Friday, August 11, 2017

Moonlight Musings









Am I Any Good?

Or rather, are my poems any good? (And how can I tell?)

My old friend, fellow-poet and frequent collaborator, Jennie Fraine, recently came from interstate to visit me for a few days. (Here we are lunching in town.) Some of our conversations, of course, were about writing and poetry.























At one point I confessed worriedly, 'I think some of the poems I post to my blog are a bit ... er ... slight.'

'Nooo!' she exclaimed in shocked protest. But then, 'Well, if you're writing to prompts and writing a poem every day....'

Jennie has done a lot of work in schools, inspiring kids to make poetry. She said she tells them, 'If you write one poem a week, it might be a good one or not, but if you write seven a week, there are more chances for some of them to be good.'

That was reassuring. It suddenly gave me permission to write some poems that aren't as good as others – whatever 'good' means, and however it's determined. (Perhaps I should let my readers judge.)

I don't write every day, though sometimes I do, e.g. in April Poetry Month. I do write most days. Last year I wrote 257 poems that I kept (I just counted). Mind you, some of them were very short; but others were not. I guess, with that kind of output, year after year, I needn't worry about a few duds. Or even a lot of duds.

I also realised that 'slight' poems might have their place. After all, I like to try a variety of forms and styles; they don't all have to be big and important! And some of those which I consider slight, or ordinary, or lacking in some way, seem to please my readers.

I think of what I myself enjoy reading. Yes, I love the ones that knock me out with their assured craft and stunning language, the ones that are incredibly beautiful and/or deeply moving, and those that pull no punches with their powerful utterances. (I find plenty of examples of all of these on your blogs, dear colleagues – just in case you're wondering whether yours are any good.) But I also enjoy the humorous pieces, the wordplay for its own sake, the domestic vignettes, the celebration of the ordinary, the efforts and explorations of those still learning their craft (hang on, isn't that all of us? I mean, the learning doesn't stop).

When it comes right down to it, a poem is a one-on-one piece of communication. Even when it is read by a lot of people – even when it is heard by a lot of people – each person apprehends it individually. If you're looking to posterity, you will need a consensus of enough people over time saying it is good; but here and now, that is a decision for every individual reader/listener. You can only ask, 'Was it good for you?' and they must all decide for themselves.

The question, 'Is it any good?' in general terms becomes meaningless.

'I liked it,' someone comments, or even, 'I love this'. Or perhaps, 'That really made me think'. Or, sometimes, 'LOL'. All of those mean that poem was good in that moment, in that interaction; it was good as a piece of communication.

They often also mean it's good as a work of art. Someone might love what a poem says; someone else might thrill to the way it says it. Ideally, I guess, the two can't be separated. It's poetry; our medium is language.  Even when we're writing with the focus on the language itself, in ways that fracture, complicate or layer meaning, still we are communicating something. We succeed when our readers – or some of them – get it, whatever the 'it' may be in the particular instance.

I've been thinking aloud here. Have you followed me so far?  Did I reach a valid conclusion? What's your opinion? How do you personally cope with the inevitable self-doubts? (They are inevitable, aren't they?)


Feel free to share your thoughts.

49 comments:

  1. Yes, thank you. All of this is so much better--yes, I meant that as a qualitative comment--than trying to meet someone else's standards. Sometimes I think mine aren't poetry, and struggle to get in some of the symbolism and brevity and sharp image making that characterizes some of the writers here that I adore, but I write out of love and necessity and have my own style(s) and sense of humor. It is marvelous when my poems touch someone else as well. That's why I love it here so much! As I learn to use my poetic voice more effectively, I love the stages of getting feedback and finding where and how a poem works for others.

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    1. I have grown to love the interactive nature of this community so much that writing without blogging and exchanging comments now seems very static. And I think one of the pleasures of it is that amongst us all we encompass such a variety of voices and styles. How dull if we all wrote the same way!

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    2. Oh, Susan, your writing certain IS poetry..and your words are rich with symbolism and imagery. When I comment your poetry, I so often wonder where to start - what to say - because there is just so much depth and richness & often so many levels that I often cannot scratch the surface.

