Neil Hester

All poems © Neil Hester unless otherwritten

Name:
Location: North Carolina, United States

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Concision?

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

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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:

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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.

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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

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

Take Care,
~Neil

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Too Many Facelifts

Something about Joan River...

Recently, Art Durkee posted a very interesting essay, The Endless Edit. For this entry, I'd like to interpolate a bit. I don't have much to add, since Art covered the topic so well, but it's worth reinforcing, especially because I've noticed an obsession with revision across the Cosmoetica newsletter lately. To those revisors out there: tread with caution. Now, on to the article:

Say you write a poem, and are pretty pleased with it. Perhaps you tinker with it for a while, adding this, deleting that, till you're satisfied, or you leave it sit and go on to other things. Some time passes, maybe two or three months, and you come back to the poem; you still like it but see something else you think would be a small improvement and you make another change, and maybe a few weeks later another. And so it goes on for a year or more. Is there a time to stop this endless tinkering?
One important factor in deciding to stop tinkering with a poem is time—that is, your own movement through time. If you rediscover a poem you wrote years ago, you could revise it again. But over the years, you have changed: you are no longer the same person you were back then, and (hopefully) your writing has improved and changed, as well. This presents you with a choice between tinkering with the poem to bring it into your own present-time style; or to abandon the poem, leave it unchanged, and if the topic still intrigues you, write a new poem in your current voice or style.

Certainly it's a bad idea to revise a poem written in a different stage of one's writing without preserving it, completely erasing its previous form. The newer version would likely be superior; however, keeping a piece of one's own history is important for future inspiration and reference. In the city I live in, the downtown streets are largely brick. Newer roads are far smoother, but the old bricks are remnants of the past. Old poems are artifacts that contain the history of oneself; I cringe when I read some of my earlier work, but I can't imagine getting rid of them. Folks- preserve your museum.

If you are, by some chance, compelled to revise an earlier work (it may be unnecessary or undesirable to actually begin a new work), make every effort to preserve the original, even if the changes are minor. I've done this a few times; I've compared the old to the new and gained a better understanding of my shortcomings and progression by doing so (see here). Though we can never fully understand anyone's artistic process, ever our own, it's important for a person to take every opportunity to learn more about him or herself.

I've seen lots of decent second or third drafts of poems get killed by over-revision. All the life and breath goes out of the poems, even as they become so polished that in some circles they'd be lauded as examples of technical perfection and mastery.

Consider this ridiculous analogy: A landscape gardener is working on a topiary (a plant sculpture). He trims his shrub into the most marvelous ferret sculpture. However, he does not stop there; in an attempt to make his topiary an exact replica of a ferret, he begins attaching fur and painting the leaves.

LAEvaside: Being able to write passages like the above and publish them (despite their main purpose being to amuse the person writing them) is one of the main perks of blogging. [/laevaside]

Art is human; it contains a great deal of life and spontaneity. Too much tinkering with a piece can destroy the human aspect; a poem can become nothing more than an exercise in the mathematics of meter and rhyme.

You could, after you produce a version that satisfies you, go back to the previous attempts and pull out and use a remarkable turn of phrase, or line, or image, that seems to have some life in it, still, and incorporate it into the new poem. But don't overdo that, either; too much old stuff shoe-horned into the new poem will turn the poem into a contraption, which is yet one more way to kill the life and breath in it.

Superb advice. Pulling too much from one's previous works (and from other poets- mimicry is good, but it's important to inject oneself into a piece as well; a great [and amusing] example of overmimicry [in the comments]) is definitely a bad idea; great lines are not necessarily great when used in a different context, and attempting to plug in interesting lines and words into a poem as if it were a Mad Lib will disturb its music and meaning. Use caution when recycling writing.

Thanks go out to Art for this wonderful article (one among many); take care 'til next,

~Neil

Monday, March 17, 2008

C

Here we are at a standard landmark, the hundredth post. Nearly nine and a half months separate post #76 and post #100. About two and a half months separate post #1 and post #25. However, despite the slowdown, this blog is still on the move. Let's take a look at some posts of significance in the past (as well as other quarterly landmarks):

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~*Three Quartered~ This landmark is particularly quarterly.

~*Half Hundred~ Something about Kennedy...

~*Five and Twenty~ The first QL.

~*The Villanette~ An exercise in form fusion.

~*James Emanuel- The Interview~ A look at an interview of one of greatest poets of all time.

~*The Homework Myth~ Contrary to some belief, writing out those one-word answers in complete sentences (for fifty questions) may not actually help Susie learn.

~*Rowerful Poar~ Cheshire, helping me point out a few of the attributes of solid writing.

~*Poem Greater Than Jess'~ Bwaha, my poem is better than yours~

~*A Short Visit~ -to my middle school, from which I was promptly kicked out.

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Thanks to all you frequent visitors for making this blog worthwhile. I always enjoy reading your feedback, as you are all intelligent and friendly people. A special thanks to Jessica Schneider- without your support early in this blog's life, it may well have fizzled out (and it certainly wouldn't be where it is today). You might deny it, but I certainly believe it to be true.

Take Care,
~Neil

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Max Raskin

This post, I decided I would give a nod to a fellow high school writer. Max Raskin has several essays archived here; his writing is concise, and some of the essays are riddled with humor. A couple favorites: On Writing and It Starts with a Cookie. He also has an article on Catcher in the Rye published at Cosmoetica. Give Raskin a look; he's definitely worth your time.

Oh~ I just finished a brief ballroom dancing stint; anyone with the slightest interest in dancing should at least take a basic course in ballroom dance. Unfortunately, my (quite lovely) partner and I will not be continuing (until summer, at least) due to time and money constraints. Still, that short period of lessons is easily the most fulfilling thing I've done with my time in awhile.

I suppose it is now March. That said, I 'spose I'm off to school around a little more; I should do my homework earlier, but procrastination is an indulgence.

Take care,
~Neil