Writing and Defamiliarization with Lyn Hejinian

In recent poetry meanderings, I came across a poem by Lyn Hejinian in a Poetry Foundation podcast (called PoemTalk) that I find enormous enjoyment from and don’t talk about at social events.

Lyn Hejinian, 'constant change figures'

Lyn Hejinian, ‘constant change figures’

The poem itself – imaged here and linked appropriately – takes the reader on a circuitous rout of reflection and memory that the poem’s form reflects. It’s brilliant. You’ll have to read it a few times before it leaves more than an evaporating mnemonic impression. This is my attempt at working out some of its ideas and the further ideas it produces in me as a writer.

I spent some time with the piece. What I found interesting enough to chase after when I set the poem aside was Hejinian’s curiosity in everyday life and how we talk about it. She defends these things as important settings or subjects for avant-garde literature. Or any literature and art, for that matter. Continue reading

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How Reading Poetry Can Sharpen Your Ability to Write

The Art Of Reading Poetry: Internalize Its Care for the Written Word

PoetryWhy is it that a 90-page book dressed in pastoral colors and containing a greater amount of white space than text seems more daunting than Crime and Punishment?

From the golden days of the sonnet to the free-verse poems of today, poetry has suffered from anonymity. It’s often neglected in the classroom, and I’ll bet the Auden or Frost on your grandparent’s shelf hasn’t stretched its spine in a while. And yet this often overlooked form of literature has a power that can be stronger and sharper than prose.

There is certainly an art to reading poetry (not to mention writing it) that can feel elusive to the unintentional reader. Reading poetry so often feels like listening to the joke that everyone but you understands, and that’s partly due to the unlock-the-riddle way it tends to be taught. Continue reading

World Building: Art

Classical Art The Oath of the HoratiiI have a tendency to get stuck in my characters’ thoughts and actions so often that I forget to see through their eyes. The world in which a character lives – whether fictional or historical – has a broadening or shrinking effect on the way readers see that world. The author can use both to his or her advantage. As narrator, we decide where we want our readers looking, but we also want to give them a sense of the background – a fuller picture of what world they’ve arrived at for the duration of the story.

I’ve said this in so many words before, but in similar posts I’ve stopped at trying to capture the broader importance of world building for fantasy. That only goes so far, and it would be a tad ironic to ask you to think only about world building through the lens of one of my wide gestures.

So let’s talk specifics. Continue reading