Gave a talk about a week ago about poetic craft. Seems that so many who write poetry, or aspire to write poetry, don’t know much about this essential aspect of the trade. As T. S. Eliot said, “I gotta use words when I talk to you.”
But what words? In what order? And how do we get there?
It was also Eliot who wrote an early poem called “La Figlia Che Piange,” or “The Weeping Girl” (Prufrock and Other Observations, 1917). I remembered this poem vaguely as I wrote my poetic craft talk, and looked it up. It’s a posed poem, you might call it, in which the poet, acting like a theatrical director, poses a young couple, the young man leaving or abandoning the young woman, who is crying. The third and last stanza goes like this:
She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight and the noon’s repose.
Now, as I muse a new poem of my own, this sad, ironic little poem seems to want to inform my “cogitations.”
As I wrote elsewhere, I know a pretty young woman whom I saw, after a recent group bike ride, in a new light, a side or even sidereal light. I was off to the side, that is, looking at her and appreciating for perhaps the first time not her lovely figure but her more sublime parts, specifically the features of her head, and I noted her long dark hair, her aquiline nose, her full lips, and thought I might get off to the side more often, less involved with the body as a whole, the body as desire, and more appreciative of such fine if evanescent features.
I could pose the girl, or her features, or try to pose them, à la Eliot. But his early modernist irony and cool are not what I’m after here.
As a writer, you might well not know what you’re after till you go after it.
So the effort begins, however roughly.
Off to the side, away from the beer glasses
and chatter, after the group bike ride, I see her
in a new light: not merely her lovely figure,
you see, full in the right places, tight in the others,
which too often I have looked on with desire,
an old man looking at a young woman
whom he does not know: dark hair flowing
to the shoulders, olive colored skin,
eagle’s nose, full lips, and I’d conclude …
Well, a rough beginning, as I say, with some attention even as I go to form:. It’s the choice of the words, I say, what’s put in, what’s left out, however fortuitously: the sound echoes (beer, chatter, figure, desire); the syntactical parallelism, which makes the flow of thought and feeling easier to trace; the insistence on specific details at the end….
For now, this start is good enough, though no doubt I will look at it soon with some distaste, even revulsion. Good of kind, but not good enough. A start, but a rough and bumpy start. Yet desire is being transformed, as in so much art, however slowly, from the sensual and corporeal to something poignant, something of the spirit. Call this process sublimation if you will, though the results to date, for sure, are surely not sublime.