How Do You Receive the “News” from Poems?

(This is a repeat of a previous post from my poetry blog. I resuscitated it because it evokes or conjures up the true spirit of poetry.)

“Getting the news” from poems means reading between the lines and noting every nuance, inflection, and sound. When reading a poem and when trying to determine what a poem conveys, it is imperative to examine where and how words are situated. Every vowel has weight; every consonant carries a message as semi-vowels and mutes. Every semi-vowel (l, m, n, and r) performs its own role as if on stage and contributes to the fluency of sounds. Even the mutes (b, d, k, p, q, t, c, and g) are very important as they can “stop the breath” if they are at the end of the syllable (Oliver 22).

As a writer and as a reader of poetry, I hone in on connotations and “feel” what the words are working very hard to convey. Every lilt of the tongue and every sound that forces the tongue to touch the roof of the mouth (or not) conveys a special message, even if the message is packaged in an alliterative container, hidden in similar beginning consonant sounds or assonance—repeated vowel sounds. There is immense beauty in both.

Not necessarily in any order, and not necessarily conscious of the process, but after or before the tongue separates the vowels and the consonants, my voice pays tribute to all the efforts I put in by enlivening the performance: the reading of poetry. The eyes, the ears, and the lips work collaboratively for effortless flow so that I and/or readers of my poems will/can enunciate words correctly. This is the process of poetry reading for me. My heart quickens in anticipation of the joy in beauty or The Beauty in My Joy (the title of one of my books of poetry). Each word, syllable, or letter (vowel and/or consonant) is not a quick study but a deliberate devotion to determine what a poem conveys about the human condition.

Sadness, happiness, elation, melancholy, achievement, deprivation, celebration, poverty, infidelity, and other emotions and conditions line up and vie for places in my poems marching in time and in tune with how I chose to arrange them. The gravity of the depth or the height of the ascension of my mood depends on how I choose to arrange poetic elements with craftiness, creativity, and surprises strewn all over the lines and in-between, unseen but felt.

Mary Oliver says that the reason contemporary people write poems (whether they know it or not) is out of a desire to be liked (Oliver 11). I am split on this opinion. Most of the time, I write poetry for me and play with words and aim to surprise myself even with discordant words and/or incongruous words. I do this on purpose like throwing in this line, “To womb much is given, much is required,” not to bait any reader, but that is the type of surprise I insert as a stroke of ingenuity and craftiness.

Even when I am reading poetry for sheer pleasure, my mind cannot seem to take a break; it works for 24 hours. Therefore, I continually analyze poetry for style and select words for the perfect sound and the perfect shade of meaning. This is a lesson I learned from Les Edgerton: “Fetch synonyms for sound” (20).  

I am continuously studying other poets and writers. I study style and emulate the greats. In my collection are poems that resonate with the distinct style and voices of Maya Angelou in “And Still I Rise,” Robert Frost in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and Langston Hughes in “Mother to Son,” and others.

I read extensively. When I took a poetry course, and I saw the list of books, I was concerned, but I heaved a sigh of relief when I saw Mary Oliver’s name. I own at least one of the craft books in the pile and guidebooks from these renowned authors: Oliver, Edgerton, Laraine Herring, Henry James, Don Murray, Gregory Fraser, Jane Yolen, Heather Sellers, and others. After reading each seasoned author, I resolve to take away something that will alter my writing life as I know it.  

Every poet writes hope into the lines: hope that the reader will take away a valuable lesson, hope that the reader will experience some sort of a paradigm shift, and hope that the reader will cry or laugh while or after reading the poem. Although most of my poems are thematic poems, I am on a new path toward “tone” poetry that will cause some sort of mood change, a change like the traffic light, switching from emotion to emotion on cue as if programmed like the traffic light.

As boring as this topic sounds, I have been hooked on tea (the hot version and the culture) all my life and saw it as a passionate art with its tradition and class and etiquette and virtue (patience and practice). It took a while before I forced myself to move on to other subjects. The ocean seems to be a recurring theme because it holds my muse on its undulating surface.

I grew up about 30 miles from the Atlantic Ocean in Nigeria. If I can be near an ocean, I tend to write my heart out. My childhood does not have a whole lot to do with this muse-by-the-ocean phenomenon. I blame the fixation on the movie, “Something’s Gotta Give,” the laissez-faire writing lifestyle of the main character, and the impressive oceanfront haven located in the Hamptons.

Maybe I will find my muse and a better tone in the oceanfront house. My tone used to be strident and preachy (two horrible mixtures). I aimed to let the world know that it and its teeming eight billion people needed me to “fix and repair” their wayward ways. Again, like my fixation on poetry on tea, I had to let it go and realize that preaching is the nail that will seal my poetry career permanently. My tone is softening, a work in progress.

Ultimately, I would like the readers of my poems to find themselves in the lines, to discover something relatable, something they need, a link to themselves. While they are on that self-discovery, I hope they will have fun and get lost in the creative surprises in the lines in my poems and remember some of those lines and quote them willy-nilly.

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Work Cited

Edgerton, Les. Finding Your Voice: How to Put Personality in Your Writing. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 2003. Print.

Oliver, Mary. A Poetry Handbook: A Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1994. Print.

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