All posts by Constance

Interview with Poet Ace Boggess

Ace Boggess
Ace Boggess

CONTRIBUTOR INTERVIEW

  1. Thanks for agreeing to let us interview you for Gyroscope Review. We’re pleased that you are one of our contributing poets. Will you please begin by telling us where you’re from, where you write, and why poetry?

I’m from West Virginia—Charleston, currently, but I’ve lived in many parts of the state. I write wherever I happen to be. I’ve been writing in bed a lot lately for some reason. As for why poetry, well, that’s complicated. Until a few years ago, I never thought of myself as a poet. I considered myself a novelist and just wrote poetry along the way. Then, while my novels were out there floundering under the weight of rejection letters, my poems were popping up in journals and e-zines all over the place. It got so bad that everyone I knew referred to me as a poet. It took me a while to accept that. Now, I write mostly poetry and call myself a poet, so of course I have a novel out. Funny how that works.

  1. Who, or what, are your poetical influences?

Early on, I loved reading Neruda and Ferlinghetti. An odd mix, I know. From there, I started reading whatever I could get my hands on. Probably the two books that have had the biggest influence on me though are David Lehman’s The Evening Sun and Without End by Adam Zagajewski. The way I like to describe is that when I’m reading those two books, I can feel the tone of my own writing shift—more kinetic and chaotic in terms of Lehman’s book, and more serious and subtle, almost soulful, with Zagajewski’s.

  1. How do you decide what ‘form’ a poem should take?

I rarely do until the poem is on paper. When I’m typing and revising, I play around with the lines and stanzas until they feel right. I rarely write in traditional forms, and when I do it’s a conscious choice in advance. With my new book, Ultra Deep Field (forthcoming from Brick Road Poetry Press), I forced myself into a form just to see if I could do it. What I decided on was a series of poems in unpunctuated couplets. I tried to see how much could go in a line or a stanza without the missing punctuation causing a problem for the reader (I quickly learned that the one bit of punctuation you can’t live without is the question mark). I wrote almost exclusively in that form for three years, carving out about 400 poems, of which half didn’t work at all. The other half mostly found homes in journals, and the better of those are included in the book.

  1. What is your writing process like? 

I read for a while to get in the writing mood—usually half an hour to 45 minutes. That’s a habit I picked up years ago when I was a drug addict. I’d take my drugs and read until they kicked in, then write. The drugs are gone now, but the habit remains, and I find it an effective way to focus. When I’m ready, I write longhand in a little notebook, make a few corrections, then do all the revising and form-seeking as I type. After a poem has been typed, I revise it once and send it out. If it’s rejected, I revise again and submit again. I almost never send the same piece out twice without having tweaked it a bit. I repeat that process until the poem is either right and published or hopelessly broken and ready for assisted suicide.

  1. Do you belong to any writer’s groups – face-to-face or online? If so, are they part of your process?

I used to. Not anymore.

  1. What do you look for in the poetry you like to read? Any favorite poets?

I look for a sense of connection to the strange. I want to feel what the poets feel and experiences their lives as if my own. If they’re exhausted or fascinated or turned on, that’s what I expect to come away with. If they’re meditative, that’s the state I want to find myself in. If they’re looking at deer or rabbits or ax-wielding clowns, I want to see them too as if they’re standing in my front yard right now … which they very well might be.

  1. What is the most important role for poets today?

I think the best thing poets can do is to help strangers understand each other.

  1. Which poets have you had the opportunity to hear read? Alternatively, what is the most recent book you’ve read?

I’ve attending too many readings to remember them all. Some of the earlier ones were Ferlinghetti, David Rigsbee, Erin Belieu, Kirk Judd, and Mark Halliday. As for books, the one I’m reading at the moment is Ada Limon’s Bright Dead Things.

  1. Any future plans for your work that you’d like to talk about?

Right now, I’m excited about the publication of Ultra Deep Field, which will be my third full-length collection. In the meantime, I have three other full-length collections for which I’m trying to find homes.

