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.

45 comments:

Leah said...

I think that what you and Frank Delaney are saying is that poetry shouldn't be something slaved over and forced. Anyone can compose a poem with the correct inspiration.

Abby K. said...

Again, I'm not sure how to attempt this response so I'll write what I was thinking.
I am not the type of person where writing comes easily to me. I've always wanted to have a poem 'come to me' but when it's time to write one I end up stressing myself out trying to think. I feel like writing poetry is a type of artwork that I'll never learn the secret to creating. I prefer telling stories with pictures to words. I agree that one can't force a poem out. I've always imagined the process of a poem coming to be that Mr. Delaney described, but have never personally experienced it.

Nick Arcoraci said...

I like the idea that poetry isn't being forced on us this year. Poetry can be scary to most students and having to write poetry would be like pulling teeth. However, by stepping back and letting poetry come to us instead makes the experience much more enjoyable and authentic.

Nick Arcoraci said...

I also agree with Abby and Leah's comments in that poetry should just come naturally.

Than Schrauth said...

I think this is overly focused on poetry, to the degree that it deafens us to the other things floating in the wind. All art exists as you say poetry does be it the Mona Lisa or Harry Potter. "True" Poets catch emotions on the wind and allow them to come through them into something that everyone can feel. Novelists do this as well but rather than taking emotion (even if there is a copious amount in the batter) they take pieces of humanity and turn them into new worlds. Lastly artists straddle this line whether they are creating a world to be carried away to or something that conveys emotions. There are a million ways to tell the truth, and poets aren't the only ones it should come naturally to.

nicholas michalski said...

Mmkay, I'm having a hard time picking up on these N-words.

Now I'm just starting to sound like George Wallace, or worse, James Earl Ray. Oh, lord, please don't let me die of Hepatitis C in prison!

Delaney's truths are very evident to me as someone who's been forced to write poetry for a class. It's as though writer's block took a hit of crystal meth! And not in the productive, clean everything way, either; contrariwise, in a swatting at invisible insects and peeling off your own skin way. And then, weeks after the assignment has been ruefully "completed," a spark comes, as if right outta yer a-...erm...temporal lobe. I thought of one randomly just today, about my nose of all things!

See, I can write prose if forced to, like an in-class essay or for half-hearted homework assignments, but poetry is that rare flash-in-the-pan that needs to be totally organic. Fortunately, most of the poems I've written in my short years stink out loud. Good riddance, I say.

Inspiration can't be forced, like gym class or state testing. A smart guy named Pat Vecchio who taught a workshop I went to once called it "sticking your finger into the light socket of the Universe." I like that sentiment.

However, you don't need to have inspiration to read books, or crack open a poem (or rather, crack open a book or read a poem). Conversely, they can give you inspiration. Inspiration one could, if one chose, channel back into making more literature or poetry. What a quaint li'l cycle.

Anyway, I think I've rambled enough. Away with ye.

--n.wm.m.

Daniel Cross said...

Oh my God, Goddess/Delaney. PREACH!

I totes agree with you both. I think anyone can poetry, but I don't think everyone should because more often than not the poem is thrown together without a thought in the world. They try to write poetry without inspiration to do so, and because of this both writer and poem suffer because of the neglect that the author offers to the written words.

Imagine, some hipster in a non-Starbucks cafe thinks s/he is being unique and clever by writing about the man and his evil workings that effect society in blah blah ways, legalize everything, peace, love, coexist, totally original. Though the thought makes me shudder, it technically still counts as poetry. If said hipster has actual inspiration about society and corporations, then s/he can probably come up with a damn good poem. It could be moving; it could make me rethink my views on [insert risque topic here]. It could still be good because inspiration was the driving force behind it, not just the urge to not be a part of the mainstream.

I think inspiration to write is real and rare. I think when people experience it, they are able to produce great works and it sets their writing apart because of how good it is. I don't think people can just throw together some words and give it a title and meaning, though some do (I'm talking to you, James Patterson!).

Don'tNeedToKnow said...

So if one wishes to protest, fight for a cause, must they wait until a piece just floats into their ear?

Jake Maslak said...

This is really a great thing to read for me because I do not enjoy poetry as much as the average person does. I like the fact that we are not forced to write poetry this year. I like how he says that poetry should come to the poet naturally. His puts me at ease because I am not a fan of writing poetry.

Matt Civilette said...

Since we have started these poetry explications in class, I have been thinking back to my own--9th grade poetry-project bouts of lead-laden--poetry. The stuff sank quicker than the Salem witches.
Being forced to write poetry was nothing more than a waste of ink on paper. In comparison to the in-class poems in which there are many levels of stuff, my own poetry seems to be nothing more than figurative prose.
I thank thee for insight on poetry without having to crudely muck some of my own words together on a piece of paper.

