Neil Hester

All poems © Neil Hester unless otherwritten

Location: North Carolina, United States

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Through the Cosmoetica newsletter, this statement by Whinza Ndoro popped up:


Let's not forget the cardinal rule of poetry over prose is that first and foremost it must be concise: to say a lot in as few syllables as possible.

Before I begin, let me say that I respect Whinza as an artist (one of his poems is featured at the bottom of this post). 'Course, folks have disagreements, so I wrote back:

While I suppose that's a reasonable maxim, I don't like using syllables as a measurement; you're being too mathematic. I remember that when you edited my "Before We Hunted Doves", you would changes phrases like "As if to confirm the moment" to "As if to confirm moment" or "The earth and sky of an instant." to "Earth, sky, instant:". Let's focus on the first one. By your definition, your version of the previous lines is more concise (and therefore, better by the cardinal rule of poetry) because it has less syllables and says the same thing. However, while your line may have the same underlying message, it offers inferior music and an interruption in the natural construction of a phrase, just to cut out one word. Thus, while both versions of the line essentially say the same thing, mine does so more effectively. Because the quality of a statement constitutes how much it is worth in poetry, I argue that, while our separate versions 'say' the same thing, mine says it better due to superior music, and therefore has more worth. In art, it makes sense to measure content by quality; because my line is superior (even with one extra syllable), it has more content. That said, I suppose you could say mine is more "concise"; it says more, all for one word!

Actually using measurements in poetry is aggravating (as displayed above); it's detrimental to approach poetry like a math problem. Concision is important. We don't need to drag syllables into it. I suppose I should clarify something; I do think your edit of Iain's poem is reasonable (it's certainly not pointless). However, the edits of my poems that you sent me earlier (I apologize for not replying; I was going to this Spring Break but my last few months of e-mails got deleted) were similar exercises in preening that were more harmful than helpful.

Which was met by a followup from Dan Schneider:

Good points.

Concision is a relative thing. Look at a long poem like Song Of Myself. Yes, it could be cut shorter, but it would lose all the Whitmanian excess in rhetorical flourishes. However, considered next to a novel, it packs more info in less space.
Rules in any art form are never hard-boiled, but need malleability. Knowing when to apply and when to lay off are key.

I already said what I wanted to say in my portion of the exchange; I just thought it was an interesting series, so I figured I'd put it up. Now, Whinza... though I may not agree with all his edits and opinions, he's a very good poet, so:


A Lady In Her Power

I admire the queen-like power
Some flowers have over a bee,
Though no coveted tenure
A display by which all decree.

For a bee that sets sight on her
Plumage of a cultured pedigree;
The bee as if in honor,
Dances to her majesty.


Pills In Your Book I Took

Eventually, my (un)dying hope, my wishful loop is a getting together,
shoulder to shoulder, in one big festive room,
with you, my esteemed grave-clothed heroes,
who as far as enlightenment goes—
I missed meeting in person.

If time prolonged, then I'll thank you
when first off even God wasn’t enough
nor family, friend, or lover too;
as life tried boomeranging me—
above it, you held me aloof as a roof.

Randomly, picking up a dog-eared book,
turning the wise pages,
there it was in potent hook—
an understanding of yours, O sages,

when with what ailed me then,
fittingly— (I got the chills)
you prescribed medication
of wordy worldly pills.


By Whinza Kingslee Ndoro


That's it for this entry. 'Til next-

Take Care,


Blogger Anthony said...

Yes, it isn't about using the smallest space possible, but maximizing whatever space you do use.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Neil said...

Well-put, Anthony.

10:31 PM  

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