  1. What other interests do you have beyond literature?

Music and movies, mostly. I used to be a news junkie, but I’m trying to break myself of that habit. It’s not good for my ulcer.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Please let our readers know where they can find more information about you or your work:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1988292050/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482608778&sr=1-1

https://www.amazon.com/Prisoners-Ace-Boggess/dp/0983530475/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1407071309&sr=1-1&keywords=ace+boggess

http://brickroadpoetrypress.com/

On Twitter: @AceBoggess

 

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Free Verse Is Not a Free For All

Since today is Memorial Day, and Freedom is on my mind —

Free Verse Poetry, what’s that all about?” A question from a friend who is often bewildered by modern poetry in general. She likes reading it, but was raised in the grand tradition of Poetry That Rhymes. Don’t get me wrong, I love Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti and a plethora of other rhyming poets. I’ve just learned to widen my scope and dig for other influences. Most poets don’t spring forth from the head of Zeus, fully inspired. Neither do poems, although it would be grand if they did.

Wild Nights—Wild Nights!
Emily Dickinson

Wild Nights – Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile – the winds –
To a heart in port –
Done with the compass –
Done with the chart!

Rowing in Eden –
Ah, the sea!
Might I moor – Tonight –
In thee!

Western poetical tradition (As opposed to Eastern or Oriental tradition) has a keen interest in poetical meter down to poetical feet per line. In the English language each foot usually has a syllable with a stress and one or two without a stress, presented in a pattern. Other languages may vary depending on the length of the vowels and the number of syllables in a word. Up until the last hundred years or so Iambic Pentameter was one of the most popular forms of meter in the English language. For examples, read Shakespeare. If you’re not interested, read him anyway, for the pure joy of how language should look on the page and sound in your mouth, or fall on your ear. At least listen to a good recording done by a British Shakespearean actor. Talk about rapt attention. Or maybe that’s just me.

Sonnet CXV
William Shakespeare

Those lines that I before have writ do lie,
Even those that said I could not love you dearer:
Yet then my judgment knew no reason why
My most full flame should afterwards burn clearer.
But reckoning Time, whose million’d accidents
Creep in ‘twixt vows, and change decrees of kings,
Tan sacred beauty, blunt the sharp’st intents,
Divert strong minds to the course of altering things;
Alas! why, fearing of Time’s tyranny,
Might I not then say, ‘Now I love you best,’
When I was certain o’er incertainty,
Crowning the present, doubting of the rest?
Love is a babe, then might I not say so,
To give full growth to that which still doth grow?

Popular opinion blames Walt Whitman for the downfall of rhymed poetry or the schism that occurred when he published Leaves of Grass and liberated poets to embrace free verse as a style. There was freedom to use poetry and language in a brand new way. Whitman wanted poetry to be ‘natural’, without the constraints of traditional meter and rhyme. I see the influence of Whitman on the Beat poets, on Ginsberg, and reading one then the other is an eye opening pleasure. We cannot escape our past, and as poets we need to mine the past for inspiration as much as we observe what is around us.

From a Wikipedia article: “Free verse is a term describing various styles of poetry that are not written using strict meter or rhyme, but that still are recognizable as ‘poetry’ by virtue of complex patterns of one sort or another that readers can perceive to be part of a coherent whole.”

Free verse is not totally without rules. Free verse poetry still has to hold together internally, to have cohesion and coherence, to make a point, to follow a pattern. In its own way, free verse is as rule bound as a sestina or villanelle. If you want to create a good free verse poem that is.

Kosmos
by Walt Whitman

WHO includes diversity, and is Nature,
Who is the amplitude of the earth, and the coarseness and sexuality of the earth, and the great charity of the earth, and the equilibrium also,
Who has not look’d forth from the windows, the eyes, for nothing, or whose brain held audience with messengers for nothing;
Who contains believers and disbelievers—Who is the most majestic lover;
Who holds duly his or her triune proportion of realism, spiritualism, and of the aesthetic, or intellectual,
Who, having consider’d the Body, finds all its organs and parts good;
Who, out of the theory of the earth, and of his or her body, understands by subtle analogies all other theories,
The theory of a city, a poem, and of the large politics of These States;
Who believes not only in our globe, with its sun and moon, but in other globes, with their suns and moons;
Who, constructing the house of himself or herself, not for a day, but for all time, sees races, eras, dates, generations,
The past, the future, dwelling there, like space, inseparable together.

