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
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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: 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: 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: 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.
Book Review – Billy Collins “Ballistics”
by Billy Collins
Random House 2008
An interesting book of poetry from former poet laureate Billy Collins (2001-2003) is titled “Ballistics”, perhaps as a warning to the reader that a careful analysis is in order. Wikipedia defines ballistics as “the science of mechanics that deals with the motion, behavior, and effects of projectiles”. Collins throws a lot at the reader in terms of history, poetics, and profound ideas disguised under subtle word play, continuing the precedent he set in a previous volume, The Trouble With Poetry. The poems in Ballistics are deeper, more introspective, and in need of repeat readings to grab all the nuances not obvious at a first read through.
The sly humor of previous volumes is still present, just not as ‘in your face’. It’s a testament to Collins’ growth as a poet that he feels free to engage the reader with a more intellectual style of humor, one that counts on background and experience to carry the twists. Collins’ work, is as always, readily accessible -which makes those that believe good poetry should be pretentious – uncomfortable, to say the least. How dare this guy recount experiences that we all can understand and share in? Isn’t good poetry supposed to be as dense as Aunt Mary’s Christmas fruitcake?
An interesting undertone permeates the poems in Ballistics. Although many run over 40 lines, there is a very ‘haiku’ like quality to the work. After carefully setting the scene and leading the reader in one direction, Collins takes pleasure in offering up an ‘aha’ moment that is startling in its clarity.
In ‘Aubade’, the reader wonders along with Collins why he is up at 5:00am, sitting on the edge of the bed. The reason, in the last stanza, is profound in its simplicity, and makes perfect sense in the grand scheme of things.
In the poem ‘Ballistics’, the underlying tone of dark humor is helped along by Collins’ self-deprecating style. When he twists the knife into the hapless hero of the poem, you can’t help but feel a guilty rush of glee.
In ‘New Year’s Day’, it’s Collins’ wonderful touch with description that carries the day.
“as I lowered a tin diving bell of tea leaves into a little body of roiling water’
‘an X in a square on some kitchen calendar of the future’.
In ‘On The Death Of A Next-Door Neighbor’, we get yet another take on Collins’ personification of death. Just like all Collins’ poems where Death is a character, we find out Death is not someone to be feared, but a regular Joe with a job to do. It might not be the type of employment Death wanted, but if he’s going to do a job, he’s going to do it well.
It’s no big secret – I’m a fan of Billy Collins, even more so now that I watch how his poetry evolves. It’s a risk to move beyond what you know people like and will buy, to something that embraces growth, not only for yourself, but for your readers as well. Ballistics is recommended, not just for fans of Billy Collins, but for those who want to carry a poem around in their head for days after and wonder, “Why have I never seen things this way before?”.
This is what we are looking for in submissions to Gyroscope Review. We want to see poems that go beyond the ordinary, that dig deep and serve up an offering that’s different, unique, or just plain out there. Surprise us, delight us, disgust us, but move us somehow. Study Collins, study other poets you admire and see how they deftly handle language, imagery, and imagination. Be subtle, be outrageous, but above all, be you. We want to hear your voice, shouting down a thunderstorm.