Friday, October 11, 2013

What my brother, Frank Delaney, has to say about poetry...

In class I got you started on the blue poetry packet; as you explicate all the remaining poems in the queue, consider this:

Frank Delaney, author of IRELAND and my brother from another mother, echos me in his take on just how it is that poetry comes to be written. Or perhaps it would tell a straighter truth to say "how it comes to be written down, recorded." Listen to what he says through the voice of character Barry Hanafin:

"...nobody can actually write a poem. There's no such act as writing a poem. That's not how poems are made. Oh yes, there's the physical business of pen, ink, and paper--but that isn't whence the poem comes. Nor may you send out and fetch a poem from where it's been living. No, like it or like it not, you have to wait for a poem to arrive.

"The people we call 'poets,' by which I mean true, real poets--they're merely very keen listeners who've learned to recognize when a poem's dropping by. Then they copy down what the poem's telling them in their heads. After that, they tidy up the writing, ask their wives, sisters or daughters to type it out for them, and so the poem's finished, next to be seen on the pages of some august publication...

"The thing about true poets is--they never have to wait...

"...No sooner do they listen out than a poem swoops down, whispers something to the top of their heads, and they feel it flowing down into their brain, down along their arms, into their fingers, and out onto the page in black letters." (IRELAND 186)

Now, some of you have heard me express the very same position on this subject. Sure, there is some variance in both lingo and vision--like, dude, we lady-folk are not mere editors and typists; some of us, too, are sharply attuned to the poetic voice!--but Frank essentially agrees with me: Poems just are; they hang there in the ether, patiently waiting for an open ear into which to breathe themselves so that they can coalesce into a form that can be spread and shared.

Because I know this to be true, as a teacher I never require kids to compose poetry. Och!, a more torturous thing to do to a poem awaiting birth than to sic a stopped-up kid upon it I cannot imagine! Sure, the kid probably thinks he's the one being abused, but trust me: the damage done to the conceit is by far the more lasting. (Do you believe me? Can you see how I could be right? Do you see how I could be wrong? Do you see how the truth can be...well, wily?)

But nowhere here does Delaney aver that only certain people are fit to be poem-listeners; indeed, though a distinction can be made between "poets" and "true poets," he (and I) say that you--anyyou--can midwife the coming of a poem; ya just gotta unstop your ears and be ready for the hearin'.

Check this: This is how Delaney has another of his characters explain it, this time a Wise Woman, someone who in another text or another time, might be called down for witchery and put to the flame (smart women are dangerous to society, don'tcha know?):

"Every word that has ever been spoken or sung has gone out into the air. They're all still up there. Oh, yes, they may be jumbled up but that's the beauty of the thing. Since words have their own lives, they can choose which other words they'll associate with. They're always looking for a good home, and a poem is about as good a home as a word can get.

"...What do you suppose a poet needs?...You're thinking a poet needs stanzas and rhymes and meters and cadence. No, no, that's not how it works. By and large, words will arrange themselves, thank you very much. Yes, they may need a little help here and there to get settled into the right place in the right line and so on, but that's easily learned. What a poem needs by way of a good home is a heart of fire and a spirit of honor. Poems won't come to rest in a place of baseness. No self-respecting poem would think of entering a soul of perfidy. [BTW, there is a direct lineage between these words and one of the "ennies"... See if you can wrangle out the familial ties.]

..."Listen out for a voice that's sweet and strange. Listen out for a voice that has the heart's own tune. Listen out for a voice without vanity or contempt." (IRELAND 193-194)

You can birth a poem, even if you are not a "true poet." Frank Delaney says so, and I do, too.