Continues
I sit down after a day of rest from writing, I note that I am still here. The world did not end and the election process is about to bore us into oblivion. And it seems most everyone I know is still here – and some are not – sadly. There were no abandoned and wrecked cars on the road, and the sun came up as it has always done. The only quaking I felt was mine own, stemming from the uncomfortable interaction between our President and Netanyahu, our country’s predilection for joining in on every fist fight on the planet, how every bill in my wallet is worth less every day, whether, soon, I’ll have to decide between a ten dollar gallon of gas or paying my rent, and my concern for all those other nuclear reactors built on fault-lines, if the ultra-rich will just take all the money, if any banker will go to jail or even be arrested, or if I have the strength to weather it all. So, our responsibilities are still here, with the plethora of problems and worries we all face as well. Yep, all the dramatic materials that make up the natural resources for mining poetic gold.
We didn’t believe but we secretly hoped
That the world would change for us
With our now overdue bills and dire concerns
We were all distracted by the media fuss
Let’s have a look at using some of that poetic gold in a way that transforms it into an even finer thing.
The World and the Mundane
I have written about this before, and I think it worth a further examination. When you sit down at your computer, or writing pad, how do the poetic thoughts come to you? Have you seen something of beauty, or ruin that makes your brain percolate like a coffee pot? (a reference perhaps lost in the under forty crowd.) Has a beautiful someone walked across your hormone infused vision, instigating an obsession? Has an evil, cheating, despicable, lying, ogre broken your heart and thwarted your fairy tale expectations? Have you decided that you are the only one who sees the world’s problems clearly and are compelled to write down your lofty thoughts and inspired insights in verse to share with we less enlightened?
Before you decide that I am rude, insensitive, arrogant, or full of s**t and stop reading – it would be better, for the purpose of this article, to acknowledge the glaring truth. If we are serious poets we have all sat down and thought about and/or written in one of these ways. It is the grist of a poet’s personality, the process every poet goes through. It is not a criticism, we all can cite excellent pieces based firmly in each of the areas that I mentioned. Are those poets more or less than us? We even write a few good ones ourselves. But here is the thing, the rub, have you noticed that Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s love poetry (Sonnets from the Portuguese) is just a bit better than our own work? Or that the dark musings of Edgar Allen Poe’s work is darker than ours? Kerouac, Ginsburg, Ferlinghetti, all take existential reveling and observational poetry to a different place than we seem to be able to access. The mastery of Keats, Wilde, Mary Oliver, and Thomas, Bronte, Tennyson, Kipling, Cummings, both inspire and leave us humbled.
So what do we do? We write, and write, and keep writing!
…but here be the thing. We have to realize that our early pre-writing musing, nudged by the muse, may not be the thing that goes down on paper, or on your computer screen. In fact most lofty and worthy thoughts once filtered through our TV and computer addled mind will most probably come out mundane and banal.
The World Is Too Loud
You the reader may be thinking, “Now he’s telling me to become a freakin’ Luddite! Maybe he’ll say I have to move to the some Palin loving wilderness so I can write authentically about global warming – try to turn me into a Walden Pond loving Thoreau, writing about water skippers dragon flies, uncomfortable sweating, and my-blood hungry mosquitoes – eating leaves, dirt laden mushrooms, and stuff – when I really want to write about how that no good %$#@# broke my heart, how ‘The Man’ is out there pulling us down, or about those fools who cut other people off on the freeway. I’ m hungry – maybe I’ll go make a sandwich and read this article later.”
So what’s a poet to do? First tell your mind to behave itself – at least until our conversation is over. However, a sandwich does sound good. (Pause – imagine in your mind a muzak-ed Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven’.)
I’m back. I had a nice roast beef and swiss on a kaiser – mayo and a little dab of horse radish.
What makes great poets is the manner in which words are used. Instead of looking at the words as a casual conversation between you and your mind – have your mind look for another way, a deeper way to say what you saw – what you experienced, and not the mundane first explanation that your mind wants to give you. Our minds are lazy and unwieldy. The mind hates looking at things anew. It is designed for our survival and memorizes repeated events and environs, it memorizes what we see, hear, and feel and stores it for use in determining ‘Similars’ as a way to keep us safe from harm.
Ever notice that when you look in your journal the same words show up when your writing about your new Love – as when you wrote about your old Love (when you were briefly happy) –’ tis your mind reviewing the words attached to the feeling of new love. Your frustrations about that man or woman’ are your thoughts related to every time you have been thwarted, or frustrated, mixed in with things you have read, heard, or seen to validate those same thoughts – Does that mean you’re wrong? No, it means when you write you write through that mundane filter. I had written that I was moved by the beauty of Sadona – every time I sit down to write all that I see in my mind is every other breathtaking mountain and heart stopping vista I have seen in my life, nothing new, and nothing approaching the feelings I had at the time. I wrote one poem, from that trip, about a sad and odd little living ghost town we had passed through on the way, because I was affected, and new and fresh words were deep in me about that experience. Words deeper in me, for seeing something new, than the mundane observations my mind quickly offered.
Ken Lehnig(c)2016 all rights reserved
The World Anew
Yes, the rose is red and it has thorns, but what else does it convey – what words come to that higher/deeper mind. Does the rose look as if it were colored by blood – do you sense a connection between the rose and your heart? Does the blood red rose remind you of the loss of a loved one? Do the thorns remind you of the pain and uncertainty of relationships? Can you see that there is more to be written than:
You left me with a broken heart
as if you think I wasn’t worth a thing
I sat up all night and cried and cried
I can’t believe the sadness you bring
Really? I know your friends think it’s brilliant – it’s not. Look deeper at what you feel, find something new in the experience, and then elevate the language.
and now a broken heart
misused and discarded
did I give permission
are my tears penance
blind and gullible
a love starved
Okay – give me a break I’m a dude. We guys have to dig a little deeper. But I think it makes the point. Don’t settle on the first idea that comes in your head. That first effort is mind-conversation and suited to a journal entry – not a poem. Use the experience, dig down, and wait for the words – they will come. Let’s try again.
revealing a broken heart
an act in my life’s circus
painted tears and a frown
where I gave permission
I spin with believing
I flip with love’s hope
I fall with gullibility
a loved starved clown
playing the same scene
over and over again
Better? I used imagery that may be peripheral to the main thought. For me the Circus is imagery I associate with busy mysterious coming and goings – perhaps the way I hold ‘love’ – my lovely wife of 38 years has now made that abstract – but is a solid image for me.
I have often written about finding you poetic ‘voice’, this is how that comes about. When you flex the muscle of your mind, by dismissing what the mind flaccidly first offers, and look for another unique way to write, you go beyond a conversation and create a non-verbal, a non-conversational expression. To but it more simply – a good poem is not a conversation with your mind it is a tangible and unique expression of a new or profound experience. That experience being from memory/past looked at anew, an event/present looked at uniquely, or speculation/ future/ abstract in a unique exploration.
The craft of poetry is just this – say it in a better way until you, as the poet, are satisfied it’s the best you can do.