friday roundup: big bad abstraction, the long poem, and a field defined

Who's afraid? (illus. from wikimedia)

Who’s afraid? (illus. from wikimedia)

Hello, Reader, and happy Friday. This week there were no unplanned trips to the county track meet, no many hours spent on a bee sting. There was just the usual end-of-year hustle, and me hiding behind corners and a large sun hat trying to avoid being pressed into service for the end of year party, the 8th grade graduation dance (nota bene: I don’t even have an 8th grader). I went and had fresh blue streaks put in my hair because having blue streaks in my hair somehow makes it easier for me to say NO to requests for cakewalk baked goods (cut and wrapped in individual servings, each labeled with ingredients). I have heard from other poet-mothers that tattoos can serve the same purpose, in case you need some options.

Anyway, here is my humble offering for the week:

big bad abstraction  All poets and writers have been admonished by one Ezra Pound now and forever amen to “Go in fear of abstractions.” Yes. But abstractions serve a purpose, otherwise we would not have them. This week, I was very happy to read an article by David Jauss called “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Abstraction?: Modes of Conveying Emotion.”  Jauss makes the case for using abstractions well. He first articulates common pitfalls in the use of abstractions:

  • the sensory bypass: use of an abstraction “as a sort of shortcut to conveying emotion. Instead of creating on the page the physical sensation of fear, for example, we simply say ‘fear.'”
  • the gloss: “describe(s) body language — but then proceeds to interpret it for the reader” (e.g., eyes that “widen in horror”)

Jauss then recommends strategies for the proper use of abstractions:

  • the use of body language to reveal emotion in a sensory way
  • the use of metaphor to reveal emotion (metaphors, he says, are inherently sensory)
  • the mixing of the abstract and the concrete — sometimes neither alone can do the job

I can’t really do justice to the article here. If you have a subscription to The Writer’s Chronicle, it’s available to you through the AWP archives here. If you don’t have a subscription, this article alone is probably worth the cost (or maybe you can get the article through one of your library’s subscription services).

the long poem  I feel I reached an important milestone in the life of a poet this week. I — I won’t say “finished” — but brought to a certain point near to “sendoutable” my first long poem in sections. It’s not the first I’ve attempted, but it’s the first I’ve brought this far. I’ve been working on it for three years (#tortoise). Here is an insightful article on the long poem by Rachel Zucker. I’d like to say I read and studied this article while drafting my long poem, but no, I did not find it until recently. As is often the case for me with craft essays I read, the article articulates things that I may have intuited but could not have articulated myself. Some gems:

  • “Long poems grapple with narrative” and “are especially susceptible to the pull of narrative.” “Narrative is always an important presence in the long poem, either as ‘a whale under the surface of the ocean’ or in the form itself.” (quote within quote from Alice Notley)
  • “There is always the passage of time” in a long poem.
  • “A long poem isn’t just a short poem that the poet forgot to end. Both require and inspire a different mindset, a different pacing, a different way of being, a different kind and level of intimacy with another person and with the self.”
  • “Long poems can sometimes do a better job of salvaging and preserving individual  moments than short poems can.”

The link again: here.

a field defined  This week I’ve been reading King Baby by Lia Purpura. The collection is a cycle of poems addressed to a totem found in a river by the speaker’s child. It’s a pretty amazing (and brave) construct, if you ask me, and the poems are lovely, cutting, often deceptively short but complex. Here’s one of my favorites (as with all the poems in the collection, there is no title set off from the rest of the poem):


If you want a field defined,
I’ll show you a field. Out any window,
really, is a field, its darknesses
and slopes called hillocks, its burrs
and saw grass whistles.
Matter of habit with those I love,
or might, to show them the field.
Bring up the nature of
ever-falling into it,
falling daily, falling faster, steepness
in the motion, or
we can hold it with one eye shut,
in the window here, a square of it,
its square heart bursting. I think
the heart of a field must always hurt,
postage stamp-sized declination,
root form, much divided
by morning, by evening, by our visits

That was “If you want a field defined” by Lia Purpura

And that’s the goods for this week. I hope you’ve had a happy, creative week. Thanks for reading.


2 thoughts on “friday roundup: big bad abstraction, the long poem, and a field defined

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