Reading About Writing Poetry

Does one need to be an architect to enjoy the Sydney Opera House?  No, but if you want to be the designer of a building of the significance of the Opera House, you’d better understand how one should be built, even if it is just to be familiar with the terms like “structural steel,” or “angles,” or “suspension,” “right angle,” and various stress calculations. 

Does every person writing poetry need to understand what has been called “The Rules For the Dance“?  No, but there is much to understand about the “Why” and “Wherefore” to help a writer clearly communicate why something might or might not work other than “It flows good.”  I look at this knowledge as something which can be shared with others as why a line “clunks” as much as to how it will inform my own work.

I never hear musicians criticize each other for knowing how to notate music, or for practicing, or if they even just know how to play the damned instrument.  Why is it that if one writes about poetics, or scansion, or how sonic qualities are created, then the academic stance is criticized as irrelevant? For goodness sakes.  Poetry is a craft like any other craft.  What might initially be an unconscious act can be enhanced, sublimated even, through the conscious act of working through the craft. 
Lighten up, folks.  Ignorance is ignorance and it is not helping you improve your work.  I cannot agree that the study of the craft of poetry itself is irrelevant.  Do I believe that to write poetry well you have to attend an MFA program, or “study under” a specific school of thought?  No.  But to at least read others work and think about it, be curious as to why something works or doesn’t work enough for you; to deconstruct the work piece by piece, examine the pieces, and try to coherently express your thoughts about what would make the work stronger — that is one of the best ways to learn.  But to “coherently express,” one must have language and this language must be acquired because it is certainly not part of the common vernacular.  But really, if you’re not curious enough to read a lot of poetry – works other than your own – and read the works critically, can you say you really love poetry, or is it more you just love the sound of your own voice?
So what does it mean to read a work, “critically“? to engage in critical thinking?  Let’s start with some basic definitions of even just the word “critical.”
From Wordsmyth.net:  critical

characterized by or involving careful and exact analysis and evaluation.

 Scientific research requires critical thinking.
synonyms:
analytic, discriminating, evaluative, investigative
similar words:
discerning, exact, meticulous, painstaking, scrupulous, serious, systematic
To be able to express “exact analysis” or “evaluation,” you need the language as the first step.  One example of sloppy phrasing, and inexact verbiage is the common phrase, “good flow.”  Now can you give a specific, concrete definition of “good flow”?  I know I certainly can’t.  What does “Good flow” really tell a writer?  1)  that their rhythm is even?  2)  that the internal logic of the work proceeds as expected?  3)  that the sonic values are all soft, susurrating, sounds?  All of the above?  None of the above?  Same with the commentary “I like it.”  Why?  What part?  Was there anything in particular?
Reading about writing poetry gives you the language to be able to systematically deconstruct a work, so you can investigate the components of a poem and meticulously express what you find works, or doesn’t.  Learning about the construct of poetics is an analytical process.  There are skills to be acquired.  Some of the procedures to follow in critical thinking are to:
  • Recognize problems, to find workable means for meeting those problems
  • Understand the importance of prioritization and order of precedence in problem solving
  • Gather and marshal pertinent (relevant) information
  • Recognize unstated assumptions and values
  • Comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity, and discernment
  • Interpret data, to appraise evidence and evaluate arguments
  • Recognize the existence (or non-existence) of logical relationships between propositions
To be accused of “being critical” should be a compliment, just as being a “card-carrying liberal” is a compliment.  Sloppy work is not inherently beautiful.  It actually shows a lack of love, respect, and attention to the work itself.  The writer, the writer’s feelings, are not even secondary to the work.  Feelings should be somewhere around fifth or sixth place.  It is the work which is important and for the work to become what it is meant to be means that it is the writer’s responsibility to bring as many tools to bear to carve the work from the flesh of the air.
Now I have to go update some hyperlinks to books about writing poetry, maybe I’ll add reviews in future blogs entries.