Margaret Wright said...

I really liked this post for a few reasons. I really understand was Delaney is saying when he says not everyone can write poetry, because I strongly believe I am one of those people. I think of poetry as art and the same way I can't draw, paint, or sculpt, I can't write beautiful poetry. It's okay though, I think you either got it or you don't, and I've learned to truly appreciate painintings and poetry because the people who created them helped make the world a more beautiful place. Reading the Wise Woman's words made me think of a quote I once found, "Every book you've ever read is just a different combination of 26 letters." It's truly amazing to me how poems have so few words yet such rich meanings and reveal so much to their audiences. There's something about poetry that's so organic, as the Wise Woman said, yet so complex it's amazing to me.

Margaret Wright said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Courtney Styborski said...

I think Frank Delaney tries to say that only some truly gifted people can be true poets, those who can just listen for a poem out of the air. while others force them selves to create poetry. I will admit that I'm not a true poet, I have to work hard for what I write in my poems, I don't just get the influence from the world around me, but do I envy those who do..

A Cobb said...

I'm definitely no "true poet" but I do agree with how poems can't be forced. The very few times I've been able to write a semi-decent poem was when I wasn't really thinking about it and it just happened. I'm really glad we're not being forced to write poetry this year because it never turns out right and the result is just some words thrown together on paper.

Anonymous said...

I am ecstatic that you do not make us write poetry this year. I always felt so forced and pressured to write a poem in the past couple of years. I completely agree that you cannot just sit down and write poetry, you have to feel it and be in the right mood/place.
-Ali Coughlin

Andrew Mignoli said...

Then the way i see it, every day, every moment, is filled with hundreds of poems. They are inside our keyboard, creeping under our bed, falling with the rain etc. It just that most, if not all, remain invisible. A good poet can catch a few here and there, and in theory the number of poems you can write in a single day is limited only by time itself; however, in practice this will never happen. Poetry requires sight, and most of us are either blind or nearly blind. For most people it takes getting thrown into the sun to produce something genuine.

Mrs. C said...

@Don'tNeedToKnow; 5:13 pm, 10/14/13:

No, because with the wish comes the whisper.

Okay, yeah, I know; that was glib. But it's also...erm...true. I'm not talking about "blow out your candles" wishing here; I'm talking about being impassioned. That which drives our passions to cause also carries our inspiration. And if one does not feel so inspired to tell the truth, then one is not yet fully impassioned. I'd even argue that we can gauge our commitment by our level of articulation about it--when we first come to our cause, we are often almost completely *inarticulate*; it is as if our outrage needs to consume a bit of fuel and stoke down toward its core ember before we can focus it and direct it. If we find ourselves flailing in an effort to articulate our cause, we may have too much raw fuel to consume...or we *may* actually be simply experiencing a "me too!" moment rather than our own abiding, passionate commitment.

Mrs. C said...

@All: remember, for our purposes, "telling the truth" is a metaphor for carrying the tribe's/culture's truth--storytelling; making LIT-tra-cha!

Eliz Arnavut said...

This blog force just put into words what I have been thinking for years. "Good" poetry is like good art, good music, and...believe it or not but it is also like a good politician. Anyone that can hold a pen and put words onto paper can create a quote-on-quote poem. Hell, anyone can write a few words and call it a haiku. However, those haikus and the vast majority of poems out there rarely speak to people. They cease to make people stop and think about their daily lives, about life in general. They don't provoke emotion and create passion for anything. They don't make you feel...they are really no better than a few simple words thrown on a piece of paper...this is because "good" poetry is like good art or music in the sense that it should evoke some sort of passion and it should make you stop and think about the world. The words should come alive and become meaningful; this is something that a poem can do only if it is being written about passionately. The author must have passion in order to transfer that energy to his or her readers.

Eliz Arnavut said...

I mean...good poetry is like an epiphany. It has to come to you, nobody can force it...and when it does finally hit you, you will become passionate about this new "cause" or "truth" and you will do everything you can to convey this message to others.

Cody Cunningham said...

Poetry isn't something that can be forced out and THOUGHT up at a moment's notice. In order to compose true poetry, the author has to WANT to hear poetry before he or she can write it down because thats what poetry is: It's already written. Now, how can something be already done and finished before somebody actually words it and creates it? That's because an author shouldn't have to think in order to craft a true poe. The words and the content should already be swirling around in his or her head. The author just simply has to take the time to listen for the poem with out actually trying to create it himself. Then again, how can you just simply listen for a poem without actually trying to create one? If someone listens for poetry in their head in order to write it down, then they are still attempting to write and create a poem. Aren't they? Or ar they just litening to their mind blurt out intelligent and meaningful stanzas without knowing it?