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  2. Poets are wordaholic and can't not write and everyone has his or her signature style. It's wonderful when both head and heart excel. I read a lot & for me writing is learning, healing and communicating specially in these days of blogging. Really love your Moonlight Musings, Rosemary.

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    1. Oh yes, the learning and healing are a vital part of it too!

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    2. Ah, yes - learning, healing and communicating. - so true. I like he idea of 'when both head and heart excel.' When that happens within a poem, I think the poet has found his/her own kind of perfection and has written something which will stand the test of time.

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  3. I love Moonlight Musings - my favourite of your features, Rosemary. And this is especially meaningful to me at the moment, when words are not coming easily or well. If at all. (I suspect my excessive fatigue is taking a toll and hope it lifts soon.) Everything you say here resonates with me. When I first began blogging, I was intimidated by some of the exceptionally gifted poets, feeling my poems were lacking in comparison. Some kind poets assured me that each poet speaks with his or her own voice, and all voices are valued for what they have to say, and I relaxed. I look back at poems I have written through the years. I marvel at some of them, and now feel my current writing falls far short in comparison. But I reassure myself that we go through these times, which Louise Erdrich calls a "time of gestation", and I have to hope the words will flow more easily once again. I never find your poems "slight". I always enjoy them and it is true, sometimes the poems about the simple joys of living really speak to the heart the most. Thanks for this thought-provoking feature. I look forward to reading the resulting comments.

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    1. I do agree about the 'gestation period'. I no longer worry if I have periods when the writing won't happen ; I have learned to know that they are what I call 'input time', they do eventually end of their own accord, and then you find that your poetry has somehow (in the subconscious) taken a quantum leap.

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    2. Ah, Sherry.....I feel as you do, that when I look back at the poems I have written through the years, I think my current writing falls FAR short by comparison. But I also hear what Rosemary's friend says -- if you write a lot of poems, at least some of them will be good! I hope that even though I am a harsh judge of my recent 'poetry,' perhaps some will stand the test of time (in my eyes), and perhaps this is the same for you too.

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  4. What a timely musing! I frequently feel my poems are lightweight. As a rule I don't deal with the worrisome state of our politics and environment, which so many of our poets do so eloquently. I often wish we could have "sneak peeks" a week in advance of the challenges, since I feel I do my better work when I can cogitate, write and refine. I sometimes write something that pleases me, but it doesn't fit any of the weekly prompts. However, being welcomed so warmly into this poet community has been a much-needed spark to my poetic efforts. I do so enjoy reading the work of others. Thank you so much for your contribution, Rosemary.

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    1. I don't experience your poems as 'lightweight' Bev, but as delightful interludes in my reading, with their imagination and humour and their many moments of warmth and truth.

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    2. Ah, I enjoy your poetry very much, Bev. You have your own very distinctive voice; and I look forward to reading your musings, remembrances, and perspectives!

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    3. I feel you! Look at the bottom of each week's Midweek Motif to see the motif/theme for the following week.

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  5. A wonderful musing...I often have doubts about my poetry and then I remember that I am writing to say something from my soul for me first....some may like it and some may love it....and if it has spoken to one other person, then I am satisfied.

    And I agree I have never found your poems 'slight'. I think we do each have our own style and voice which is hard to compare....so I try not to. I am inspired by other styles and it stretches me....and that is another complement to that poet.

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    1. Ah yes, you remind me – thank you! – of something I have often said: that we write first for ourselves (because we must) and only then to communicate.

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    2. Yes, I agree with you, Donna, in writing for oneself first, but if someone else likes it or if it speaks to one other person, that is a good thing.

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  6. G'day Rosemary, and thank you for your musings. I haven't (yet) read a poem of yours that I didn't like, however "slight", but with an output as large as yours, you can surely be excused for the occasional "lesser" work. It is all part of your oeuvre, and your clear voice is heard even (perhaps especially) when you sing of the commonplace. There are depths even in "the shallows" of your poetry, and your light reveals much that was formerly unseen (or unnoticed).

