October 12, 2018

Are You a Practicing Poet?

Are you a practicing poet?  The new craft book, The Practicing Poet: Writing Beyond the Basics has in its title a double meaning. As an adjective, "practicing" means actively working at a profession, such as medicine, law or poetry. But as an implied verb, all poets are practicing their craft, like an athlete always trying to improve.

The editor of this collection of craft essays, writing prompts, and sample poems is Diane Lockward. Diane fits both definitions.

As a practicing poet, her collections of poetry include, most recently, The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement, as well as What Feeds Us  and Eve’s Red Dress.

As a teacher and poet, Diane knows the need for continuous practice in the craft of poetry. Her blog and newsletter includes many prompts and craft lessons.

The Practicing Poet is her third craft book. It was preceded by The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop and a sequel, The Crafty Poet II.

In this new book, there are ten sections with each devoted to a poetic concept, such as "Discovering New Material," "Working with Sentences and Line Breaks," "Crafting Surprise," and "Transforming Your Poems." The final section, "Publishing Your Book," covers manuscript organization, book promotion, and how to present a good public reading.

The book includes thirty brief craft essays, each followed by a model poem, analysis of the poem's craft, and then a prompt based on the poem.

Full disclosure: I have known Diane for many years, going back to when both of us were high school English teachers and poets who were practicing. I also have sample poems in The Crafty Poet and The Practicing Poet.

Her craft books are suitable as a classroom text, a guidebook in a workshop, or an at-home tutorial for the practicing poet who is working independently.

Each section includes 3 craft tips from such poets as Nicole Cooley, Patrick Donnelly, Barbara Hamby, Molly Peacock, Diane Seuss, Maggie Smith, and Lawrence Raab.

Plus, each section also includes 3 model poems contributed by such poets as Thomas Lux, Joseph Bathanti, Camille Dungy, James Galvin, and Vievee Francis. These 30 model poems each have an analysis of its poetic techniques, and a prompt based on the poem.

There are also 60 sample poems suggest the possibilities in the prompts, 10 bonus prompts, and 10 poets each compiled a list of their best poetry wisdom. The lists come from Patricia Smith, Lee Upton, George Bilgere, David Kirby, Robert Wrigley, Dorianne Laux, Jan Beatty, Ellen Bass, Alberto Rios, and Oliver de la Paz.

The book represents three years of work from Diane in compiling the material in this book and the result shows her care.


October 5, 2018

Prompt: Acquainted with the Night

I think most people would consider an "acquaintance" to be a person we know, but not someone we would describe as close friend. In this time of social media "friends," we probably have many more acquaintances than we have true friends.

When I heard Garrison Keillor read Robert Frost's “Acquainted with the Night,” I thought about the word and wondered if Frost's relationship with the night was like that - known, but not known very well.

A dictionary will tell you I am wrong because "acquainted" means having personal knowledge of something by way of study and experiences. A lawyer is "acquainted with law" and that (hopefully) means he is informed about it through studying it and dealing with it in real situations.

This made me reread Frost's poem looking for the deeper relationship the speaker has with the night from studying and experiencing it. This is not some lightweight relationship with the night.  

Acquainted with the Night

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-by;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

When I studied this poem in college, it was presented the poet's thoughts on depression. Experiencing depression was like walking through the night. Whether the person walks in a city or beyond it to where there is no light, he is alone.

That interpretation seems less certain to me now. I feel that the poem is as much about experiencing the literal night and darkness as it is about any symbolic meanings we attach to the night.

The night does not "call me back or "say good-by" and the night - and my interpretation - is "neither wrong nor right."

For our October writing prompt, write a poem about something (not someone) that you are acquainted with. That means you know it quite well - both by study of some kind and by personal experiences.

Follow Frost's titling and use "acquainted with" as part of your title.

You also might want to follow Frost's other formal elements. His poem is strict iambic pentameter. It has 14 lines like a sonnet. It has a terza rima rhyme scheme (aba bcb cdc dad aa). That rather complex "third rhyme" is credited to Dante Alighieri from his The Divine Comedy. Be warned: terza rima is easier in Italian because so many Italian words have vowel endings.