Anna said...

I love to write, but only about things I feel passionate about. Therefor I completely appreciate the fact that you won't make us crank out poetry like some kind of factory machine. Poetry and writing in general is something that you must feel. It has to be natural, and if it is forced chances are it will kind of suck and you won't feel good about the end result. I'm really starting to like this Delaney guy.

Haley S said...

When we first started explicating poems this year I was having flashbacks to middle school poetry lessons, but when I realized we weren't going to be forced to write a poem or have the steps of understanding a poem shoved down our throats I began to actually enjoy poetry. I think what Frank Delaney and my classmates have said about poetry just coming naturally is completely true. Not everyone can write poetry, including myself.

JeelR said...

Poetry has to be something that comes to you, you can't just approach words and phrases by grasping them at random and slapping them down on a piece of paper. You have to approach a poem as Harry would with Buckbeak. In the movie, Harry had to approach the bird horse mutant thing with extreme caution but at the same time, he had to "listen" to Buckbeak in order to tell whether or not to advance or draw back. Harry basically had to look at Buckbeak's 'body language.' Afterwards, when Buckbeak trusted Harry and vice versa, he could ride the bird. Unlike Harry who had properly chosen how to approach Buckbeak, Malfoy just approached Buckbeak with a narcissistic attitude and therefore didn't "listen" to Buckbeak which led to Malfoy being injured. Rest assured, in real life we are not going to be injured by poems or mutant bird horses alike. We have to approach poems smoothly and with good intentions letting the poem come to you. Nobody should approach poetry with the same attitude Malfoy had with Buckbeak or as someone who just wants to get his/her poetry homework over with. Everyone can produce a poem, there just needs to be, "a heart of fire and a spirit of honor." Malfoy could have ridden on Buckbeak if and only if Malfoy had dropped his conceitedness. So the next time you approach a poem, think of Buckbeak.

Kennedy Kujawa said...

Another insightful collection of words by Delaney--what a treat! I agree that poetry isn't something that should be forced. I've tried to force myself into "writing mode" plenty of times and had nothing good come of it, but when I just let the words do their own thing, I'm usually proud of what I've created.

Anonymous said...

I like how Delaney says that anyone can write poetry, but for some it just comes naturally. I agree that poetry shouldn't be forced, it should be felt by the person writing it. I like writing poems and stuff for myself, but I'm happy we don't have to for class.

-Aleah

Sarah Hart said...

I think that good poetry comes from experience and it should hit you like a ton of bricks when it wishes to be composed. Poetry should not be written by someone who sat down and thought "Okay now I need to right a poem". No, a poem should come from thoughts that a person cannot control and later on put together in a way for a reader to understand. The poem should be a direct door into the author's head.

Ryan M said...

I think that all too often teachers feel that students should have to compose poetry as a change of pace from the countless prose writing assignments. This, however, does exactly as is said: it tortures poems and students alike. This is not fair to either. Poems must come naturally and if they do not then they are not truly worthwhile poems, because they have been tormented and tortured.

Ally G said...

It made me really happy to read that we wouldn't have to write poetry in this class. When a teacher tells me, "write a poem!", my mind isn't open to new ideas, rather it struggles to come up with simple rhymes or themes. Poetry shouldn't be forced because it will come out uninspired. I love the idea of sitting back, listening to the words in the air and putting them together to make magic. That is much more inspiring than forcing words together that "kind of" rhyme but not really in order to make a poem that basically sucks.

Anonymous said...

Poetry has never been easy for me to write. Putting words that are all scrambled up in my head, onto a piece of paper the way I want it to go is very difficult for me. I believe that having the ability to write the way you feel is a gift but it can also come with some time and effort. One word I could use to describe poetry is complex. There are many different words, pieces and meanings to one single poem.
-Maddy Crandall

Cassie Kaminski said...

This post, and what Frank Delaney wrote, reminded me of the poem we looked at in class,'Parents', and how the author from looking at the news report was able to turn it into a poem using almost the same wording. This relates because Frank Delaney was saying that true poets can hear and see a poem, and that it will come effortlessly to them.

Aubrey C said...

Writing a group of words down doesn't create poetry. Poetry is in the emotion, the inspiration, the thought behind the words. I believe that anyone can write words on a page, but if it means nothing to the writer, is it poetry? The ability to write something isn't enough. There has to be emotion and thought behind it.

dylan meyer said...