Eight to Ten Revisions

I will admit that when I’m writing these blog entries, I’m not careful.  I want to hammer the things out, get them out of my way because I have other writing to do.  I’m not a blogger, yet I blog.  Maybe I should classify myself more as a blooger (type-o of inspiration).  Whatever.  The point is that I’m writing these blog posts because I’ve spent years on poetry boards writing critiques, comments, and exercises.  This just seems to be more efficient, albeit static means to collect them together, or work on new first drafts.  At least I have a place where I can come and crib myself, even if these posts are redundant, badly punctuated, rambling messes.  I do occasionally return to clean them up.

2015-05-11 10.18.00This post is in response to my last comment about “poetry is not from the heart.”  A poem is a crafted idea, and when written is an object.  The initial ideas, the thoughts to be expressed might be “heart felt,” “soul shards,” but the act of organizing the thoughts and thinking about their expression creates an artifact we call “a poem.”  When you first capture your ideas down onto paper or the screen, this is called a first draft.  First thoughts are more like field notes than they are a finished product.  This blog entry I’m writing, is the same – more field notes than a professional article.  If I need to, I’ll come back and scrub its face, but that’s not my focus at the moment.  My focus is the act of revising a poem.

I used to write by candlelight because I enjoy the ambiance.  I like the soothing light of tallow or beeswax more than electric.  I write by fountain pen on paper with a specific “grab” to the ink.  The paper is acid free as well, so I keep my rough drafts available until I feel I’m finished.  One New Year’s Eve I burned a trunk full of the work I’d written prior to 2000 because, face it, it was dreck.  I didn’t want to get caught dead with that stuff.

The poem I’m revising was one I started during NaPoWriMo, National Poetry Writing Month.  Writing a poem a day gets to be draining.  I had no inspiration that day, so I went to some of my favorite bookmarks.  David Steinberg’s work is some of the most unusual imagery and has a compassion I love.  His visuals tell stories we don’t often hear and that is what I find inspirational.  He’s a fabulous writer as well as a kind man who took time speaking to me during SEAF this year.  I started this poem without realizing he was going to be there.  His work has inspired a number of my pieces.  The photo above are the very first words of this piece:

Love, Lust, and Sex after Sixty
Inspired by the photography of David Steinberg’s, “Erotic by Nature”, “This Thing We Call Sex: Juliet-Victor

After I got those first few words down, I moved to the computer.  I had to get a draft posted before evening because I had a thing I had to go to.  Sometimes, I find it easier to capture words on the screen than doing it by hand – but not always.  Especially not when I’m working with rhythm and trying to craft a strongly metrical piece.  LL&S has rhythmic qualities, but it isn’t regular, so I felt pretty good moving to the screen.

I also read my work aloud while revising, but not at this stage.  At this stage, I’m just trying to push imagery and word play.

2nd attempt:

The first returns on the Google search are either "fragile uterine walls,"
 or "erectile dysfunction" (which is, of course, shorted to "ED"
 but a woman gets the whole freakin' phrase spelled out for her).
 They never tell you that while your breasts will sag with age,
 your nipples can still grow hard as pearl, or that once you know
 how to take yourself to orgasm, you can come like a train through
 the city. His hands are soft against your belly now and his fingers
 pluck at that nipple with the same interest he had when he was twenty.
 
And you, you love to feel the pump of his blood through his cock,
 especially now after there was that stillness in his forties, and the fright
 he'd never rise to purple again. But his appetite changed and he grew -
 hungry. Now time has passed and you can once again stroke him
 past blush into plum and you're unafraid to use your mouth, or your feet,
 and he is free enough now to use a cock-ring instead of worry. You jack him
 hard, you both end up laughing, glad that you're not twenty any longer.

