Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Detail, Attention

DIAGRAM 12.1 is finally out, and you can find my personal essay "Detail, Attention" in it. I'm especially proud of this piece. You can find it here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

It's Always Been the Same, Same Old Story

Looks like The Northville Review finally finished their web redesign, and they were gracious enough to post my micro-fiction piece, "It's Always Been the Same, Same Old Story," on the front page. You can find it here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Writing Across Genre: How Poetry Improves the Prose Writer, Part One

“Always be a poet, even in prose”  ~ Charles Baudelaire

The first thing anyone should tell an incoming M.F.A. student is: “Take as many workshops outside of your discipline as possible--poetry workshops, especially!”

The easiest way for me to draw a distinction between writing prose and writing poetry is to draw the line right where both find their beginnings: the voice. Ask any prose writer about voice, and they should tell you the same thing: “voice is everything.” To write prose is to stand on an empty platform with a microphone in your hand. To write poetry is to sit on a bench on that very same platform, only this time, you’re sitting in front of a grand piano. The differences are found in the mechanisms delivering the voice.

While voice indeed does exist in poetry, its place of residence is a tad bit sketchy. Take the person standing on stage with the microphone in hand: you can clearly identify the voice’s translation point. Aside from the microphone, whose sole purpose is to serve as a medium and amplifier, there really isn’t anything in place to mask the mechanism from its audience. The performer speaks (or sings), the sounds travel into the microphone and out through an auditorium’s surround sound system, into the audience. It really doesn’t matter how creative you choose to be with the equipment in place (auto-tune, the position of the speakers, hiding the microphone, producing a voice from off-stage, etc.), the audience knows that the microphone  is translating those sounds.

With poetry, it isn’t quite that simple. In fact, I’d argue that it can be confusing for the writer just as it can be for the audience. There’s a disembodied quality to poetry that, while it can be manufactured in prose, comes naturally:
                                               “To see the Summer Sky
                                                 Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie -
                                                 True Poems flee.”
                                                          ~Emily Dickinson

When a piano player plays, multiple voices/translators are also at play. Is the voice being translated from inside the player? from their hands? from the keys? Is the voice being translated  from somewhere else inside the machine? Is the voice being translated by the notes?

Poems have a multitude of secret compartments that sit collecting sounds, silences, rhythms, patterns, and movements that are waiting to be recalled. In short, writing and studying poetry and poetics teaches the writer to think multi-dimensionally when it comes to word choice, where the lines are drawn between poetry and prose; where the microphones (prose words) and grand pianos (poetic words) lie waiting to be accessed. The great thing for those who exclusively write prose is that both genres are fluent in the same language; the difference simply coming down to word choice.

I am not claiming that taking a poetry workshop will teach you to be more adept at using a thesaurus, though that’s not really a terrible thing either. What I am claiming is that a poetry workshop will expose you a different type of instrument for writing that can be added to your performance. Instead of just a lonely microphone, why not add a grand piano? And maybe, just maybe, you can continue on collecting more instruments. Only then, can you play everything.