Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Poetry Home Repair Manual

Just finished reading The Poetry Home Repair Manual by American poet Ted Kooser who was US poet laureate 2004-2006. Pretty standard advice with most of the examples of poetry taken from his own work or current American poets many of whom are unknown to me. A pleasant read none the less with some challenging insights.

I liked his references to the use of anecdote and the tendency of some to just write down their memories and think they are poems. He says:

Take any dozen current literary journals or new collections of verse, and you'll quickly observe how many poems are merely plain spoken anecdotes tricked out in lines of verse . . .

This popular means of writing lends much contemporary poetry a folksy, cracker-barrel tone, which fits nicely with the character of today's public poetry readings, which are not far removed from stand-up comedy routines . . .
Something seems to be missing . . .

If you choose to write poems like this, don't rely on just the details of a good story to lift it into poetry. You need to do more than that. Think about the speaker's characteristic voice, the syntax, the rhythm, the form, the selection of details. The story itself is merely the material. You have to do something special with that material if you want it to be a poem.

You can hear Ted Kooser read some of his own poems here as part of the Essential American Poets series of podcasts. Book review here.

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