As you can see from the above, I was trying to figure out how to introduce the topic of aging and sex.  I’d moved from “You only hear of ‘fragile uterine walls,’ or ‘erectile dysfunction.’  For men, they’re at..” to the reference of Google.  Those first few words were nearly completely overwritten by my first foray into typing.  Then while typing I could push the imagery.  I’m also working on line breaks all the time.  I use line breaks sometimes to create an element of suspense within a poem.  I want the last word on the line to be a “strong” word, like a verb or a noun, but also a word which leaves the reader with an image which will give them an expectation that “they know” what the next word on the new line should be.  And while they might be correct about the next word on the new line because those are often conjunctions or prepositions (“weak” / unstressed syllables), I like to pop an unexpected image on that new line – one which they did not expect.  So, yes, part of a successful line break in poetry is playing the untrustworthy narrator.  It’s a bit of bait and switch, but hopefully in a logical, or beautiful way.

I hated that opening, but I was running out of time and so I had to post on the NaPo site to make my daily goal.

First posted Rough Draft

The first returns on a Google search are either  "fragile uterine walls,"
 or "erectile dysfunction" (which is, of course, shorted to "ED" but you,
 as a woman will get the whole freakin' phrase bestowed like a torch
 on a mound of tinder). They never mention, though, that while
 your breasts will sag with age, your nipples can still grow hard as pearls,
 or that once you know the path to your orgasm, you can come like a train
 through the empty plains of the Dakotas.  His hands are soft now against

 your belly now and his fingers pluck at that nipple with the same interest
 he had when he was twenty.  And you, you love to feel the pump of his blood
 through his cock, especially after that stillness in his forties, and the fear
 he'd never rise to purple again.  But his appetite changed - once again -
 and he grew hungry.  Now time has passed and you stroke him past blush
 into plum and you're unafraid to use your mouth, or your feet, and he is free
 now to use a cock-ring instead of worry.  You jack him hard, you both end up
 laughing, glad that you've bested twenty in the forty years you've been together.

Needless to say the feedback was light.  That opening is atrocious, but I do like the nipples / pearls bit and capturing the use of the feet in the sex.  I love the word, “jack,” and the basic idea has a stronger middle and end than opening.  I was also gratified that Steinberg’s photograph captured the use of the cock ring on a rampantly sexual old man.  That has to be addressed and when the idea of moving from worrying about keeping an erection to the freedom to use a cockring hit, I was happy with that image.  Reading the draft aloud, I liked the line length.  I read line breaks with a breath, but that’s not necessarily the way all lines in poetry should be read.  There are many heated discussions about that very topic, and they exhaust me.  To me, it’s like counting the number of angels on the head of a pin.  There is no fuckin’ right answer or people would die reading Whitman.  Some pieces yes, some others no, so get over it.  This poem, I read the line breaks with my breath, so I didn’t run out.  ‘nuf said.

So, I showed Steinberg this embarrassing draft because he kindly asked me to show him pieces of work which his inspired and this one was top o’ the stack.  When I read the opening, I cringed, but there was nothing for it, but try to find another piece.  ugh.  Anyways, I put the piece down until I had some time in May to dink around with it.  I didn’t for long, knocking out only two more drafts which stayed on my hard drive:

Aging either "fragile uterine walls,"
or "erectile dysfunction" (which is, of course, shorted to "ED" but you,
as a woman will get the whole freakin' phrase bestowed like a torch
on a mound of tinder).
 
Before sex, aging was all wisdom, experience,
It is as though aging has been defined by "fragile uterine walls" and "erectile dysfunction." They 
never mention, though, that while
your breasts will sag with age, your nipples can still grow hard as pearls,
or that once you know the path to your orgasm, you can come like a train
through the empty plains of the Dakotas. His hands are soft now against

your belly now and his fingers pluck at that nipple with the same interest
he had when he was twenty. And you, you love to feel the pump of his blood
through his cock, especially after that stillness in his forties, and the fear
he'd never rise to purple again. But his appetite changed - once again -
and he grew hungry. Now time has passed and you stroke him past blush
into plum and you're unafraid to use your mouth, or your feet, and he is free
now to use a cock-ring instead of worry. You jack him hard, you both end up
laughing, glad that you've bested twenty in the forty years you've been together.

moved to:

She was "fragile uterine walls" and he was "erectile dysfunction." 

