Pounded by Ezra: Teaching Music like earning poetry
"Don’t imagine that the art of poetry is any simpler than the art of music, or that you can please the expert before you have spent at least as much effort on the art of verse as the average piano teacher spends on the art of music. - Ezra Pound"
RAhh, Ezra Pound; I love it when you bang into me with your concise direction and feedback. This is the latest entry in my series about being a better poet based on the writings of Ezra Pound’s “A few don’ts by an Imagiste”. You can see my two previous entries here:
Pounded by Ezra: trite, cliche, and boring; aiming at the object.
Pounded by Ezra: Write in fear; hump the image like a dog on a leg
We are writers and artists; a poet is like the painter choosing colors and strokes like we pick out words and phrases. Writing at the most fundamental basic level is to communicate. We are giving the reader information. We can measure the effectiveness of our writing by how easily the information passes and if it is accurately relayed. Confusing and obscure language will make it difficult for the reader to understand our message. It will be jumbled and chaotic or so disconnected from the reader’s reference it will be jibberish.
My previous “Pounded by Ezra” entries looked at how you can be a more effective writer by choosing your words well. I looked at how you can avoid abstractions, and how you should use the natural objects (images) to do the heavy lifting for you without superfluous adjectives or adverbs.
This entry is all about effort.
Ezra states very appropriately with a clear image we can all recognize that “poetry is [not] any simpler than the art of music.” Have you wanted to play guitar and sing like your favorite band? I used to sing along to Taylor Swift firmly believing that my voice matched her’s in perfect pitch; I didn’t. I thought in the car when I was driving my inflection and tone were just as crooningly soulful and power laden as Taylor’s own voice. The first time I picked up a guitar to strum out a few cords all I could get were the repeating clanging of my nails discordant on the strings with the buzzing cacophony of misplaced fingers over the frets.
I’m sure you’ve put your finger on the center of a fret not next to the raised metal and got that buzzing discord.
We do not expect to be virtuosos the first time we start learning G and B chords. Hell, even a year into daily practice our guitar skills would be barely public playable.
Ezra says we should have no expectation that writing poetry well is any easier than mastering an instrument.
I can use tricks like broken rhyme, image laden lines, and assonance in moderation to give the guise of quality poetry, but my lyrics are still floundering without the tight concise precision of practiced perfection.
Ezra continues, “don’t imagine […] that you can please the expert before you have spent at least as much effort on the art of verse (poetry) as the average piano teacher spends on the art of music.”
Ahhh! This speaks for itself. I’ll reiterate anyways because it is so important: our poetry will not be great to poets until we’ve earned the right with effort equal to the musician who can competently teach how to play.
Poetry is so difficult for a medium for excellence because the barrier to entry is so low. Any idiot can spew out verse like journaling and we encourage them to with votes, likes, and platitudes for the most confusing language and cliche boring trite. I’m reminded of a popular steemian that publishes poetry so obtuse and laden with words so difficult you need to look up in a dictionary every other line. The content is so confusing, obscure, unrelated and terribly incomprehensible I struggle to get through more than two stanzas before drifting into boredom. I would call it “bad poetry.” The bar for poetry is low. Any stream of consciousness careless word vomiter can disgorge their lyrics.
The true poet, according to Ezra is the person willing to devote time and effort into practicing the same notes an hour a day. The musician that memorizes a song a week for the first year and can recreate it with all the pauses and breaks with fast adequate fingering is like the poet that knows how to count feet in iambic pentameter and can wrestle language enough to stuff it into the wrappings of structure.
There is a significant difference between the bubbling journaling "poet" or the dabbling musician that memorizes songs well enough to jam with a friend and the knuckle bleeding carpel tunnel typer straining eyes over which words combine best to illustrate the point without taking away from the lyrical flow. The Poet is practiced, effort stuffed tyrant over her words.
We must earn the right and confidence to stumble past casually expelling the first words fresh out of our fingertips, and refine them with effort and deliberate practice. I’m thinking about poems that focus on assonance to get better at using it; poems that don’t rhyme to find the natural rhythm of the words themselves, poems intended like scales to practice our delivery to every always improve.
When I think of an average piano teacher I realize I cannot do the same thing; couldn’t even begin to teach someone to play after a week of lessons. How can I expect excellent poetry (which is similar in craft to playing an instrument) after writing a poem a day for a couple months?! I cannot! Nor do I expect anyone else to approach that level of master. But I don't want to waste my valuable free time reading mediocre poetry. Mediocre poetry with the effort and gumption of someone flexing their skill and straining against inadequacy is great! Readers learn through others trials, but I refuse to sink precious minutes warping my brain against obscurity because the poet refused to consider the reader or believes that intended abstraction is good writing.
