|Cincinnati's Library, downtown location, 2016|
"Poetry is an art that exceeds any kind of pinning down. You can't do it. How do you teach that? It's challenging. It's an art form that's wide open but magical." --Jeffrey Hillard
Magical. I hadn't thought of the word in relation to writing poetry before, but once the word was voiced, I knew it was true. Of course the same could be said of any writing since you don't know starting out what surprises will come with the ending, but I think it's especially true with poetry.
The epiphany came over the weekend when hubby and I ventured downtown to Cincinnati's main library to hear Library Foundation Writer-in-Residence Jeffrey Hillard speak. Mr. Hillard is a gifted poet, novelist, editor, and college professor, and author of four books (with three more scheduled for upcoming releases). He is also a great advocate for local and regional writers.
What a great way to spend an hour. Could have spent a couple more!
Highlights of Mr. Hillard's insights:
1. "Poetry is an extremely experimental enterprise." (Translation? Don't worry about the right and wrong of writing poetry, just try your hand--and heart--at it.)
2. "Don't wait for a poem, go to it."
3. "The first line is most important. It produces a kind of jumping off point."
4. "Three important things to kick around when writing a poem: imagery, sounds, shape."
5. "A poem will go through a myriad of changes. Think of the process as 're-entering' a poem, not revision."
6. "Re-enter and try to shape differently than what it currently is--extend lines, shorten lines. Don't be afraid to tinker with it."
7. "Step back, go back, give it a day. Later it might scream to go a little further."
8. "Experiment. This empowers the next draft with more energy or insight. Find out what the poem wants, not what you want."
9. "Ask yourself, is there a part two? Maybe more lines or maybe the poem actually starts in the middle of the last draft?"
10. "How can do you know a poem is done? You really can't know. Take the version you like."
Oh, my. There's more freedom in poetry than I ever realized. It is...well...a wide-open, magical art! I think I'm going to dabble in it a little more this year.
Along with that, I'm going to check out some of the books Mr. Hillard recommends, including:
The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry (Laux and Addonizio)
A Poetry Handbook (Mary Oliver)
In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet's Portable Workshop (Steve Kowit)
A Note Slipped Under the Door: Teaching from Poems We Love (Nick Flynn)
Creating Poetry (John Drury)
The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song (Ellen Bryant Voigt)
Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry (Stephen Dobyns)
The Art of Description: World into Word (Mark Doty)
The Poem's Heartbeat: A Manual of Prosody (Alfred Corn)
Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry (Louise Gluck)
How does the upcoming year look for you? Any new writing adventures waiting to be tackled? Any epiphanies in setting goals? Is there poetry in your cards? Are you looking for a little magic?
(Interested in hearing Mr. Hillard yourself? Check out his interview with crime novelist Trace Conger, podcasted here.)