Whenever I Saw You I Handed You a Bouquet, and
By Sharon Olds

what about those nosegays?! If you were to return
I would give you more, for all you have given us, for
your going first. Those posies might have a
peony, a freesia, a tulip — an eye snack
and nostril snack, I could not get enough of
giving you coronation bundles, handing them
and almost bowing, tongue-tied with
respectful adoring, with gobbling
the sight of you the sound, the bouquets saying mother-
— we would not be here, without your song, your eye.

Source: Poetry (February 2017)

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Writing Narrative Poetry

Writing Narrative Poetry
by Constance Brewer

I am, by choice, a big fan of narrative poetry. I tend to write narrative poems more than any other type. What are they? Narrative poems are poems that tell stories. The Iliad was a series of long narrative poems strung together. Beowulf. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The Cremation of Sam McGee. What makes them different than writing fiction? Narrative poems are stripped down to their bare essentials. They allow the reader to supply details the poem doesn’t have time to tell. Hair color, type of shoes, breed of horse? Unless it is necessary to the poem, it’s not in there. Narrative poems concern themselves with the immediacy of the moment rather than the emotional picture. They plunge you into the action, sword in hand, blood spatters on your shirt.

A good narrative poem is like any good piece of fiction. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Narrative poetry has more in common with short stories than novels, in that it focuses on a specific topic. Generally, the bigger the action, the longer the poem; the smaller the action, the smaller the poem. No one wants to read a twenty page missive on the how you learned to tie your shoes. (Trust me.) A few stanzas should be sufficient. Tell the story you need to tell, and nothing more. While thinking of your story poem this is where you bring in three important words to guide you through the beginning, middle, to the end. “What happened next?”

Narrative poems generally have a theme that runs through them. The theme helps the poet choose the words and meter that will set the tone and emphasize the theme. An important aspect of setting the tone is the choice of POV presentation. If the story is about you, or is significant to you, first person POV may be your best bet. Your narrator mirrors your personality. Third person, or storyteller POV, allows the poet to distance him/herself from the story being told. The story may even be told second or third hand for effect. Part of the advantage of writing poetry is the ability to study a topic in many different forms, through different narrators. The death of a loved one can be examined through a variety of lenses from the intimate to the distant.

One way to write narrative poems (you may want to cover your eyes, writers) is to outline them. Yep, the dreaded outline is a useful tool in organizing a narrative poem. “But isn’t that like using a sledgehammer to smash a fly”? Not in my opinion. Any tool that helps bring definition to a piece of writing, and more importantly – enables me to write faster – is a good tool. You wouldn’t build a birdhouse without a blueprint, would you? (If your birds are living in Dali-esque housing, no need to answer.) Even something as simple as: What is my topic? What is my theme? Whose voice do I want to tell this story in? What is my beginning, middle, end? A sentence for each. Even a word or two for each, anything to make you consider the options before you write. Then, with the objectives firmly fixed in your mind, go forth and write the first draft.

Poetry, especially narrative poetry does not spring forth complete as if a child from the head of Zeus. I really wish it were so, but one of my favorite quotes by L. Sprague de Camp sums it up. “There is no mistaking the dismay on the face of a writer who has just heard that his brain child is a deformed idiot.” Revise, revise, revise, until you have the story that you wanted to tell, in a form that makes people want to read it. Lyric poetry wants to clue you in on the thoughts and feelings of the poet, hence the elegy, ode, and sonnet. Dripping, gooey with sentiment. Emotions are the driving force of lyric poems. It’s a big reason Plato and Aristotle thought poets had no place in their utopias. All those messy emotional appeals. Narratives might have had a chance; for narrative poetry it’s all about the story. Everything else is gravy.

The openings to some narrative poems.

Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Casey at the Bat by Ernest L. Thayer

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day;
The score stood four to two with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Burrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast:
They thought if only Casey could but get a whack at that,
They’d put up even money now, with Casey at the bat.

The Shooting of Dan McGrew by Robert W. Service

A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon;
The kid that handles the music-box was hitting a jag-time tune;
Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,
And watching his luck was his light-o’-love, the lady that’s known as Lou.

