As I spend time thinking about words, digesting words, rolling them around in my mouth and then my chest, I realize more and more the power of efficiency. Poetry, good poetry, capitalizes on the efficiency of language. So often when I speak, write, or even think, I’m not using the word that I actually mean to use. Being accurate with language is no longer valued in speech. Sure, we all appreciate hearing well-read, witty people share their views, but I rarely make an effort to search for the most accurate description possible. This is pathetic, since I call myself a writer.
Writing poetry daily has forced me to slow down and examine my words. I’m learning how to cut the fat, so to speak. Now I’m learning how important it is to go inside the poem with a scalpel and take out all of the waste.
Perhaps I was drawn to form poetry, namely the sonnet, in college because form demands efficiency.
Brad Leithauser, in an essay titled Poetry and Efficiency for The Best American Poetry’s website, writes of the sonnet:
“Efficiency? Effectiveness? What could be a more effective and efficient human interchange than the one in which someone you’ve never met offers you, in a tidy package of fourteen lines–a gift whose unwrapping will require no more than a minute or two–an intact and insightful new vantage on the universe?”
This accuracy, this efficiency, is necessary in poetry, so that once you cut away the fluffy lines and useless or unclear images, you’re left with the purest, most concentrate words on the page.
I would love to hear any thoughts on word choice and efficiency in poetry, or in life in general! Thanks for reading.
My friend Mari Stanley and I have started exchanging poems for our own little workshop sessions done via email. Now April is here and we both signed up for The Southeast Review’s 30-day Writer’s Regimen. For 30 days we’ll both get a prompt, access to podcasts, a reading-writing prompt, a “craft talk” with an author, and a literary quote delivered to our inbox. I’m pretty excited about it. The challenge is to write a poem a day for 30 days, even if the poem isn’t great. We have to “flex our writing muscles” — and I want to do just that.
Mari also told me about Poetic Asides with Robert Lee Brewer, which will also have a prompt a day for the entire month of April.
Let’s celebrate the enchantment of words!
“How am I not myself?”
– I Heart Huckabees
I am a recent college graduate from a state school who cake-walked through most of my academia. It’s not that I didn’t try, it’s just that I didn’t have to try very hard to do well, if you know what I mean.
As an English writing/journalism major, I was caught in the middle of two disciplines. My studies in English taught me to express myself, and my journalism studies taught me that the expression I valued so highly was simply editorializing, which was not ideal.
There was not much talk of life after college, of career goals or roads to take to make them happen. My senior project was a sonnet sequence based on James Wright’s sonnet Saint Judas. Here’s one of them:
Our Last Meeting
My name, my number, how my day began,
were unimportant. Sitting on the end
of grandpa’s bed, I listened to the fan
and felt its breeze. I wanted to extend
the moment, take in all the smells and all
the words that crawled like caterpillars from
his lips. I held my breath; I swear the walls
moved in on us. I willed the words to come.
And then he said, “You daddy thinks I’m mean
to people, but I’m not.” His hands were sheer
as butterflies but wired like machines.
I held them so they couldn’t disappear.
And even when he died, I couldn’t say
the words that clogged my throat then slipped away.
And what did I learn from that? I learned how to write a sonnet. (Did I mention I’m a sucker for form poetry? Well, I am slightly a nerd that way.) I really do love writing sonnets. Especially ones that trick you into thinking they aren’t sonnets. For instance, here’s a Kim Addonizio sonnet I love from her collection What Is This Thing Called Love:
What happened, happened once. So now it’s best
in memory—an orange he sliced: the skin
unbroken, then the knife, the chilled wedge
lifted to my mouth, his mouth, the thin
membrane between us, the exquisite orange,
tongue, orange, my nakedness and his,
the way he pushed me up against the fridge—
Now I get to feel his hands again, the kiss
that didn’t last, but sent some neural twin
flashing wildly through the cortex. Love’s
merciless, the way it travels in
and keeps emitting light. Beside the stove
we ate an orange. And there were purple flowers
on the table. And we still had hours.
Ahh, Kim. So I digress with the poetry, but I’ve found my way again. I was rambling to get to this. Who in their right mind would pay me to write sonnets? Sonnets cannot pay my rent, sestinas will not buy food, and heroic couplets can’t pay my parking tickets.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading my rambling.