The iUniverse Blog returns with author Sander Zulauf’s valuable pointers for would-be poets.
iUniverse Author Sander Zulauf’s Ten Rules for Getting Your Poetry Recognized in a Culture That Doesn’t Really Like to Read Poetry
1. Know the Art of Poetry, and Study the Craft. Know the things common to poetry-imagery, simile, metaphor, analogy, allusion, synesthesia. Learn about these devices and let them help you energize your poetry. Practice the forms and rhyme schemes that poets have used for centuries. Here are some recommendations: John Ciardi, “How Does a Poem Mean?”; John Frederick Nims and David Mason, “Western Wind;” Diane Lockward, “The Crafty Poet” http://www.dianelockward.com/mac/Crafty.html and Michael Bugeja, “The Art and Craft of Poetry.”
2. Read the essential poets, from the ancients to the modern. Homer, Vergil, Ovid, Sappho, Catullus, the T’ang Dynasty poets (Li Po, Bo Chu-i), Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, the English Bible (essential for understanding literary allusions), Bashō, Buson, Issa, Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Tennyson, Hopkins, Housman. Then see how Walt Whitman liberated poetry by breaking all the rules. Study his mastery of the line in “Leaves of Grass” and especially his historic and moving “barbaric yawp” in “Song of Myself.”
Emily Dickinson was Walt’s contemporary, but I believe Whitman’s book was banned from the Dickinson household because of his unabashed sexuality. She created new forms by using slant-rhyme or “off-rhyme” and took metaphor to dazzling new heights. A good introduction to her poetry is Thomas Johnson’s “The Final Harvest” and Lyndall Gordon’s excellent biography, “Lives Like Loaded Guns” (her title alludes to Dickinson’s poem “My life had stood—a loaded gun”).
Move into the twentieth century with W.B. Yeats, William Carlos Williams’ Paterson and his arch-rival T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste-Land,” followed by Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, Kenneth Burke, Wallace Stevens, e.e. cummings, and W.H. Auden. Then see the new directions poetry took mid-century with Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and all the Beat poets, followed by the later twentieth-century masters Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, James Wright, Robert Bly, Adrienne Rich, Howard Nemerov, Philip Levine, Michael S. Harper, Denise Levertov, Anne Sexton, Maxine Kumin, Ishmael Reed, Donald Hall, Gerald Stern, Billy Collins and Robert Hass.
3. “Give of yourself before you can receive.” Do this by joining a local writers group, volunteering to help out at a local literary magazine, starting a reading series at a local bookstore or café, attending conferences (notably the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, the “AWP” annual conference: https://www.awpwriter.org/awp_conference/overview ), and poetry festivals (most notably the Biennial Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Poetry Festival, four days of readings and discussions and concerts, a poetry cornucopia that has affectionately become known as “Wordstock” http://www.dodgepoetry.org/at-the-festival/2014-festival/ ), attending local poetry readings, participating in workshops, and supporting local poetry events. This effectively helps build your networking infrastructure; by seeking out and supporting various poetry groups and functions, you will in turn be supported by them. Not only will you have familiar people and places with attentive audiences listening to your work, the magazines you support will be there to publish your poetry.
4. When you write, strive to get it exactly right in language. Here I yield the floor to our late US Poet Laureate Howard Nemerov and his brilliant essay “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Skylark” (his allusive title nodding to both Wallace Stevens and Percy B. Shelley) from his remarkable collection of essays entitled Figures of Thought:” . . . poetry works on the very surface of the eye, that thin, unyielding wall of liquid between mind and world, where, somehow, mysteriously, the patterns formed by electrical storms assaulting the retina become things and the thought of things and the names of things and the relations supposed between things. So that in its highest range the theory of poetry would be the theory of the Incarnation, which seeks to explain how the Word became Flesh and why it was necessary for the Word to do this; the explanation which is given to Dante by Beatrice in the Seventh Canto of the Paradiso is sublime poetry not least because it is intelligent theory.” And this from our late great genius philosopher-poet Kenneth Burke: “If we can figure out what the poem does for the poet, we might be able to figure out what the poem does for everybody.” And this from Ms. Dickinson: “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way[s] I know it. Is there any other way?” (https://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/later_years) And this from Mark Twain: “The difference between the right word and the exactly right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
5. Revise, revise, revise. The sublime is at work in poetry all the time (see Longinus, “On the Sublime”), as sensory images magically transform black marks on white paper into a whole emotional experience. Kurt Vonnegut in his “Paris Review” interview calls this making practical jokes: you suddenly experience catharsis over things that are not there. I like to think of it a little more seriously, although that’s a pretty good explanation of the phenomenon. When the miracle occurs and your reader feels what you feel, you’ve written a poem. Some poets cherish obscurity and remove themselves from the task of making things happen in language altogether. I cherish clarity.
iUniverse Author Sander Zulauf shares more pointers on the third and final part of his iUniverse Blog.