I'm way behind on my report of my poetry workshop with Kurt Brown last spring. Which is just a sign that my life got exciting. It still is exciting (I'm so loving this phase! I love having my kids in school! Besides giving me time for myself, it's just a very fun age of kids, and parenting is in general more interesting than it has ever been. I'm only just realizing that the real culprit in my emotional struggles when they were little was boredom). But I ought to keep my commitment and finish out these notes for you!
So here are some things I learned on subsequent days in Kurt's workshop.
In a poetry workshop, it's a good idea to read your poem out loud to the critiquers. And then to have someone else read it aloud, so that you can hear how others will interpret its sounds.
When you number sections (as opposed to just starting a new stanza or separating with a mark), you move away in time and space, maybe subject. Leave it to the reader to look at how they're related. The transitions can be supplied by the reader if you've done your job well.
It is not always best to attempt to end with a punch. This is a sign that you don't trust the reader. Sometimes it's best to end with an image rather than an idea. It's often good to end on a monosyllabic word, or a word that ends with a stress.
Use lineation (the way you break up your lines) to strengthen words, to speed up action or slow it down, to emphasize sound. Remember that poetry is a temporal art--that is, it exists in time. Lineation is how you control the pacing, the passage of time in the poem.
[Kurt passed out a fantastic handout on lineation.]
For speeding things up, use "propulsive breaks," breaks that force the reader to go on to complete the thought. This propels them around the corner. Or tricks of words:
My father beat me
in a race.
Use lineation to imitate the action that the poem is describing.
In formal verse, you work with feet. In free verse, the line is your unit to work with, your unit of measurement.
Leave out as much as you can while leaving enough to allow the reader to draw conclusions. (I wish I could tell this to everyone who submits poetry to Segullah! You don't have to say everything!)
Generic language is not always bad. It makes the poem sound more mythic ("man," "house," "hill").
When you're structuring a poem, say the second most important thing first, then the least important thing in the middle, then the most important thing last.