Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Don Paterson Workshop

The Don Paterson workshop was great. No abstract statements, everything related to a poem on a page. Don started from the premise that all the poems were good and offered ideas and comments on improvement. We joined in. This is what we do at the Boyne Writers and LitLab so I was very much at home.

Below are some of the notes I scribbled down as far as I can decipher them. All were made in the context of comments on an actual poem.

The reader should struggle with the ideas in the poem not struggle with who is who, what is the setting etc. Dramatis personae, location, chronology are easy to include, even in the title, and they help the reader engage with the poem.

It's OK to have multiple meanings but most attention must be paid to the surface meaning.
Try not to allow too many possible interpretations. Narrow the band width of interpretation by the clues you give the reader.

Concrete description sometimes lead to having too many plosive sounds in a line or stanza. Too much of this is difficult for the reader to negotiate. Words like of, the, when can often be breathing spaces in a poem. Abstract phrases usually involve fricatives. Balance both types.

Beware of too much "poetic" description. Over-kill should be avoided though a little over-kill is great. Turn down the volume a little. Avoid too much alliteration. When it barely registers it's best. Cut out superfluous words and phrases. Shorter lines often help, they force you to remove qualifiers.

The use of brackets in a poem draws attention to that which is enclosed so it better be important.

Trust the reader. Allow the reader room to read. Show the effect not the cause. Avoid informational overexplaining.

Punctuation is very important. It is the brake and accelerator in poetry. The line break itself is a form of punctuation. Too much enjambment makes the reader wonder why you used this line length at all. Don't break a wonderful phrase. The poetry line is a mnemonic phrase. Use the caesura - move it about in the line. Elizabeth Barrett Browning is an expert at this. Louis MacNeice's use of punctuation is great.

Decide on the form as early as possible. Form helps to shape the material and eliminate bad stuff.

Title. The default is -Say what the poem is about.

With some poems I don't mind that I don't understand them.

Don used the word metonymy a few times. I've heard it but never knew what it meant so it thought I'd better add it to my vocabulary. This from Wikipedia.

Metonymy is a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept. For instance, "Westminster" is used as a metonym (an instance of metonymy) for the Parliament of the United Kingdom, because it is located there.

Metonymy may also be instructively contrasted with metaphor. Both figures involve the substitution of one term for another. In metaphor, this substitution is based on some specific similarity, whereas, in metonymy, the substitution is based on some understood association (contiguity).

Don mentioned a couple of great poems as examples in connection with particular poems which were being criticised: Anthony Hecht: More Light! More Light!; Robert Frost: Design


Anonymous said...

Michael, thank you so much for your generosity in sharing the useful and insightful comments from the Don Paterson workshop. However,when clicking onto Anthony Hecht's 'More Light! More Light!' I was much too gut-wrenched by the contents to study phrasing, alignment etc. Such is the power of good poetry.

Padhraig Nolan said...

Thanks for that wonderfully thorough overview Michael! It really was an excellent workshop. Another couple of things he mentioned;

- too many adjectives can cause a poem's wheels to spin - use syntax to give the reader traction.

- he mentioned how he himself allows new words to magnetise themselves to the initial rhythms of his early line or phrase, (preferring this approach to the 'carving from a block of marble' approach of an overly bulky first draft). I love this and have found it useful already.

Some other interesting technical terms he dropped in passing:

Suprasegmental :

The Specious Present :

That last one is particularly resonant to the overall themes of this year's festival!

I'll include a link to this post in on my own Poetry Now blogpost.



Connie Roberts said...

Michael, many thanks to yourself and Padhraig for posting feedback on the Don Paterson workshop. I'm envious--it sounds like it was a terrific workshop.

AquaMarina said...

thanks for sharing your notes Michael, that is so generous of you. I get a real sense of how the workshop must have been - there's such a quiet, purposeful energy about what you wrote down

Michael Farry said...

Thanks AM, Anon, Connie and Padhraig. Thanks P especially for adding those notes which I missed. It really was a very interesting helpful workshop and it helped me to actually write down the ideas in some formal way afterwards..

Niamh said...

That was brilliant, I'm taking notes!
(thanks a million!)