Before sex, aging was all wisdom, experience,
It is as though aging has been defined by "fragile uterine walls" and "erectile dysfunction." They never mention, though, that while
your breasts will sag with age, your nipples can still grow hard as pearls,
or that once you know the path to your orgasm, you can come like a train
through the empty plains of the Dakotas. His hands are soft now against

your belly now and his fingers pluck at that nipple with the same interest
he had when he was twenty. And you, you love to feel the pump of his blood
through his cock, especially after that stillness in his forties, and the fear
he'd never rise to purple again. But his appetite changed - once again -
and he grew hungry. Now time has passed and you stroke him past blush
into plum and you're unafraid to use your mouth, or your feet, and he is free
now to use a cock-ring instead of worry. You jack him hard, you both end up
laughing, glad that you've bested twenty in the forty years you've been together.

You can see that I like playing with the imagery denoting women and men as their biological tags.  I’m still struggling with the opening, “Before sex…” This work is still a response piece to Steinberg’s photographs, I still want to keep that imagery.  I’m playing with the strophe break, I want the “hands” bit to separate the “idea” portion from the “physical” portion of the poem.  I’m also beginning to work with repetition (“Now”, “past / passed”), some sonic values such as consonance and alliteration (“nipples” / “pearls” / “path”, “plains” / “train” (rhyme), “sag” / “age” / “orgasm”).

img006Then comes May 10th, a Sunday and that’s when the ERWA storytime list allows poetry to be posted.  This would be a good time to sit down with my poem and focus on it.  I start out warming up with writing drafts by hand.  I refocus by writing out the draft again by long hand.  Notice, I date my work.  I repeat the lines I want to work with.  I use most of the paper.  The underscore on the syllables is where I’m looking at syllabic stress, I’m checking for regularity.  The big forward slashes ( / ) are where I’m checking metrical feet.  I’m asking myself questions about whether or not I want to go full boar metrical to this piece.  I’m searching for new words, introducing “Peyronie’s Disease” from research.  I’m still holding to the denotations, but I’m loving the iambic rhythm of the “She was…” bit.

I still don’t like the introduction though.  It sounds like a story opening, so I am still searching.  By the next page though, I decide to echo Steinberg’s title with the variance of replacing “sex” with “aging,” because my piece is a response to his img005work.  You see this call & response type thing happen in titles as well as first or last lines.  One of the most famous pairs is Marlowe’s, “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love,” (1599) and Sir Walter Raleigh’s response (1600), “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd.”  In my case, the title for his book, This Thing We Call Sex had phrasing which concisely summarized the struggle I was having while writing about aging and sex.  His inspirational portraits were about sex and aging.  I reversed that phrase as a conscious echo of his portraits because it fit rhythmically as well as concisely summarized the theme of the poem.

I’m still playing around with verb tense, moving from present tense to conditional.  I’m playing with time progression / compression.  Verb tense is one of those items which can poke people in the eye while they’re reading a poem because jumping around isn’t hidden in a lot more words.  But now that I’m warmed up, I again move back to the computer.

1

May10, Rev3

And now for the last six revisions which I knocked out in about two, two and a half hours.  I slide words along the page a lot, playing with stanza (strophe) and line breaks.  I’m reading the piece aloud to myself constantly.  The first thing I do is migrate my written new start into Word.  As you can see, I’m working with present tense.  Rhythmically, the first line is an anapest / iamb / trochee / anapest / iamb / iamb – which is a line of hexameter – six metrical feet on one line and often considered “too long” for the English breath.  I have caesurae in the line (small breaks) with the comma and the quotes, but still that line bugs me.  You can also see that that third strophe has moved to much, much longer lines.

