Teaching Myself Poetry: Last Week: 3/10/19 – 3/17/19

The goal of the following blog post is to give a review of what I have been doing to teach myself poetry in the last week. I do this 1) because I am a self-taught amateur poet who is working to improve her skills, 2) I had trouble finding ways to teach myself poetry when I started out so I thought sharing my attempts might be helpful to someone else, and 3) I like talking about the books I am reading. 

I will say this upfront: this is not the first time I have tried to start a blog on this website. This is not even the second. However, the one thing I continually post about on other platforms is poetry, what I am reading, and what I am doing to teach myself poetry. I figure if I write about one of those topics I will never have writer’s block. (The trick is to just start writing about the writer’s block).

Anyway, the point of this intro is to say that I would like to start posting somewhat regularly about what I am doing to teach myself how to write poetry and what I have learned.

I am a self-taught poet who never enjoyed writing poetry when she was in school and so, upon finding poetry as an adult, has been forced to find other ways to teach herself.  The thing is that a little over 2 years ago, when I discovered my interest in poetry, finding a way to teach myself this poetry thing was very difficult. It was not obvious how to approach “learning poetry” when everyone seemed to say that there was no one right way. (I will point out that just because there is no one right way, does not mean there is not a wrong way…but I digress).

Books I Read Last Week

  • The Art of Language Invention by David Peterson
    • I actually finished this book at the start of the week and so most of what I learned from it, I actually learned even earlier. However, as this is my first post, I need to be a bit flexible.
    • If it wasn’t clear from the title, this book is not actually about poetry.  It was written by the guy who invented languages for HBO for the show Game of Thrones, and is about how to write your own language.  I am reading it to have a better understanding of the parts of language and how languages work in general.
    • Why I think this helps me understand poetry better: Poetry and writing in general is an art-form in which language is the artists main and generally only tool.  Teaching myself about why the language I use is set up the way that it is helps me understand what rules I need to follow and what rules I need to break.
    • What I learned: How Language Evolves
      • Evolution of words and how words change meaning over time: The book had a section about how words evolve. The conversation about evolving meaning of words included quite a bit of discussion about how “slang” terms develop and I found that fascinating. After all, I always hear claims about how famous poets (usually Shakespeare) created new words.  It also included a brief discussion of metaphor from a linguist’s perspective- which was interesting.
        • My favorite process by which the meaning of a word changes was “metonymy” –  referring to one thing by means of something related to that thing. I had forgotten about that one since my days in English class. I want to find a way to use it more often.
      • It also provided a different perspective on the sounds of a language. I had never really thought much about pronunciation beyond what I need to consider for rhyming.  I learned a lot in the sections that discussed how the sounds of words evolve and why.
    • Related Link: If you are interested in the idea of constructed languages but do not want to read an entire book, there is also a podcast I have listened to occasionally which I always find to be an interesting perspective on what language is. http://conlangery.com/
  • The Art of Voice by Tony Hoagland with Kay Cosgrove
    • I am currently still in the process of reading this one. It has had some very interesting chapters so far discussing Vernacular and Register. It is a short book but I am taking my time reading it.
    • Interesting Quote: There have been quite a few very interesting quotes in the book already but the one that has made me think the most was: “Things are important, crucially important to a poem, and every good poet is a ‘namer’ and a great lover of nouns.” page 32
    • I don’t consider myself a good “namer”. I don’t avoid nouns in my poems by any means, but they are hardly the focus of my poems. This quote made me pause and think about the poems that I do like and what level of specificity my favorite poems have used.
    • Related Links:
      • Writing Excuses: Show Don’t Tell Episode https://writingexcuses.com/2019/03/03/14-9-showing-off/
        • Why this might be relevant: Since reading the quote about “namers,” I have since started to think that maybe “naming” is the poetry version of “show, don’t tell.”
        • About the Podcast: There is advice often given to fiction writers of “Show, Don’t Tell” This particular podcast episode is a panel of fiction writers having a discussion to help fiction writers better understand how to avoid an “infodump” – specifically around worldbuilding. I found it helpful to get a better idea of where an author would draw that line between “show” and “tell”.
      • A Primer for Poets & Readers of Poetry by Gregory Orr
        • This is one of the first books I read about writing poetry and it is a personal favorite of mine. It has plenty of exercises, and does not focus too much on specific techniques. It was one of the first resources that made me feel like I might actually be able to pull off this whole “teaching myself poetry” thing.
        • Why this might be relevant: Gregory Orr identifies four categories of language use in poetry: naming, singing, saying, and imagining. He has a chapter on each with exercises and everything.  I have had my eye on a rereading of this book for a while, but I am planning on at least rereading the sections on naming and the other categories of language use – hopefully sometime in the next two weeks.  I remember that even when I read it the first time I thought that naming was one of the areas that I needed to work on the most.

Anyway, so that’s a general overview of what I read over the last week in my general quest to teach myself poetry. I have tried to includes some references to additional material for anyone who is interested in doing research of their own.