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Remarks to a Poetry Workshop Many creative writing students put too much of their energy into defending what they write, forming a resistance to change which occurs while attempting to write in a way that depends on change as its primary characteristic. Rimbaud tells us that I is another. He means by this that the I one brings initially to writing poetry is at best a chrysalis for incubating an imago, an imaginatively mature, or monstrous I whose life is in the poem. To achieve this second I one must translate the first I, moving it from the language of experience and memory to the language of imagination and inspiration. The poet Rilke has declared that no one should engage in such a "translation" unless he would be willing to acknowledge that he would have to die if it were denied him to write. After making this severe statement, Rilke somewhat softened the matter, adding: "above all:ask yourself in the stillest hour of the night: must I write? Rilke is extreme on this point because he knows that a half-hearted response to such a calling leads nowhere. Some students may feel that I am too hard on them, too, critical of what they write. My response is that I am trying to instill in them a sense ofjust how hard they must become on themselves to be able to translate their given I into a creative I. However, I would be willing to depart from Rilke's command and say that a limited commitment has its uses, and that working on poems can make one a better reader, a better seer, maybe a better lover. In both cases, it is hard to advance without at first imitating or translating poems of those who seem to be beacons of the art. This piece was originally written to be Xeroxed and handed out to students in a seniorlevel creative writing workshop at Eastern Michigan University. It was subsequently published in the February 1994 issue of AWP Chronicle. 9 4 C O M P A N I O N S P I D E R Then one must learn to corner oneself,in the process of being hard on oneself, and to eliminate the two intertwined enemies of the young poet. The first is obscurity and the second, obscurity's opposite, obviousness . Like two facing banks of a roily river, these two enemies beckon, as if offering refuge from the undertow. Obscurity is tempting becauseit releases the writer from the burden of making what he is writing meaningful.One's being obscure is an attempt to shift the burden to the reader, to make him feel that failure to find significance in the poem is his fault, that there is something paradoxically significant about obscurity. In the same way that obscurity frames the obvious, obviousness frames obscurity. What is obvious about obscurity is its failure to articulate a mid-ground, a place that the reader has to reach for (it is not obvious), and a place that contains a reward (significance)for those willing to reach. In the words of Havelock Ellis: If art is expression, mere clarity is nothing. The extreme clarity of an artist may be due not to his marvelous power of illuminatingthe abysses of his soul, but merely to the fact that there are no abysses to illuminate. . . . The impression we receive on first entering the presence of any supreme work of art is obscurity. But it is an obscurity like that of a Catalonian cathedral which slowly grows more luminous as one gazes, until the solid structure beneath isrevealed. Such poems as Yeats's "Byzantium," Hart Crane's "Lachrymae Christi," Dickinson's "My life had stood a loaded gun," Rilke's "Duino Elegies," or Cesar Vallejo's "Trilce I," argue that if the reader iswilling to go 50% of the way,the poem will match that 50%. At the point of fusion , a child that is half poem, half reader-apprehension, is born. When Rilke writes in the sonnet "Archaic Torso of Apollo," that "there is no place / that does not see you. You must change your life."—he seems to suggest that one must either transform oneself or be seen through. There isno unseeing refuge—one stands revealed at every point. This god torso, itself fragmentary, refuses to allow Rilke to cozy up to it. The torso insists that he change his life in order to perceive it, that he match its change (from a...


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