09 June 2009


My students tell me that all teachers have their lists of things they warn against. Some don't like gerunds. Some only like lines to break / where they logically would break. I know I have some rules of my own that I dispense, but I can't think of any right now.

Maybe there's something wrong with me, but I like it when writers make "mistakes" and make them work.

I was always told by teachers to explain a lot more. Why? Why? Why? Write in all of the information that's withheld.

No thanks!

Anyway, I wondered what you've been warned against doing, and whether you did it anyway, and whether it worked out for you.

My transgressions:

~ Writing poems that shift subject/theme in the middle, in a way that doesn't immediately seem purposeful, but is.

~ Writing poems about ideas. Poems shouldn't be about ideas! They should be stories about how your aunt dropped the gravy boat at Thanksgiving.

~ Writing poems with images that require unpacking and further consideration. I've been scolded for this. The titmouse sits on the telephone wire, and that is it.

What do you have to say for yourself, now?

PS: I did not smash that bottle of wine at Giant Eagle, but I wished I had.


Collin Kelley said...

My transgressions also include your number one and three. I've also written about graphic sex, used profanity and real names. Lately, I was told not to use too many flashbacks in my fictions, but I did it just the same.

M. Cherry said...

I have been scolded for using the exclamatory O, but O I refuse to let it pass from the language.

P. J. said...

I tell students to avoid intensifiers. Of "I just want to eat lunch" and "I want to eat lunch," I think the second is more intense because, to me, intensifiers don't intensify but reduce meaning, because "just" in the sentence above panders to the listener, implying that "I would really like to deal with your problems at the moment, but you see, really, I have this lunch here, and if I could just eat this sandwich everything will be all right, really." On the other hand, losing that just, you get "I want to eat lunch!" and people will flee your impending wrath.

I still use intensifiers; but, unlike my students, I know how to use them, and when I do it's mostly to help the cadence of a sentence.

Like you, I was told (and I tell my students) to answer Why? into infinity; and if I make a mistake while writing, I try to write everything around it so that mistake looks intentional, and hopefully better than whatever it was I meant to say. Doing so makes a writer step back and scan their paragraphs for a purpose and a point of view, and to double-check whether they've got anything original or if they're just belting out Syntax's Greatest Hits.

And I like to start with coordinating conjunctions, but only sometimes, and mix up sentences, throwing in something ridiculous, where the paragraph's been meaningful, imagistic where it's been descriptive, short where it's been complex...and vice versa to all of those.

Lyle Daggett said...

For a long time I've heard (as a kind of general background rumble, not necessarily as specific "instructions" to me) that poets should cut unnecessary words and lines from their poems. That the first draft of a poem will generally have lines and phrases and words, and perhaps whole stanzas, that should be cut from it to make it a better poem.

I do the opposite. When I'm writing, I assume that everything belongs in a poem. I don't work in drafts, I work line by line, crossing out and rewriting as I go. Of course sometimes I'll find something in a poem that I decide doesn't belong in it, and I'm not opposed, in principle, to taking something out of a poem that really doesn't belong in it.

But my assumption is always that it belongs in the poem. I have to feel strongly, I have to be really convinced, that a word or line (or whatever) doesn't belong in a poem, before I'll take it out. I find that taking this approach makes it easier for me to trust the impulse the poem comes from, and makes it easier to take risky creative chances in poems, than the more restrictive approach of assuming that some of the poem will need to be cut from it.

Kelly said...

I've been sort of creeping on your page now and again and really wanted to respond to this (though I really did enjoy being somewhat anonymous in my creeping).
Anyway, my last creative writing prof told us that we were not allowed to repeat a line in a poem for emphasis. I personally despise this "rule" and pointed out to him that G.C. Waldrep (who the prof was obsessed with and friends with) repeats lines in his poems for this very purpose. He then of course responded that when I am published as much as Waldrep (and respected), I may repeat lines as I choose. Such bullshit, but true.

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