I want to bleed with the writer as they struggle against shaping their perspective into the prison of language. When reading, i'm very forgiving to the honest attempt; but disdainful of the casual blather of those unwilling to reach for the art of poetry in the same way I'd dismiss a novice playing the violin. Good attempt; but we won't be inviting you to play at our party. Keep practicing. And we poets should too.
I’m not going to concerts or listening to musicians at Potbelly at noon who only do scales! We expect a certain competency from our musicians why don’t we treat poetry the same?
“Don’t imagine that the art of poetry is any simpler than the art of music.”
Poetry demands the same practice and effort that training your hands and breath to sing and play guitar. Treat it with that same respect and your readers will follow, thank you, and twist themselves around your words like a dog scratching his back in grass.
I am a charlatan masquerading as a poet. In a recent comment I truthfully likened my own poetry as a magician that knew enough to perform other masters's tricks without understanding enough to perform my own. My daily effort is spent creating; flexing the muscle of action with deliberate practice, and blundering ever forward without the revision I preach. I tell myself in the back of my elbows (behind my typing fingers in constant motion) that some day when I publish my book I'll refine and edit these poems. I should expect the same scorn and dismissal I rave about here. Yet, I've edited this very post ten times already, and return frequently to my own work sneaking in changes because I'm compelled to. Maybe it is my attempt to earn your votes, and the right to complain.
We are artists; we are poets and the effort of our craft is expressed in excellence. Let our work speak to our anguish (of caring about quality verse).
My poetic attempt to practice deliberate language:
Intent: 3 images, 2 similes, 1 metaphor, 2 words that rhyme not connected. Fewest words possible.
Pause. Pulse faster than breath should allow
reading shit-posts with 200 votes like Trump got 61 million;
pissed off vomit praised like lobster rolls and cream sauce
(once picked off the beach and boiled with onions too poor for chicken).
Deep inhale and blow out disgust with long excessive exhale heavy with garlic my boyfriend cringes at,
as reluctant to kiss me after as he is to eat it.
Pause. Look for effort. Ask, “how would I feel?” Type:
Let me call you a contemporary poetry guru. I really learned from your words. Now, I understand why we write, how to write, what to write, and when to write. Keep it up; your strength is inspiring. God bless you!!
I love this post, it is written from your bowels, i really like the passion you put in your profession and how you understand it and how you have exposed it here.
Perhaps you are thinking about what topics or what to do in these new door wich is steemit.
You can publish your texts, coach other persons (who do efford to dignify writting), post more about your day a day (because it's difficult posting quality content every day), post poetry, erotica texts, prose, learning about poetry and techniques (as Ezhra ones)...
It's just a perception, you tell me if you want about that...
Mmm, this is something I needed to read. I often find myself floundering and flailing about as I try to write down that sweet "magic".
"my lyrics are still floundering without the tight concise precision of practiced perfection."
-Sums up my feeling towards my own poetry perfectly, I've often felt a fraud when I've written something not too terrible and realized I had no idea how I had created it.
The need for consistent, persistent and dedicated practice of the craft is needed for you to see yourself improve, as with all skills, yet it seems I'm only now realizing this. No not realizing, but having it sink in.
Thank you @jocelynlily for this excellent post.
I need to read this too! I like how you call it "that sweet magic." Sometimes it feel like it is; I'm reminded of the "flow state" . It is that period where the outside world disappears and your brain focuses entirely on the task at hand. They talk about snowboarders (haha olympic tie in!) finding it easily because you can get there with fight or flight kicking in and the requirement for split second decisions. Basically you get awesome at everything when you're consumed by your task at hand. I think that "sweet magic" is when we're aiming our attention so completely at writing that the words coalesce to our will barely fuzzing from our typing.
I know for me, when I'm writing sometimes distraction and over thinking clouds the delivery to make mediocre work. Like you said, there are times where you've written something incredible and you have not idea how you created it. I think those are moments of "flow." They come through you. It is as if all the training and practice click together and you channel your intent through the practiced prism of your skill.
I'm so happy this resonated with you. There are some harsh words for the mediocre (of which I am one!) so I was worried it was too critical. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
"flow state" eh? Seems to explain a lot. I know I've had a couple moments practicing kung-fu where all of a sudden everything clicked and as you said; "you channel your intent through the practiced prism of your skill.". They were moments where I thought with my body and moved with my heart, a state I was unsure of what to call.
It's Intriguing as well as logical linking these different yet similar states together, gives me the drive to put forth the effort required to draw closer to grasping said states.
