Monday, September 12, 2005

Sorry for the lack of posts here the past while. I've been a bit down in the dumps because of my insomnia, which I have a chronic case of (we're talking 15 years). Hence also (in part anyway) the slow pace at which I get things done (lost days). It could also be why my poems tend to be so short. Enough whining though.

When I was a budding poet, I took a poetry workshop in which the leader told me never to end a line with the word the.

Here's a poem by W.W.E. Ross:


Black of the
branches and
white of the
snow that is
upon them—

There I see
by the street
trees with
snow on their

light, not
heavy with
liquid to

Black of the
branches but
white of the

Too bad Ross was such a hack (that's a joke). Ross makes a point of breaking lines after the word the (he does so after just about every function word, actually) and in so doing renders syntax as palpable form. This is the kind of thing I've been digging lately, at least when my brain is functioning. I plan to write more about this.


Blogger dfb said...

not ending a line with the, that is just plain stupid. i end my thoughts with the all the time. why shouldn’t poems be natural just like thoughts. glad to see your unlearning the nasty’s that get taught. keep it broken and mending



10:52 AM  
Blogger a.raw said...

it was en vogue to end lines with 'the' when i was at school, and i often enjoy the rhythmic implications of splitting a noun from its article. big space. deep breath.

i keyed on a different poetic faux pas in ross' poem: one word orphaned on a line. in school, we were taught that if you left a word on a line by itself it would often draw the eye in unwanted ways, thus placing additional emphasis on that word that an author may not fully intend. so there was always heavy speculation abt writers' choices to orphan a word.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Yeah, I think even at the time I was skeptical about this edict. It kind of points up the rootlessness that was characteristic of a lot of the workshops I was involved in. There'd be prohibitions like this one, with almost no discussion of the assumptions on which they were based. I guess in a sense the leaders assumed everyone was on the same page with respect to poetics (or, more likely, that there were no poetics, just poetry).

Anyway, I'm really getting into (or further into) the relationships between form and grammar. I'd read some W.W.E. Ross a while ago, but it was just the other day that I really keyed in on what's going on in this regard in his work.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous patricia said...

I'm sorry if this question sounds really dumb (because I'm not a poet), but can poetry really be taught? I see nothing wrong with ending a line with 'the'. What I find very confusing is the term 'poetry workshop'.

Hi Mark, btw! Hope all is well.

10:29 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Hi, Patricia. Everything is great. I've even had some sleep now. How are you?

Yeah, good question. I'm probably not the best person to answer, because though I've taken some workshops, I consider myself largely self-taught. Here's an off-the-cuff answer: Most of the value I've got from workshops (with a few exceptions) has been negative, as in saying to myself these people don't know what the hell they're talking about, so I'm going to do this. I think workshops can help you think about poetry in useful ways. I'm not sure how much they help with technique (which is what a lot of workshops focus on), because technique has to grow out of thinking. Or so I think.

1:09 PM  

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