Is Poetry Accessible?

Some years ago, I encountered the poet/author, Gerald Stern. In this video clip, Stern recites two poems.  Each one evokes a very different feeling for me, the listener.  The first poem relates an event in the poet’s life and his response to it.  When briefly introducing his second poem, Stern states that it is “a more formal poem.  It almost rhymes.”

In my first two listenings, I didn’t understand all of the nuances of the second poem although it gave me goosebumps.  It touched something inside of me that does understand. Do you sometimes get the telltale goosebumps when reading certain poetry? That is your body’s involuntary response, a type of recognition.

No one can really tell you what you should get from a poem, painting or other work of art. When studying a painting in an art gallery, each viewer has his/her own “takeaway”. While there are ways to evaluate a work of art or a poem, it is not always necessary to deconstruct one. It feels right to me to sense my way into a painting or a poem…especially one that grabs me in an emotional or visceral way.

As a poet, there could be the tendency to want to analyze a poem you particularly like.  However, that can come later, after you’ve had your initial response and savored the essence of the poem. Listening to Stern read his poetry at least four times, I was struck by the way that he “occupies his poem” when reading it.

PROMPT:
What are your feelings after listening to each of the poems that Gerald Stern read?  Quiet yourself and listen a second time, a third time or more. Did you find his poetry accessible or relatable to your life in some way? Listening to poetry is an art in and of itself. Giving poetry your full attention, receptivity, is a good practice. You don’t need to comment or have a rebuttal ready.  If you are reading poetry in a circle, unless it is an agreed upon critiquing circle, your best response upon hearing a poem is to say “thank you.”

 

Betwixt and Between Prose or Poetry

Where Do Poems Come From?
© by Christine O’Brien

Plucked from the heavens
or scavenged from dread–
Swung upon a star
or in the lover’s eyes–
Breathed through
a baby’s first cry
or landed on the moon

Where do poems come from?
The gnarled roots of a
toppled pine–
The ecstatic branches of a
grasping redwood–
Dropped to the earth
in a widow’s tears–
Sprung up from a new flower
hatching the world

Where do poems come from?
Pushed out between my thighs
or sobbed into a pillow–
Creeping through the house
during the longest night–
Inherited from ancestors
too numb to speak
Chanted
in mindless media messages–
Twitching on the cat’s tail
as she leaps towards her prey

Where do poems come from?
Spread-eagled on the ground–
arms outstretched
Faraway places
without dreams–
Under the lamppost
kissing new promise–
In a child’s prayer
to the gods who deliver
a happier life

On the surgeon’s table
when the heart stops cold
Groping in the back seat of a car
and more
Raked embers of pain
Tattered ideas
A fallen meteor
Rotted earth poems
Encrusted pearl poems
Fusing my experience
as I
witness the universe

****
Each one of these images can be translated into at least one poem (likely many) or into a story or prose.  Do you agree?

And I do believe that any story can shapeshift into a poem.

This is a game that a writer can play with him/herself.  That is, transitioning between poetry and prose and back again.  Each writing form lends something to the development of a piece that you are working on.

For me, poetry has been a soul-touching expression.  It has engaged my deepest writer’s voice, plugged into my emotions and rendered–a poem. While prose  has been meandering, meaningful, and cathartic for me, poetry got me to the crux of whatever I was trying to express through writing.  Poetry takes me directly to the heart of what I want to say.

WRITING PROMPT:
Dancing Between Poetry & Prose:  Borrow one of the lines from the poem above (or draft your own list of where poems come from) and write a short prose piece. You decide the time limit on this one.  Then, reread what you’ve written.

Walk away for at least 24-hours.
In the next day or two, reread your prose piece.  Extract an emotion from this piece and let this feeling be your guide into writing a poem.  If the poem wants to go another way than initially intended, let it determine its own course.
This exercise is not about producing a polished poem or prose piece.  It’s an exploration in playing with two different types of writing.  Invite in the spirit of play and curiosity.

WRITING TIP:  You can glean words and phrases from your prose to develop your poem and vice versa.  By the way, there is also prose poetry.  (You can google it if you are curious.)

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