2

May 10, Rev4

I move on.  I still have the opening in present tense, but I’m now bringing in conditional verbs, “she would be”.  I like this set up because I’m depersonalizing a bit further, my characters are more “paper-dollish,” than individuals.  I’m also making the line lengths shorter.  I still want my strophe break between s1 & s2 to be around the “hands” action.  I’m also adding imagery around the word, “belly,” which hadn’t existed before. I do believe that would make me smile because I can add a graphic, sensual detail without being a photographer.

I have to watch myself a lot in this poem for the problem with abstractions.  Abstractions, while not classified as a defect in control (The Longman Dictionary of Poetic Terms),

abstract terms:  terms that represent ideas or concepts and that are usually taken from concrete terms, which represent the sensuous and the particularity of things experienced or known.  Abstract terms are usually broader and more general than concrete terms and tend to describe a domain of thought:  For example:  abstract: beauty, general: woman, concrete: Helen of Troy.  Abstract terms are informative and nonsensory, though they might carry strong connotations (“liberty, freedom, brotherhood”).  Although abstract terms are most often found in the more abstract realms of literature, such as philosophy, it is generally thought that some of the greatest effects in poetry can be brought about by mixing a.t.a. c.t. …

5

May 10, Rev 6

These days the pendulum is on the concrete side in criticism for the immediacy of sensuality and because no two people have the same understanding of what “beauty”, or “aging” might be.  So while I am working the abstract idea of “aging,” I’m trying to bring in as many sensual details as possible to bolster the sensibility of what “aging” is.

I’m skipping Rev 5 because that was more playing with strophe and line breaks.  Rev 6 brought about a stronger end.  I don’t really know how many times I’ve copied, or rewritten the same words by this time, but “all of a sudden,” this new image appears.  This is the wonderful part of revision.  That’s why I’m often times quite baffled at people’s resistance to revising their work.  Revision is about focusing on the work itself.  It’s carving away, or adding to, like a sculpture about your “heart’s intent.”  It’s an extended meditation on the idea you wish to communicate.  How this is a bad thing, I just don’t get.  Now, not all people’s revision process is like mine.  That, I do understand.  Some people hold the work in their head.  I can’t even add in my head, so need the physicality of moving my hand, seeing words on paper.  While my process may not be your process, there are general ideas to be addressed:  Syntax, grammatical structure, clarity of word choice, verb tenses, cliches identified and removed, use of sonic tools, concrete imagery added, to name a few.

In this draft, May 10, Rev 6, I’m also happier with the line breaks, but have lost my stanza break around “hands.”  I’ve also moved from the impersonal pronouns of “he” and “she,” to “you” and “he.”  The narrator is still third person, but is no longer addressing an external audience, but another “person,” a “you.”  I think this is the version I post for commentary on the ERWA Storytime email list.

And, as always, I ask people for their commentary on my work.  I prefer that over, “I like it.” c1 “I like it,” doesn’t tell me what the reader liked or why, much less what didn’t work for them and why.  Critique, either mild or straight-forward (some call that harsh), is the only chance you’ll have to gain insight as to what your readers’ thoughts are.  This is how you understand what communicated, what didn’t, and if you’re really lucky “why.”  When someone writes an extensive critique about what struck them in your work, that’s unparallelled generosity – even if you don’t agree.  So really, why not just thank them?  No one is saying you have to make the changes.  They’re certainly not your editor who’s paid you tens c3of thousands of dollars in an extraordinary advance.  These are opportunities for the reader to get a “fresh” view and to reconsider.  I often save the crits I receive in a separate folder so that after I’ve let even more time pass to view the work as fresh, I can return to those crits with a more objective eye. It’s also necessary to help you kill your babies.

And what do I mean about “kill your babies”?  “Babies” are those ideas, words, or poems which are really bad ideas, cliched phrases or words, or poems which have no where to go and which nothing can redeem.  Having someone tell you:

1: Someone called my poem pointless piffle, foul-smelling fluff, a wanton waste of bandwidth, or otherwise drove the spike of an unkind review through the oh-so-tender tissues of my ever-so-sensitive heart. Also my soul. What do I do?

is very helpful when learning to not write cliche-ridden, irredeemably abstract horrors of mediocre work.  I once wrote a poem repeating the phrase, “I want” twenty-four times.  Yes, that piece went into the burn pile.

