On poetic evolution

It may look like it’s a quiet month for me, but the truth is very much the opposite.  Since returning from Washington I’ve been working on several projects — some old, some new.  Book research, spring gardening, and writing are all dominating my time.

As typically happens when I get this busy, my poetry has begun to flourish once more.  In between form letters and spreadsheets and email inquiries I find myself frantically reaching for MS Word or paper and pen (or sometimes just a bit of wet mud and a board) with which to scratch down my thoughts.

In the course of conducting some research these past two weeks, I came across Copper Canyon Press’ tips for writers on getting published.  Being one of the many eager thousands, I decided to take a few minutes to look at their thoughts.

Included is a segment with advice for poets, including four short essays from various writers.  I found useful tidbits in each which offered validation, encouragement, and even affirmation of the process of growing as a poet.  Being somewhat recluse in nature, I think it’s easy for me to forget sometimes that other poets experience the same challenges, and find the same solutions.

Regardless of your artistic medium, there is still something useful to extract from each of the essays.  Among my favorites are a couple points from Marvin Bell’s Thirty-two Statements About Writing Poetry:

25. Writing poetry is its own reward and needs no certification. Poetry, like water, seeks its own level. 

26. A finished poem is also the draft of a later poem. 

For me, writing poetry is first and foremost about the process itself – not about publication, recognition, or tradition.  I think that I have maintained my love and interest in poetry by letting publication remain an afterthought.

Number 26 on Bell’s list is what reminded me of the whole “poetic evolution” which lately as been at the forefront of my thoughts.  I look back on my work from years past and reflect on how my work has grown, changed, and (hopefully) improved.  Part of that process is a somewhat invisible reflection of Number 26: every piece I write, regardless of whether I even remember it, adds to the foundation of future works.  We’ll talk about this more in Part 2 of the Artistic Voice series.

How do you regard your own artistic evolution (or revolution)?  Can you see how your work builds on itself?  Do you like to tear your progress down and start in a fresh direction?  Do you find yourself working towards a particular goal in your craft, or simply wandering where the music takes you?


5 Responses to On poetic evolution

  1. Ester says:

    Good to have you back! I wholeheartedly agree with you that when process is the most important reason for making work, then the work remains fresh and intimate. I also think that success can breed further confidence, so the goal is to have success and personal process hold hands. I see most art forms as a means of communicating with others. Like a dialog that speaks when the artist is no longer around. Art needs an audience, and getting published is important, even if the sole purpose for writing is for the process. What’s easy to forget (for me at least) is that just being published, or part of the art world, doesn’t make one an instant success, and putting work out for the world to see is not done for fame, rather just to reach an audience, even if the audience is small. I feel like our culture is all about the super rich, super powerful, super popular, and when we get sucked into thinking like that, we forget that just reaching one person is important too.

  2. JLB says:

    Thank you for making mention of audience Ester – that interplay between art, artist, and audience is important. I think I’m just coming out of my shell these last few years and becoming more bold about seeking opportunities to share my work.

    …we forget that just reaching one person is important too.

    Absolutely. In many ways, sometimes I think that the person-to-person connection far outweighs the grandiosity of fame and recognition.

    In his essay Becoming a Poet: One Step at a Timeon the same site, John Haines notes: “Don’t be in a hurry to publish. Take your time, question your motives, and seek to understand the true nature of creative growth.”

    I think you’re right to point out that sharing our artistic work with others is an important part of that growth!

    Thanks for your thoughts Ester!

  3. spyscribbler says:

    I definitely work towards goals and constantly push myself. I sometimes set myself strange assignments (like re-typing a particularly well-done chapter by an author I admire to see how it works), and I also force myself to write a little bit of poetry.

    It’s very bad poetry. But I keep hoping it will make me better with words. I so admire poets!

  4. JLB says:

    Spyscribbler, I like the idea of writing out something already written… one of the suggestions in those essays is to memorize a few poems of poets you admire, and recite them for your friends! (And thanks, by the by, for the Thinking Blogger nomination – I’m flattered, and it’s actually Brainripples’ second! I hope to get some awards posted in a few days – it’s so hard to choose just five!)

  5. Bernita says:

    I think ( hope) my occasional poems are less self-conscious and derivative now.

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