I'm glad we aren't forced to write poems this year because I can't. I agree that poems have to come naturally. You can't just write a poem whenever you want.

Matt Sheridan said...

I agree with Delaney in that poetry shouldn't be tortured or forced. I hated having to be forced to write poetry in ninth grade and I really hope we don't have to write any this year.

Brianne Ihasz said...

I strongly agree with Delaney's notion that poetry doesn't simply come to anyone who is literate enough to write a decent composition. This can easily be compared to music composition. I could've sat down at the piano when I was seven years old and plunked out a melody and called it a composition. Now mind you, it wouldn't sound good in any way, shape, or form, but I composed SOMETHING, right? Does it sound the same as Mozart's compositions at the same age did? Absolutely not. Not everybody is made to write music. People can try as hard as they want, but if they weren't born with the natural talent/ability like the famous composers whose names have been floating around for the past three or four centuries, there's no way that they'll make it to that level. This is exactly like being a poet. Anyone could write a haiku about a flower, but a "true poet" will go that extra distance to make the reader sense everything about the flower. The descriptive words, the imagery, the emotions being stirred; I have personally witnessed this talent among my peers and I know for a fact that I do not possess it. However, I think that the fact that I don't have the knack for writing poetry gives me a greater appreciation of those who do.

Claire O'Brien said...

Once again, I agree with Delaney's beliefs. Poetry shouldn't be forced on someone searching for a topic to write about. People cannot create a poem when it is assigned to them. Poetry is created through experiences and strong feelings. Good poems seemingly flow out of a "true" poet's mind when they find inspiration. The "true" poet does not focus on looking for rhymes and words that fit the meter. The words of a poem come together as the poet experiences an event or spontaneously feels a burst of joy, anger, or fear.

Skylar S said...

I love what Delaney had to say about poetry. In my own experience, I've found it much easier to write poetry when I want to/find the right inspiration, then when we are forced to come up with poetry that fits a certain set criteria. Poetry is something that should be created with love and care, not made up the night before it's due for class.
-Skylar S

Kale M3nd3z-deM3ll0 said...

The poem we read in class about the girl being forced to shoot the family dog was a great poem. But it was copied word for word from an article. I don't think this makes it any less legitimate. In past years, I have hated the poetry units. I hated trying to analyze why a poet wrote something the way he did. But some of the poems we have read so far this year make me really think. I do agree that anyone can birth a poem. A truly great poet will have the truth come to them. There is no need for them to fiddle around with words.

Kale M3nd3z-deM3ll0 said...

Interestingly enough, after reading this post I feel more confident in my poetry writing skills.
Funny how that works.

Brigitte B said...

I only like "good" poetry when "good" people create the work of art. No idiot should grab a pen and paper and start scribbling their freakin' life down. No one cares! No one gives a crap about their story. And that's why I'm glad poetry isn't our vcenter of life this year. Poetry is Hell to me and honestly that's all I have to say.

Mrs. C said...

From Brie T: "This is absolutely my favorite blog post yet. I completely agree that poetry is not written, but felt. It is almost as poetry is its own entity which writes its own story; tells its own truth. It is impossible to write a poem, but easy to take note of one's surroundings and/or feelings, forming the words in a poetic manner."
...because she couldn't get it to post.

Desi L said...

All three of these are so deep and meaningful. They resonate. It's hopeful. It makes the art of poetry making sound totally different then even the school makes it feel.

It makes poetry sound, also, like more of an impressive art form.. as if it wasn't already!

cody smith said...

I agree that anyone can write a poem. Although, I feel like you don't really have to be a "keen" listener to do so. All that is necessary for writing poem is slapping some words down on a peice of paper. For instance,
Brush Brush Brush
The fly dwindled about
whistling through the air
landing on french fries.
The ceiling came down on the fly and it was gone.
Just like the rocks of my un-centered format, of which
retreats for undesirable favors.

... poetry is as abundant as the amount of atoms in this world, it's not that special.

cody smith said...

...It works as long as you un-specify it so that you can leave it to the reader's imagination to try to understand what you're talking about

Daniel Cross said...

Cody Smith said, "Although, I feel like you don't really have to be a "keen" listener to do so. All that is necessary for writing poem is slapping some words down on a peice of paper." I fundamentally oppose this. Slapping words down is just butchering what could be a good poem. Even if it is being left open to interpretation, it has to be well written. Or just not complete crap. I think writing needs to have inspiration behind it to make it actually good. I think being a keen listener is the best way to get inspiration to write because so much information is just thrown around all the time and there are always good writing topics being thrown around as well.