    I have to learn to be kinder to my own works, which are few and far between and rarely leave me "satisfied".

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    1. Thank you, my friend, for this beautifully poetic description of my poetry! I'll have to remember to remember it when I need reassurance.

      On the other hand, I think it comes with the territory of art that we are rarely if ever satisfied with our own works. That's why it is said that a poem is never finished, only abandoned.

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    2. "To be kinder ..." resonates with me. I think we are harshest on ourselves.

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  7. Thank you, Rosemary, for this and all you do.

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  8. A thoughtful - and thought provoking - essay, Rosemary. 'When it comes right down to it, a poem is a one-on-one piece of communication', gave me pause. I don't believe that I have ever thought of it quite that way but ... yes, I see that.

    I do wonder, from time to time about whether 'I am any good'. But I don't dwell there, for long. None of my close family or friends write poetry and, consequently I think, they tend to be over-the-top effusive about the fact that they know someone who actually does write poetry. I suppose, I have come to buy into their perspective: I write it ... if that's enough for the people who know me best, perhaps that ought to be enough for me. Smiles.

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    1. The thing about one-on-one communication struck me as I was writing this. I think it's lovely that those close to you are your cheer squad!

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    2. Ha, I used to wonder if I was 'any good' as well. I think that was during a time when I was thinking of my poetic legacy. Right now I no longer think about that. I think perhaps my poetic legacy is the poetry I have already living. Now I write what is on my mind. I truly honestly don't worry any more if people like it or agree with it or judge me by it. I just write. I realize some are not 'real' poetry. But then again if my message has meaning to me and perhaps a few others, that is what is important. I think not 'dwelling' (your word) on what is or is not good perhaps comes at a certain stage of one's poetic life. I definitely am there; and perhaps you are too! Smiles.

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    3. You are lucky to have fans in your own family!

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    4. That's for sure! My family acts like poetry is some weird unfathomable aberration that is faintly embarrassing, and they dont know what to do with it. LOL.

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  9. I loved reading this and Rosemary I see people like you as real professionals You wrote 257 poems that you kept? Unbelievable.
    If I get to 40 a year than that's a lot. There is nothing however which gives me more pleasure and it is very satisfying when people read it as well. I enjoy the community too and learn a lot from reading all the different works of art.

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    1. At the very least, we have learned to follow our bliss.

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    2. I think to enjoy writing and the fact that people read what one writes (even if it sometimes may be just a few) is what it is all about. Community is SO important.

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    3. I so agree. Once upon a time, writing — and particularly writing poetry —
      was a solitary art. Even when it got published, it sort of went out into the void. We had to wait for purchasers and reviewers to get some sense of how it was received. It is wonderful to be part of this community with its variety, interactions and warmth — and for me, as a staff member, it is also a great gift to have this platform to share what inspires and interests me.

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    4. I am so grateful for the online poetry community. Before I found it, in 2010, my writing was drying up for lack of support and nurturing. Having anyone read my work makes me very grateful, and I have written more since I have been writing online than I did in my whole life before, and writing makes me happy, because I have always known I am supposed to be doing it. So thank you, all, for being such a wonderfully supportive and interactive community. Our poetry flourishes in such an atmosphere! We are read by more people than if we had published books sitting on a shelf somewhere that only a handful stumbled upon. Makes me happy.

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  10. Thank you Rosemary...this has been a week of interruptions. I started to read your blog several times, and was interrupted. When I could get back, again I was interrupted, this happened several time. I began to wonder, was there something I was not supposed to read? Today is Saturday, and my "to do" list is long, but this morning alone in my studio I am reading your blog with much pleasure.

    About writing, for me it is the "cry" of my soul. I never judge it. What it is, is what it is. Sometimes I feel the work inspired, and others, not so much. But to me each is valuble.

    I am always amazed? Where does it come from? What am I really trying to say? Each piece is a wonder. And when I read the work of others, I ask the same questions. Perhaps the work of others flls in the blanks in my own work?

