Musings on becoming a poet, by a muse-poet who is very good at explaining (by IGP=93)
How can my Muse want subject to invent,
While thou dost breathe, that pour'st into my verse
Thine own sweet argument, too excellent
For every vulgar paper to rehearse?
O, give thyself the thanks, if aught in me
Worthy perusal stand against thy sight;
For who's so dumb that cannot write to thee,
When thou thyself dost give invention light?
Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth
Than those old nine which rhymers invocate;
And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth
Eternal numbers to outlive long date.
If my slight Muse do please these curious days,
The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise.
(William Shakespeare, Sonnet 38)
IGP=93’s seven steps to becoming a poet
1. Be lucky in your incarnation to have the gift of poetic inspiration. In absence of this, lavishly and fervently and frequently invoke Thelxinoë, Arche, Aoid?, Melet?, Mn?m?, Euterpe, Erato, Polyhymnia and Kalliope. Devotion to incarnate Goddesses is also most efficacious:
“No Muse-poet grows conscious of the Muse except by experience of a woman in whom the Goddess is to some degree resident; just as no Apollonian poet can perform his proper function unless he lives under a monarchy or a quasi-monarchy. A Muse-poet falls in love, absolutely, and his true love is for him the embodiment of the Muse…. But the real, perpetually obsessed Muse-poet distinguishes between the Goddess as manifest in the supreme power, glory, wisdom, and love of woman, and the individual woman whom the Goddess may make her instrument... The Goddess abides; and perhaps he will again have knowledge of her through his experience of another woman...” (Robert Graves, The White Goddess).
2. Read the poetry of the greats in the tradition. Opinions differ as to the exact number and identity of these "greats", however Chaucer, the Gawain poet and Shakespeare can safely be included in the English canon.
3. Write and practise poetry regularly for years before seeking to publish anything. This is the first invocation of Melet?.
4. Acquire an education in linguistics generally, but especially the syntax, semantics, morphology, phonology, phonetics and etymology of your language. This is the second invocation of Melet?.
5. DO NOT practise "slam", "rap", "bush" or other so-called performance poetry, as these are not poetry. Poets may work within these comedic or musical genres as they will, just as poems may be adapted as song lyrics, but nevertheless, they are not in themselves poetic genres: a specific poem may take the form of a rap, but rap, in general, is not poetry.
6. Words are the bricks of the temple of poetry: never miss the opportunity to acquire new words: when reading, ALWAYS consult a reputable dictionary when encountering words you don't know OR CAN'T EXPLAIN THE MEANING OF before continuing perusal. It is useful to maintain lists of such words, and to practise incorporating them into your discourse and practice. This is the third invocation of Melet?.
7. UNDERSTAND THIS: poetry, like all true art, is FORMAL, i.e. the artistry lies in THE BEAUTY AND ECONOMY OF FORM, not in the quality of the idea expressed, or of the image expressing it; formal beauty can be achieved even though the subject matter and/or imagery are disturbing or distasteful.
IGP=93’s GOLDEN RULES of composing poetry
1. NEVER WASTE WORDS: each and every word MUST contribute to the poem in at least one way, just as each brushstroke must contribute to the overall painting, or each note to a piece of music, or each gesture to a dance.
2. Don't tell stories, rather create an image: "paint" a "picture", as it were. If you want to make narratives, write a short story or novella. Narrative poetry is a dead formalism: its origins and finest exponents are from a time when epic poetry was the ONLY mass medium of a largely illiterate population. 21st century poetry exists within the context of numerous, and increasing, narrative media, and its relevance today perforce requires a more deeply cognitive function than simply linear narrative. Therefore, invoke Euterpe and Erato in preference to Kalliope.
3. DON'T LECTURE: if your theme (see below) is polemic, illustrate your policy by imagery, rather than try to educate with ideology. If successful, this is also a far more effective way to impress your policy on your audience than direct pedagogy.
4. Poems must have themes. Theme is NOT subject matter, which poems also generally have, nor is the theme the image, although in the best poems, theme and image are unified. THEME, SUBJECT, IMAGE: when you realise these distinctions, and their connectivity, you will begin to approach the possibility of writing genuine poetry. Therefore, invoke Aoid?.
