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Old 06-09-2001, 09:32 PM
Robert J. Clawson Robert J. Clawson is offline
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: Massachusetts
Posts: 3,404


I've had good friends and critics tell me that my poems lack a "philosophical core," that they're "impersonal," that they have no "poetic depth" or "poetic destination." That's not all: I've been called a "wordsmith," and a writer without "vision" or "soul."

I say, "Screw that stuff, I'm a reporter at best and sometimes a political reporter. But I like to make the words sing."

I've also had my "best readers" marvel at the "layers" in my poems.

Frankly, I just write about anything that disturbs or amazes me, whether it be in the newspaper or something that happens to me fishing at night. I never give thought to the "philosophy" of my work or to its "destination." I confess very little, although I write with what I consider deep feeling about friends and relatives, especially when they die.

I'm always surprised when readers find my work "difficult." I try to keep it plain (although I'm not against using the right word, brand names, medical vocabulary, or whatever diction I think is appropriate to the piece...not the potential of the reader being ignorant of the specific usage).

Given this somewhat offhand ars poetica, I ask, "Am I old fashioned or just too ordinary to excite readers?" I have some swell publishing credits, but not too many people in the workshops in which I participate seem to read me the way I expect them to. The publishing credits make me feel like a "pro;" the workshop criticism, like a novice.

I ask, is this a common experience for the rest of you who publish regularly and also participate in writers' circles?

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Old 06-11-2001, 02:36 PM
Richard Wakefield Richard Wakefield is offline
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: Federal Way, Washington, USA
Posts: 1,662

There's no guessing how someone's going to take a poem, and there's often very little to go on in interpreting what he or she might say about it, even assuming the person is sincerely trying to explain the reaction. I think that people's ability to put words to the experience of a poem is often as limited as some folks' ability to read in the first place. Worse yet, their limited ability to explain sometimes backs them into a reaction. By that I mean that once their words get going in a certain direction they are persuaded that that's where they meant to go. (I don't mean for this to be a blanket condemnation of readers or even of those who offer a negative take, only a caution.) So what the hell might "soul" mean? Well, from experience I know that for some readers it means no easily catagorized wound -- no abused childhood? no social oppression? no substance abuse? What business, they seem to ask, have you in writing poetry that doesn't have a point that will fit on a bumper sticker? The music of language is harder to hear and far, far harder to describe than is a screed of psychological or sociological dogma. Before I pay much attention to anyone's reaction I try to determine whether that person much cares or knows about poetry as poetry.
Whew, I feel better!
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Old 06-11-2001, 03:00 PM
ChrisW ChrisW is offline
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 1,651

I've been called a "wordsmith,"

Being a wordsmith (i.e., someone who has learned the craft of putting words together) is supposed to be a bad thing??
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Old 06-12-2001, 03:17 AM
A. E. Stallings A. E. Stallings is offline
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Athens, Greece
Posts: 3,208

It seems to me that if you have some swell publishing credits, at least some astute editors are reading your poems the way you intend, and that your work is finding its audience. I'm not sure what to make of the terms "philosphical core" or "poetic destination." "Impersonal" used to be high praise, in the day of Modernism. That your workshop uses it pejoratively suggests that they want something more of the confessional school... a preferance rather than an objective criticism.
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Old 06-20-2001, 10:59 AM
Julie Julie is offline
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Los Angeles
Posts: 893

Originally posted by Robert J. Clawson:

I've had good friends and critics tell me that my poems lack a "philosophical core," that they're "impersonal," that they have no "poetic depth" or "poetic destination." That's not all: I've been called a "wordsmith," and a writer without "vision" or "soul."
Yup. I've heard those.

I've also heard that I'm too personal, too sentimental, too specific, and not universal enough.

The same people always give me the same critiques, even when the poems range from impersonal satire to damn near confessional angst bullshit.

Which means, at least too me, that it isn't my problem. It's theirs.

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Old 06-21-2001, 06:18 PM
robert mezey robert mezey is offline
Master of Memory
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Claremont CA USA
Posts: 573

Bob, I don't know your poems, so I have no idea
what those friends and critics mean. The little
rubrics you cite strike me as very fuzzy terms.
They or similar charges have been made against
poets as varied (and excellent) as Cunningham,
Frost, Robinson, Bogan &c &c. In any case, good
friends should be more precise and tactful.
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Old 06-22-2001, 08:49 PM
Alan Sullivan Alan Sullivan is offline
Join Date: Aug 2000
Location: South Florida, US
Posts: 6,536

I'm a late-comer to this thread, but I find Robert Mezey's last suggestion intriguing. What could be a more difficult combination than precise and tactful?

At the risk of being neither, I would like to venture a comment for Bob Clawson. You have posted a number of pieces on the site, Bob, and I have seen some elsewhere, so perhaps I have some sense of your style. You say I'm always surprised when readers find my work "difficult."

Given your penchant for plain speech, it is understandable that such reactions would puzzle you; yet I do not find them entirely surprising. Perhaps these readers are stymied by the abrupt way in which you sometimes juxtapose details. I suppose you expect inferences to be drawn from your juxtapositions, but sometimes you may be expecting too much. Selection of detail is a very tricky business, and what gets left out of a poem is often as important as what goes in. Extraneous or superfluous details can be wearisome and distracting. Vital but absent details can be puzzling and frustrating.

I offer this observation with sympathy and hesitancy. It is always difficult to guess the effects of verse (or critiques) on readers.

Alan Sullivan

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