Those words may have been harsh(I hadn't found them too much so) but they are words needing to be heard. Please continue to lay out your thoughts in the future without being overly worried about offending delicate sensibility's!
I definitely agree with you and Mr. Pound. Writing is very much a skill to be learned and mastered, much in the same way one masters a musical instrument, or any other skill for that matter.
Some people speak of "natural talent," but I think that often sets the wrong expectation--that it doesn't take a shit ton of work, dedication, consistency, and discipline to get really good. It definitely does!
Yes, there are those who may have a natural affinity for writing or music or another craft, but it still takes hard work to become a master. As an artist, I believe that hard work is a necessary part of the creative process, and there is joy in the process itself, not simply in the completed work :)
Great post @jocelynlily!
Thank you @dinavice! I'm so happy you've stopped by to read and comment. The "natural talent" thing boils my blood and sends me frothing.
Talent is mostly an affinity for; someone who likes to do it and does it well with seeming less effort than someone else that struggles. I like to think it is just the "talented" person has spent more time doing things and wiring their brains to be good at that particular thing.
To you, to me, hard work for all! Yay! Wait. Ugh. back to the grindstone.
I think I know who you're talking about. I'm surprised you can get through two stanzas. I can't. And, I suspect it is deliberate, an attempt to sound intellectually profound. But as Freud never said, "Sometimes baloney ... is just baloney." :-)
Editing ... that's the key. Vicious, vicious editing. Should it be "a" or "the" ... and then changing it a hundred times. I have a process I call "curing" (like curing meat). I write a poem, and edit it, until I think it's perfect. Then, I don't look at it for a week. When I go back, sure enough, there's the flaws.
The problem is I fall in love with what I'm writing and I begin to see it through rose-colored glasses. A certain line I think is genius, or a certain turn of phrase I'm desperate to preserve. In a week, I've forgotten the lies I told myself to prevent having to do what has to be done. Change it.
"Damn, that doesn't flow. That sounds forced. This just does not segue well enough."
Personally, I wouldn't have chosen Ezra Pound as my mentor ... I'm a little "older school" than that. But what's important is that you've decided to study poetry. Most poets don't understand anything about the neuroscience that occurs when people read a poem. It's not just about "The way you want to say it," it's also about, "The way they need to hear it."
If you're curious, I expound at some length upon the issue in a couple of my articles (they're linked together). I'd love to hear your thoughts.
BTW: It's nice what you're doing for that girl in Thailand. I stumbled upon your comments and decided to check out your feed. One of my complaints about Steemit is how many people turn into groveling sycophants in the comment sections of posts. I would far rather receive honest feedback and constructive criticism, that a re-phrasing of my words followed by insincere blathering about my brilliance.
Thank you for your comment! I agree, "baloney is just baloney. " I want to shout with force of belief that sometimes speaking plainly so your readers can connect with you is more important that sounding smart.
I'm all for using the appropriate words, but not so obscure as to be incomprehensible.
Yay editing! So true.
I hear what you mean about falling in love with what you've written. Someone said about editing, "kill your darlings." We have to chop up our efforts and slice them apart to make them better. I think we forget that we're not only writing for ourselves, we're writing for other people to read our stuff and accept our images. We write to show others what we see/feel/experience and what we read as clear others may not. Our efforts should craft our language so it is received well. That means our convoluted word flow and image may not be effective and needs to change no matter how attached we've become to it. Good point!
By older school do you mean Romantics? Shakespearean? lyrical like troubadours? spoken heroic couplets for the oral tradition? Maybe Donne? Yeats?
Pound is an accessible starting point; I think the doorway for today's poetry. We fight attention, video, gifs, art, porn so diverse every fantasy is a few clicks away. Our words have to overcome all that dopamine (yes, poetry can work as Nike ads) , it has to produce MOAR dopamine than readers get elsewhere. Pound is great because he is merciless and were most people to follow his rules poetry would be so much more meaningful and relatable.
After we move through Pound, I think we can move deeper into structure, sensation, and sound.
I'm not sure what you see me doing for "that girl in Thailand." My goal is to exploit my training at university for the benefit of others. Maybe talking about an explication?
Oh god yes. The sycophantic simpering drives me nuts. I feel bad being critical sometimes, but I honestly do it in the hopeful affectionate goal that it helps them improve.
HAHAHA, "insincere blathering about my brilliance!" Feels good for a few times, then when nothing of substance is said you're like, "huh? did you even read it?"
Every poem is a battle against style, a search for words true to the moment.
1.93% @pushup from @jocelynlily