5. Practise and master some classical forms, then you will be in a position to know if it is necessary or desirable for the purpose of a particular poem whether traditional formalism may be discarded or not. Pablo Picasso did not begin painting as an abstract expressionist, but rather first practised for many years the traditional formalisms of drawing and painting before being able to transcend them. This is the fourth invocation of Melet?.
6. Learn what is meant by "half rhymes" and scrupulously avoid them, unless your form specifically requires them. If your end rhymes include both full and half rhymes, strive for consistency or a patterned development in their deployment. Half rhymes are the cheap tricks of the song lyricist, where the musical setting carries the formal beauty of the work at the expense of literary skill. However, it may sometimes be the case that the overall beauty of a particular poetic image is sufficient to allow seemingly casual use of half rhymes (see, e.g. "Hymn to Night"). The important thing is to know and understand the distinction, and to practise control of it. At no point should slavish strict adherence to formalisms like these overpower the beauty and economy of the poem, however this is not a license to ignore them either. The best poems, and by "best" I mean "most formally beautiful and flawless", are those where the unity of theme, subject, and image converge with such precise control of form that the rigid rules of its structure appear perfectly natural and intuitively obvious. This is the fifth invocation of Melet?.
7. Which brings us to CONVERGENCE of the aspects of poetic structure, which is the central doctrine of this manifesto, and the first law of IGP=93 poetics. Alluded to above, the principle of convergence, whereby theme, subject, image, and form approach a holistic unity, is the hallmark of truly great poetry. Strive for convergence, but for a convergence whose appearance is natural and effortless.
The second law of IGP=93 poetics is: economy and unity of image. I can't stress this enough. This law may be violated, but only by hacks, in disposable practice studies by students, or as a particular, potentially powerful and clever, formalism of its own. However, true poetic artistry requires the ability to sustain an image from the title and epigraph to the coda. As previously remarked, only by achieving such skill can one skilfully dispense with it on occasion.
I have already touched on the principle of economy of image: just as every brushstroke must seamlessly contribute to the overall image in picture painting, or it is a flaw, so in poetry, each word or phrase or stylistic affectation must form part of the overall effect or image, or it is a flaw, and often destroys the otherwise beauty of the poem. This is what I mean by economy.
Related to this, and superior to it, is unity of image: don't mix your metaphors, unless intentioned for deliberate effect. For a perfect example of unity of imagery, see "The Cuckold's Song".
"The Cuckold's Song" also perfectly exemplifies my third law: avoid repetition. Despite the example's title (which is, rather, consistent with the sustained imagery of the poem, as the reference is to birdsong), poems are not songs (although they may be used as such): it is not a standard practice that poems have choruses or refrains, for example, unless such are part of a particular formalism employed for a particular composition. Poems are not songs, though many songs are in fact poems, and many poems can be and should be sung. One might go further and argue that songs, and particularly lovesongs, are a type of poem. Those songs whose lyrics may be counted as poems are those of which the beauty and economy of their lyrics can stand alone, independent of their musical setting; conversely, if, when deprived of its musical context, the words of a song are ordinary, trite, or artless, then this song is not a poem, but a purely musical work with a part for voice. This digression into the relative musicality of poetry and the poetics of songmaking, although an important point of contention in any discussion of poetics in the mass media age, was really to illustrate my third law: avoid repetition, except as a deliberate, considered effect, or implicit formalism. As "The Cuckold's Song" shows, strict adherence to this law, coupled with perfect unity of imagery, makes the overall effect more powerful the longer it is sustained.
The fourth law of IGP=93 poetics is: aspire to inspiration. Poetry is a sublime and spiritual manifestation of divine desire to communicate to humanity. The sole purpose in practising and mastering forms and techniques, acquiring vocabulary and understanding grammatical, morphological and phonetic patterns, and adhering to the refining principles of poetics, i.e., your discipline, study and practice of the art of poetry, is not that any of this will make you into a poet, but it will make you a better poet, if the Goddess and her Daughters have favoured you with Their graces and anointed you a poet. Thus, when the inspiration comes, you will be ready to receive, refine, revise, and transmit it. Therefore invoke Thelxinoë and Arche, Nuit, Babalon and thine own Angel, and invoke often.
