Poetry is difficult to limit. Born in New Jersey, poets such as Allen Ginsberg, Stephen Crane, and William Carlos Williams absorbed their roots and reached beyond them. They boldly penetrated into a larger world of experience and meaning.
In its broadest sense, every writer’s poetry takes everyday life and redefines both its routine and unique elements to create a bridge linking the senses, experiences, and ideas of the poet with other minds. Poetry is a fabrication where metaphor reaches an inclusive eloquence — drawing living minds and hearts into a creative realm of evocative words.
Entertain the right questions
Every writer gets asked, “Is it real? Did that really happen?” The answer is a delicate balancing act. If the poem is to work, it leaves the pen and breathes on its own.
Is it real? is the wrong, stand-alone question for the creative writer. Without a doubt, a component was real. The abuse happened, the child was born, the divorce cut, or the friend was lost. The dragon roared, but it is the echoing sound waves, the smell of fire, the red heat of flame, and the rising smoke that enlarges the experience. And, if the writer succeeds, the dragon takes flight, and a new tale emerges.
Step beyond the moment
For a wordsmith, the artificial distinctions between poetry and life blur and fade. For the writer, there is the endless hubris of defying the notion of settling for the ordinary meaning of words; the metaphor always beckons, and artificial limits are the first that are set aside.
As the poem is empowered, there’s a break from limitations of time. The poem encompasses reality and develops a life of its own. Imagery’s driving poignancy fills the lines with significance, the capacity to go anywhere. Experience doesn’t limit; it serves as an effective springboard beyond the experiential into imagination. In that leap, personal memory transforms into archetype. The imaginative dominates, and it dances away from the stagnant.
Tips to move into universal meaning
The sheer spirit of quest shimmers at the integral heart of the wordsmith’s craft. And, the poem journeys outward as communication capable of touching the hearts and minds of others. It travels the memory and emerges with unique, creative meaning as its treasure.
Four, key tips help move from the intimately personal into wider expanses of craft and universality.
- Travel the memory with personal honesty. It takes courage to see what truly unfolded, and its details are essential to meaning’s lasting resonance.
- Ignore the nagging. Don’t let social constraints censor what you look for and what you bring back.
- Look for the wisdom. What can the memory tell others? How can it inform them?
- Take the recalled experience and craft purposefully. Let your voice integrate with the message, and then let the message shape beyond the personal into the universal.
As a New Jersey-based poet with an Asian heritage, certain poems have New Jersey roots and evolve from personal experiences. But, most importantly, the successful poems hold universal resonance.
The poem, “On Writing,” priorly published in my book, Blood Trail, and the literary journal, Parnassus, offers perspective on the strange web of memory integrated into poetry. The poem acknowledges both truth and lies become surgically attached to past experiences in the craft of writing to empower fresh meaning.
It is the truth certainly entirely true
but I do not swear that the words
the beloved words
the cutting words
all these words which are my words
have any reality perhaps no reality at all
as in telling the truth
or in devising lies
when the words are free having been carried
long enough on sagging shoulders
given away thrust forth
they abandon the pen learn to teach themselves
gather into themselves
their own life untouchable
much like a freshly remote yesterday
and more like a strangely familiar tomorrow
To read the poem, “Jersey Rain,” by Robert Pinsky, former Poet Laureate of the United States, who was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, and graduated from Rutgers, the State University of NJ, go to the Skylands Writers Association site to download the entire poem at users.tellurian.net/swaa/pinsky.html
To get active and submit your own poetry for publication in a New Jersey poetry journal, follow the submission guidelines for The Paterson Literary Review at www.pccc.edu/home/cultural-affairs/poetry-center/publications/submission-guidelines. That annual journal is published by the Poetry Center at Passaic Community College, whose Executive Director is the notable and well-published New Jersey-based poet, Maria Mazziotti Gillan.
Poetry is considered among the most personal of all the crafts. Poets do feel the poem and walk paths of memory in creation. In the craft of writing, the writer’s satisfaction glows brighter when those seeds bloom into creations with living natures and powers of their own.
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