When out of the night, which was fifty below, and into the din and the glare,
There stumbled a miner fresh from the creeks, dog-dirty, and loaded for bear.
He looked like a man with a foot in the grave and scarcely the strength of a louse,
Yet he tilted a poke of dust on the bar, and he called for drinks for the house.
There was none could place the stranger’s face, though we searched ourselves for a clue;
But we drank his health, and the last to drink was Dangerous Dan McGrew.

And a different take on the narrative-

‘Out, Out—’ by Robert Frost

The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside them in her apron
To tell them “Supper.” At the word, the saw,
As if to prove saws knew what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy’s hand, or seemed to leap—
He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
The boy’s first outcry was a rueful laugh,
As he swung toward them holding up the hand
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all—
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man’s work, though a child at heart—
He saw all spoiled. “Don’t let him cut my hand off—
The doctor, when he comes. Don’t let him, sister!”
So. But the hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then—the watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

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Several Books on Crafting Poetry

Want to improve your craft and chances of getting published in Gyroscope Review? Attention to detail helps a lot. There are plenty of books out there on poetic craft for you to ponder over. Here are some mini reviews about a few of the books I’ve read on creating and ordering your poetry. Are there books you’ve found helpful? Drop us a line on Facebook or Twitter
Books available at your favorite bookstore.

Art of the Line
The Art of the Poetic Line
by James Longenbach

Logenbach delves into the function of the poetic line in poetry from metered to free-verse. In its most basic form, poetry consists of the arrangement of lines, and how the arrangement and rearrangement of the line changes and expands the meaning of the poem. Through examples, Logenbach shows how choosing an end stopped line over enjambment can heighten emotion, and how judicious use of enjambment can ratchet up the tension in a poem. Much of the book is a primer on how to expand and relax the tension in lines for optimum effect. The lesson from Logenbach is how every word, syllable, meter, rhyme and punctuation in a line of a poem can be fine tuned to improve your work.

Ordering the Storm
Ordering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems
by Susan Grimm

A collection of essays by different poets on how to put together a book of poetry. Some of the authors have obviously given deep thought about the order of their poems in a book, others have taken a more whimsical approach. Several discussed ‘backfilling’ with new poems to make the collection reach the theme or goal they set for themselves. A few essays touched on naming the collections – not as many addressed this as I would like, sort of a ‘chicken or the egg’ question I’m curious about. There was also discussion on how to arrange the poems for maximum impact, including the radical suggestion of letting a third party do the arranging. The unifying thought through all the essays, was ‘there is no one right way to arrange a collection of poems.’ I’m not sure if I find that thought comforting… or maddening.

Real Sofistikashun
Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft
by Tony Hoagland

Real Sofistikashun is another collection of essays on poetic craft, very accessible and interesting. Hoagland doesn’t pull any punches in his analysis of several contemporary poets and their methods, indeed one essay drove me to seek out the poets mentioned and analyze their work more deeply. After I did that, I was ready to cast a more critical eye on my own work. The book is full of examples from a wide range of poetry, mostly contemporary. One of my favorite essays concentrated on Fragment, Juxtaposition, and Completeness.

Hoagland keeps the tone light while imparting his information, one of the last essays is titled Fashion Victims: The Misfortunes of Aesthetic Fate, about the fickleness of styles in modern times. This is an entertaining and interesting collection, well worth reading more than once.

After Confession
After Confession: Poetry as Autobiography
Kate Sontag, David Graham, editors

A fascinating collection of essays on the “autobiographical impulse” in poetry. What makes poetry more prone to confessional missives than most other forms of writing? Essays range from the history and background of the autobiographical poem, to contemporary usage. One theme becomes clear; doing an autobiographical poem well can be tough. Connecting private suffering with public audience is something none of the poets take lightly. The concern is making the poem universal enough to connect with a collective, and finding a truth that can’t be ignored because the ‘right’ truth in poetry touches everyone. It’s a fine line between self-indulgence and relevance. The confessional nature of autobiographical poetry has the potential to scare readers away, but done well, the “I” in the poem speaks volumes for us all.

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