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

Author As Observer

10:04January 2, 2015. 1:10 PM — approximately a week after finishing Ben Lerner’s inside-out, upside-down novel, 10:04, and my mind is still reeling as if from a drug-induced experience (or, at least, my perception of what a drug-induced experience could be like). That’s the simultaneous joy and pain of stepping inside Lerner’s mind for a few post-Christmas days: Lerner’s particular intensity of observation produces a similar intensity in his readers. One begins to notice everything as the author shows you what he notices. I haven’t slept as well since simply because I can’t turn my mind down enough for good sleep.   Continue reading

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

Poetry for the Prosers


Intentionality of words is something poets speak of often and value highly. And I think us authors of prose should attempt to cultivate the same efforts of word-smithery. For a poet, each word and grammatical mark – even individual letters sometimes – carries the potential to affect the entire poem and the way a reader views or hears it.  Part of the poet’s genius is in the sound manipulations he or she can create in the reader’s ears.

But can prose manage that?

Considering length it would be difficult to contribute that much care to each mark on the page as many poets do. But what about some of the longer epic poetry like “Paradise Lost” or “The Divine Comedy” (see also “Beowulf,” “things by Homer,” “Canterbury Tales,” “The Waste Land”…) Some of these are probably longer than the last book you read. Continue reading

Not fantasy, but will sure take your brain to other worlds

Look what I found today!

comprehensive list of all the poetry collections that have won the National Book Award since 1950. This is a rich resource of thought that I hope to one day get through in its entirety even if it takes me the rest of my life.

Poetry isn’t my first love, but every couple of months, my need for it is rekindled, and I set the novels aside to find joy in short collections of words I don’t usually understand. What’s got me so giddy about a confusing mire of abstraction? I can’t always explain it. Some poems don’t touch me at all; others hound my soul for days. Sometimes a line or couplet of words will hit me in a way that makes me feel like my life is not/can not be the same after. Continue reading