    It is always amazing, how different each poem is, even when responding to the same prompt. Reminds me of how different each of us are, and how different our experiences are.

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    1. I like the idea of one's poetry being a cry of the soul & something that is not to be judged. I am going to hold this thought, as it expresses so much. Interesting that you are sometimes amazed at your work and from where it comes. I always sense it comes from a very, very deep place.....where meaning lives. Some of us may never reach that place, but definitely appreciate those who do! I enjoy as well the different ways people write as well as the differences in each one of us. What I like about this community is the acceptance of those differences!

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    2. Yes, that variety of response provides us with great richness! And I think we all sometimes feel that a poem moves through us rather than just coming from us (and those are the ones we treasure most).

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  11. Rosemary, I think we all write some 'slight' poems and some that are not slight. This week I spent some time with the 2018 Wisconsin Poets' Calendar, which is put out every year. There are 100-150 short poems written by Wisconsin poets (some known - many unknown). As I read them I realized that I found many of these poems 'slight' (even by those poets I was familiar with). I found myself realizing that I MUCH more enjoy the poetry of all of you who write here, who I have been able to follow and interact with - some of you for years. I also found myself thinking - heck, I should have submitted something to this journal....LOL.

    I do think the question "Is it any good?" is fairly meaningless. There are many well known & published poets whose works I do not enjoy, though they have been judged 'good' by those who set the literary standards. I guess that brings to mind another question, doesn't it? What really makes a poem "good" or a poet a "good" poet?

    And as for 'slight' poems -- ha, sometimes they are just what one needs to write; and sometimes one enjoys a 'slight' read which gives a smile or a nod rather than an 'aha!' A great feature today, Rosemary.

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    1. Mary I absolutely agree with what you say about "Is it any good?". A poet's voice is always important to me in what & how he/she says. Along with Rosemary's article, everyone's thoughts, her comments and your wonderful responses make this feature a treasure. Thank you.

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    2. Wise words, Mary — and Sumana too.

      Yes, great discussion on this one!

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  12. When it comes to judging the quality (or lack thereof) of any piece I write, I am completely hopeless.

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    1. Don't even worry about it, Mama Zen! In my opinion you consistently write outstanding poems.

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  13. Absolute valid conclusion, Rosemary. Who really knows what a good poem is? For me, the only validation of what I write, is when someone tells me it touched them. Doesn't matter in what particular way, just that they have recognized something in the writing that spoke to them.

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    1. I think that is truly what we all hope for, Sara, and the thing that means most. As for what a good poem is — maybe there are many answers!

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  14. Poetry is my luxury . I need to write to cope with life.Also for me a much better way of keeping a 'sometime journal' that I like to share. As others have said if it touches someone, comforts someone, puts a smile on their face then that it a wonderful bonus.In my experience the best writers of any genre are' givers'.It shines through. It never occurs to me if my poetry is 'good' because I am not planning on putting food on the table from my poetic endeavours. It is pure and simple pleasure.It is a healthy addiction.I like poetry that sings. Poems that have me in awe keep me on my toes and I must admit a little envious:)

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    1. "It is a healthy addiction"...Aye, aye, absolutely, both for readers and writers.

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    2. Ah yes, I too love that 'healthy addiction' idea. So true! And yes again –essentially I do it for my pleasure. Indeed, I think that is the best reason!

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  15. What a great interview..I think we all write some duds but the key is to keep writing no matter what...thanks to you both for the inspiration

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    1. If you write duds, Jae, I have yet to see them!

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  16. What a wonderful discussion this feature produced. Wow. Rosemary, your moonlight Musings are the BEST!!!!!!!!!

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  17. Writing poetry and posting it on the web is much like hanging your washing on the line. Some billows with pride like sheets in the wind and others like socks hang there unnoticed until some observant reader points out some finer points in the prose (or hose in this case!) Seriously when we write we put a little bit of ourselves in the writing in this urge to create something to say we were here much like cavemen scratching pictures on their cave walls. I agree this is a really great feature.

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    1. Thanks, Robin. I love your 'washing line' image. Sounds like material for a poem right there! (Grin.)

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