In my experience, inspiration can come as a single word or a pair of rhymes, a single line, or a lines, a rough informal outline, or even the entire poem as if dictated by a third party into the mind but once, which reminds me to suggest, as a valuable adjunct practice, the practice of memory retention, particularly short term memory, as, as has happened to me, one of my finest poems ("Love in the Shade") appeared to me in this manner: fully formed and "dictated" by a "voice" not apparently my own, and spoken once only, at a moment when I did not have a pen and paper readily to hand. My memory was all I had as I rushed to find means to record it before it faded. Fortunately (I believe), I succeeded, though right to the limit of my recall. Therefore, invoke Mn?m?.
So, in conclusion, I emphasise DISCIPLINE. The essence of discipline is that in binding yourself with vigilant practice, adherence to the tradition, and competence in the forms and techniques of poetry, you will at last become free to write real and possibly even great poetry.
Therefore, in recapitulation, DISCIPLINE YOURSELF to:
1. Read acknowledged poetry.
2. Educate yourself about language generally.
3. Practise, and severely criticise your efforts. Not everything you start will be finished, or good, but it may be useful to write bad, or even non- poetry, if you are disciplined enough to self-criticism of your work (see 4. below). The utility in this is that it strengthens your character, makes your INTELLECTUAL HONESTY more robust, and gives you more avenues to explore in practice.
4. The final discipline is that of self-honesty, the hardest discipline of course, but you must truly be your own worst critic if you truly a poet: you must reject, or repair if possible, flawed efforts, however attached you are to them. Therefore: REVISE, REVISE, REVISE. Very few poems are perfect as first written. It takes practice and effort to become sufficiently detached from the creative inspirational ecstasy to honestly and critically revise them. With practice it is possible to do this virtually immediately - with a lot of practice. At the elementary level, sufficient detachment may entail putting aside the inspired effort for a day or a week or more. Do not be dismayed if your revisions go into innumerable generations, or that you "unrevise" on a later occasion. All this is normal. The best test for a revision, or competing revisions, is to read them aloud. Poetry, while not singing, nevertheless is intimately tied to the structure of human speech, and must not diverge too far from this whilst simultaneously not depending on exclusively acoustic artefacts for its emotive force. Therefore revise and reread, but at sufficient emotional distance from the normal and natural blind love that the creative feel for their creations, as in parents for children, or the lover for the beloved.
Your own Angelic muse is able to guide you as to the particulars of your own specific discipline, study and practice, I can, of course, only point out what is generally true from the basis of my own particular experience with the grace and love of the Muse and Muses.
Hymn to Night (not: him tonight?)
with planets she’s adorned
shine down upon this earth
Lay your eggs in my nest,
I will cover and always love them.
And you will stretch your wings and fly,
Answering the hunting call of your species.
Our chicks grow under my breast.
You the glorious Star above them.
I can find them morsels and keep them dry,
In this bower of my bluest bits and pieces.
When it's time for the first fledgling's test
And a mild sun discovers our autumn,
They will see you stooping far on high,
And now, like you, their soaring instinct never ceases.
They will join the flock at your behest
But we would never shove them.
With me upon the forest floor and you the sky,
The niche is safe between the treetops and the breezes.
I become an old duck like the rest,
migrate beyond the need to smother them.
You will guide them with your mountain aerie cry
As Spring's keen thermal lofts them where it pleases.
They follow the setting sun into the West,
behind two old birds only joined to mother them.
Though you climb on eagle wings, we still are nigh
Flying in formation to where the peace is.
In the Lust was the Garden
the bones of jesus lay around
and at the gate stood Satan:
"What brings thee here from the flesh?
Here are the corpses of love-sucked ones.
Know ye that beyond this is death?"
"This death is mine!" to him said I
There beyond the sensual dream
I found Shade beneath the lovely sky.
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