To receive criticism is the reason why we post our work in workshops.  If we’re not receiving at least one comment about what didn’t work for the reader, then I’d say consider the details on the commentary you’ve received.  If they’re along the detailed lines of “I like this,” you can almost bet they haven’t read the work through.

Anyways, I still have some work to do on this piece, I’ve already been tweaking so what’s posted so far is still incomplete.  I’ve been asked to record the piece on SoundCloud, so will do that so you can hear the latest revision.  Thanks to all who’ve allowed me to reference them and their work.

Make a beautiful sound.

Poetry is not from the heart.  The idea behind the poem might be, the thoughts might be heartfelt.  The poem itself is crafted – like any other art.  There is intention.  There is purpose behind each word, each line break, each syllable and break in each syllable.  A poem is attention to detail, to the sound of sounds in proximity as well as the connotations or denotations of the words themselves.  It is symbology from sound.

article-1316136-00829B8500000258-671_233x328If one has been writing a while, the craft is part of the drafting process.  Revision draws the writer into the meditation of the technical details and the writer loves these details the way a painter loves a specific brush, desires only a specific amount of turpentine to be added to the paint for a specific texture.

Here’s an exercise to help focus you on tools other than your own intent, or meaning.  Consider writing a poem in a made-up language.  Maybe write a piece in your native tongue but then “rewrite” it in the Assyrian you never learned.

Here’s the Epic of Gilgamesh being read in Babylonian.  There’s also Assyrian poetry as well.  Or go listen to some Russian Akhmatova.  The sounds of words are part of the poetic experience.

Consider writing a poem only from a made up language.  What would it sound like?  What kind of structure would you impose upon it?  What kind of “reasons” would be behind specific sound choices?

The Names of Things

One reason I write the weekly poetry exercise is to simply spend the time thinking about the craft.  Another reason is to give my dead brain something to rise for, to begin thinking so I actually write something new.  I have writing buddies who know the end of their poem before they put pen to paper.  Me, erm, not so much.  I have to start out with a literal pen in my hand and a blank piece of paper.  I have to move that hand across the paper.  It’s only when words begin to surprise me that I begin riffing on them, playing.  Then, I have to write until I get to an end.

This week’s writing “thang” is not about a form, but a topic.  It would be a useful writing topic for most short forms of writing, but I think it would work best with poetry because in poetry you don’t have to be so literal, so linear, in the structure.  Moving from Point A to logical Point B isn’t required.  It might be good as a piece of prose, either as a flasher, or a quickie – either fictional or memoir, but the end would have to be quite pithy.  The pitfall if written in prose is that it could be a didactic piece, or fall into being too “telly”.  If you take this topic on with a poem, you can play with imagery – make a “charade” game out of it, or play with rhyme.  The “thang” is to write a poem about your name.  Where it came from, what it means, anything really.  First name, last, both, it doesn’t matter.  Just play with writing a poem about your name.  There could be fun with nonce words, or maybe make an “Ode to Thyself”,  I think a poetic form would be unique in making a theme like this particularly interesting.

Many of us have chosen our names in this genre of erotica.  Writing a poem about the “why” you chose your name makes you go stop, and remember your thoughts, then work your phrasing so it’s not just:

“I chose ‘Nettie’ as a diminutive of ‘Nettlesting’ while at the same time as being able to play with the name, ‘Annette.’  And I chose ‘Kestler’ as an anagram of ‘kestrel’ and because there weren’t fifty million Kestlers in google, so I didn’t think I’d end up with a cross-identity.”

Boring.  Might as well just put it in a form and stick it on a spreadsheet.  Anyways, this writing exercise came from one of the Guardian’s poetry workshops.  If I haven’t written about The Guardian’s poetry workshops, they’re worth reviewing.  They were run nearly monthly from 2004-2011 and had a variety of poets taking on a topic, writing their thoughts for an exercise, and then reviewing and commenting on a few of the submissions they felt had sufficient quality. They’re a great resource to return to when you’re burnt out and need something to grab onto for a topic.

