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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

speaking poetry

via Google

via Google

I’m reading an old friend’s poetry manuscript. Something I adore — reading a manuscript as a writer, trying to see what the poems want to say, what the music is telling me. It’s the language of poetry, and I don’t get to speak it nearly often enough.

Because I often teach at the beginner level, working to make poetry less mysterious, more accessible, the kind of conversation I’m having over my friend J’s MS is rare. Yes, I can discuss line breaks w/ a newbie. I can even speak of the way a kind of repetition (anaphora, in case you wonder) works in a poem.

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But newbies don’t usually write chapbooks, much less books. So you can’t discuss the ways in which poems become like movements in a symphony: each part moving from the one before to the inexorable close. Or maybe the single poems are like musical instruments in an orchestra… The metaphors are always musical, because the language of poetry is sooo close to that first language, song.music

What I can’t tell newbies so they get it — they just haven’t written enough yet — is that poems have a kind of logic to them, like certain chords follow other chords, or harmonies between notes. J gets it — she’s a gifted poet, growing better over the past years.

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One of the sig files I use in my email is a quote from a beloved poet, Denise Levertov: In certain ways writing is a form of prayer. For me, it is. It’s practice, as I’ve said elsewhere — practice for beginner’s heart. Because poetry is about observing, as much as writing: you have to watch to  have something worth saying. But it’s also about trying to communicate, trying to make apoint. Poets are the ultimate activists, even when they refuse to acknowledge it. They have something to say, and they want folks to pay attention.

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via Google

via Google

So they dress their points up in Sunday language and imagery, and send them into the world. And sometimes, poets’ prayers are answered. Mostly? It’s enough (for me!) to get to talk to other poets. Although the $50 I made today on two poems also is nice… :)

 

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  • http://www.noahgildersleeve.com Noah Gildersleeve

    Most people see the way that movements in symphonies transition from one to another, but in music there’s a more subtle transition like the one you mentioned in poems. The same way that you can’t discuss the subtle changes in poems with someone who is a novice (ie. someone like me), this is usually lost on people that can’t read a full orchestral score. You also see it in piano music if you look at all of it.

    You can look at a score and see the theme. That simple, almost irreducible part of the music. You see it dance and switch. First played by the violins, then is it gone? No, it’s actually passed to the timpani, but harder to hear in percussion than in strings. then back to the violins with counterpoint in the cello and viola. A walking bass in the bass section and bassoon underpinning it. The violins then switch to the root of the chord like the bass, but three octaves higher as the cello plays the theme and the bass does the counterpoint. Your mind hears this, but probably doesn’t realize it, it just hears the melding of the sound and your heart hopefully feels what the composer wanted you to, but if you can read the score you see not just the art, but the craft.

    I don’t play music much anymore, but my old conductor in school used to say he wasn’t training professional musicians, but lifetime lovers of music. I love hearing people talk about their art at that level, even if I don’t understand all of it.

    • Britton Gildersleeve

      I agree, Noah — to hear anyone talk about their art with passion and knowledge is mesmerising. Thanks for filling in the details here.

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