Thursday, October 29, 2009

How does your sense of your medium shape your writing?

Just a general question for all of you poets and fiction writers out there (and I am especially interested in fiction writers also working with text in a kind of sculptural way):

How does your sense of your medium shape your writing?

I was in a workshop where we were throwing around our ideas about how each unique sense of what poetry is supposed to do shapes our writing. To badly paraphrase: One person mentioned the use of language as a way to surprise itself. Another mentioned being acutely interested in the gaps both between the stanzas and between the words (and beyond that, between the poet and the reader). For my part, I've been trying to work out some ideas about context--how a poem creates its own universe, but is also informed by the larger universe, and how to exploit that balance. I found the discussion pretty generative, though, and liked everyone's ideas--especially because people had so much conviction behind those ideas.

Just wondering if y'all have specific conceptions of what poetry is/does that informs your writing, and how...



  1. I'm not positive I understand your question, but perhaps this is what you're looking for....

    I am interested in a poem as an object, a created thing, either whole and complete in itself or deliberately incomplete - in either case, the reader brings something to the poem that I as the writer have no control over. I'm interested in what a poem *does* once I set it free in the world, what kind of life it takes on when infused with other people's meanings in addition to my own. That's been incredibly educational for me, to see the way meaning changes and evolves with various readers.

    This semester we're focusing on chapbooks, short collections, so I'm looking carefully at the combined effect of these little objects, these "creatures" (to use a favorite word of one of my workshop colleagues), and how they combine to form a symbiotic organism. How simultaneously each poem functions as an independent object and the collection as a whole functions as a single object.

  2. I'm all about a poem capturing a moment that says something larger than that moment. So when I'm putting together a piece I focus on images within the moment that evoke something more. I want the poem to come off like all I did was write about a moment but the reader knows it means so much more.

    This helps me to focus when I'm writing. I catch myself chanting, "stay in the moment" when I get hung up in a piece. I hadn't really thought about this before. Great question! Now I also wonder how others work.

  3. This is a great and provocative question, Josh.

    For me, poetry is about the approximation of an experience (often sensual, occasionally intellectual) and the way its perceived which, for me, often takes on a transformative quality. I write most frequently about sex, and my poems often have unintentional elements that come out in workshop discussion that arise from their transformation.

    Those unintentional moments are what most interests me, because for me the poem is a representation of the unconscious associations and interpretations of events my mind makes. My revision process is often geared toward unearthing and exploiting those elements, and I think that is where the essential surprise of poetry lies. Poetry has to take the top of my head off, as Emily Dickinson once said, for me to care about it. That's how my sense of poetry is shaped.

  4. Loved thinking about this idea again. Sometimes I just get to writing then I forget to really focus on what I am actually doing or trying to do.

    If I know I am trying to write a narrative when I sit down then sometimes it becomes to "prosey" but if I just keep writing and look for those unintentional moments Tory mentions when I got back for revision then I finally seem to FIND the poem so to speak.

    Great topic!


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