Here’s the source idea for doing this exercise:

Colette Brice’s Poetry Workshop – “What’s in a Name”

Back to basics: Time to start the clean-up. Revising my work.

I finished NaPo and this month was particularly difficult.  Part of it was because I had the SEAF event, but also the theme was just impossible to maintain.  But now that the first drafts are done, it’s time to start the revisions.  Oddly enough, one of Untitledmy pieces, “Love, Lust, and Sex after Sixty” was written before I found out that the photographer who inspired the work, David Steinberg,  was going to be at SEAF.  I really need to pay attention to details, but whatever.  His work has inspired several pieces of mine over the years as he photographs humans and the intensity of their enjoyment of being in their own skin and the taste of their lover’s skin. Having now made the thirty days and thirty poems, it’s time to begin the culling, the cutting, and scraping the lipstick off those pigs.  Sometimes, yes, at this stage in my writing a piece comes out “whole,” but  – well, never.  No, I always find a tweak, a word to change, some rhythm to smooth.  Do I put all the pieces out for critique?  No.  Do I accept all the comments:  yes.  And then I say, “Thank you,” as I was taught at PFFA.  Do I revise per all the comments:  no. The most important focus in this work is the poem itself.  If I, as the writer, allow my hubris to stand in the way of strengthening the work, then I’ve crippled my own “child.”  But it is a fine line the writer must tread because A)  Not all criticism is created equal, B) Not all criticism will strengthen the piece, and C) It is entirely up to the writer to choose – unless you’re working under contract in which case, do what your fuckin’ editor tells you to do, goddamnit..  Even Yaweh’s words were edited down to create The Old and The New Testaments. Get over yourself and kill your babies.  Strike the purple from your prose.  Identify each and every cliche and pick them out like you’d pick nits from your hair.  Abstractions such as “love,” “soul” (there are more than five.  Line through every single modifier, every adjective, and adverb.  Select only one to add back in.  Pay attention to pronouns.  Reread to make sure you’re referencing the correct he/she/it. Read your work aloud.  Don’t whisper it.  Read it aloud, in a normal voice and listen to yourself.  Put the work away.  Hide it in a drawer for six months.  Then look at it with “fresh eyes.”  “Fresh eyes” take time.  There’s no escaping that. This is the process I’m about to embark on with my “Thirty Poems of Love and Other Disasters.”  Wish me luck.  I’m targeting the Walt Whitman contest this year (but I say that every year and never get everything ironed out).

Rockin’ Sumerian in Hellenic Greece

I find it interesting that this work is only around 2200 years old and it’s being claimed as the “oldest complete song in the world.”  The Wikipedia version is much shorter and shows how the lyrics, the translation, and the melody are tied together.  I’d love to see this performed and a dance choreographed. I think that dance is probably a more ephemeral art form than either words or music as dance notation is much younger and less widely used than either alphabets or musical notation.  So, maybe poetry isn’t the lowest of the low, maybe dance is.  I sure think I can dance and I suck at it too.

Words do not last forever though we’re all quite precious about them.  Stone and bronze last longer.  You have a better chance of being found and remembered if you take a chisel to a rock, or get your nails dirty by burying your fingers in the mud.  Still, the Seikilos Epitaph is a lovely piece.

[Quote:]
from Open Culture
Hear the ‘Seikilos Epitaph, the Oldest Complete Song in the World: An Inspiring Tune from 100 BC
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Its lyrics, liberally brought into English, exhort us as follows:

While you live, shine
have no grief at all
life exists only for a short while
and time demands its toll.

The surface also bears an explanatory inscription about — and written in the voice of — the artifact itself:  “I am a tombstone, an image. Seikilos placed me here as an everlasting sign of deathless remembrance.”
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