Archive for August, 2013

Veg ‘O Mine

Eggplants

Eggplants groove to the beat

before getting sliced and battered

and smothered with sauce.

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Do you think she saw it coming?

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I am in a poetry group that meets once a month to critique one another’s poems and once a month to write poems using prompts that one or more of us suggest.  I have been in this group for a little over a year and I have found it very helpful.

It is hard to edit a poem.  Poems are a personal vision and artistic choice has to be respected.  Nevertheless, some feedback is invaluable.  For instance, I know that I have eliminated a lot of little words like the or and.  I am more conscious of cliches and I think more about the word that ends a line, striving for stronger words in that position.

Sometimes when I am writing, I think, “H’mmm.  What would B. say about that?”  Several of the group are or have been editors or teachers so critiquing comes “naturally” to them.  Natural is in quotes because, of course, they have learned to be editors of poetry.  I have edited a lot of writing, especially social science studies and policy analyses.  However, I cannot say that experience helps me at all in regard to editing poems.  Why not?

I think the best poems are ambiguous:  they can be interpreted in many ways.  You do not want ambiguity in science.  Research results and implication of policy changes should be clear. Even if alternatives are offered, they are stated in concrete if/then terms.

In addition, report writers want to educate the reader and need the back and forth of analysis:  yes, this may be true, but on the other hand that is also a concern.  And so forth and so forth.

Recently the NPR Ombudsman critiqued a NPR report on Indian Child Welfare in South Dakota.  I found it fascinating.  The reporters took one piece of information. drew conclusions and ended up writing a misleading story. Rather than laying out all the facts and analyzing all the issues, the reporters appeared to start with the conclusion that the state profited from Federal payments by putting a lot of Indian children in foster care.  The reporters apparently ignored the really important issue which is that there is a very high incidence of family disintegration in the tribes that requires large numbers of children to be removed from the family.

One of the things about reporting on research is that you try to keep yourself out of the story.  You try to be objective and not take sides or draw conclusions before all the evidence is in.  This is not helpful when it comes to writing poetry.  Some of my poems read like instruction manuals because I want to explain something.

One bit of feedback I consistently receive from my poetry group is, “Where is the poet in this poem?”  It is true that I am much more comfortable writing about what I observe than writing about what I feel.  In fact, I fear more that I would write sentimental drivel if I strayed into memoir, for instance.  But like learning to avoid adverbs and articles, I hope I can learn to get off the sideline and put myself into my poems.  It’s okay to be biased when you write a poem.  It’s okay to have an opinion.  It’s even okay to make something up!

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