“Poetry is the tunnel at the end of the light.”
“The poem is always more important than the poet. Poets biodegrade in short periods of time. If there’s any chance that the poem might have a half-life after the poet’s death, that’s wonderful. Not all of us are so lucky. Most of us return to ash, and so do our books after a short time.”
“Poetry is perfect verbs hunting for elusive nouns.”
“I have always believed that poems beg to be read aloud, even if the reader is in a world all her own.”
“You have to consider that when you’re writing a [biographical] poem, a person’s life has to be distilled. I think of it as a photograph in words of human experience, sort of personified emotion if you will. You know going into it that you don’t have to treat the person’s whole life. You can single out some anecdote of his or her life that speaks to the whole person, and that’s what I try to do. I just love writing biographical poems. I don’t claim that they are in any way competitive with full-blown biographies. But the whole idea is to get people, in reading poetry, to look for that “Aha!” moment, when they sit back and say, ‘Wow, I never thought of it that way before.’ ”
“Poetry is prose, bent out of shape.”
“You get up every day, saying to yourself you’re going to write great poetry. It doesn’t matter if you fail. The point is that you’re trying. If you’re not trying to write great poetry, if you’re satisfied to write middling poetry, then what is the point? “
“The reason I [rhyme] is that sound is every bit as important as sense.”
“I would say as far as choosing between free verse and rhyme, often times if I’m writing about a serious subject, I will choose free verse because free verse is invariably not funny. If you’re writing nonsense, half of the delight is the sound, is the rhyme. So I wouldn’t try and write a funny poem in free verse. I suppose it’s been done, but certainly not very often.”
“If poetry uses words in a way that nobody else has used them before, it has a chance of living on for a little while.”
Having received such an enthusiastic response to the two poems I wrote as examples of the relatively obscure French invented poetry form known as the beau présent on a recent post, I have been inspired to try writing an entire series dedicated to some of my favorite poets (warning: there are hundreds of poets I really adore so this may turn out to be a very long series). In case you have not read that particular post and have no idea what I’m talking about, the beau présent is a poem written to honor another person using only words made up from the letters contained in that person’s name. This very first one is my attempt at a heartfelt tribute to the brilliant Pulitzer-winning Serbian-American poet, Charles Simic (I hope you will enjoy reading it and be encouraged to try your own about your favorites):
A Beau Présent For Charles Simic
Charles Simic is so chill,
he’s as cool as chili-lime ice cream.
His smile is a classic semicircle,
his ears mimic small cameras.
I recall his earlier careers
as a clerical armchair researcher,
a Maharishi, a macrame messiah.
I cherish his mesmeric charisma,
I relish his harmless sarcasm.
He’s a shameless schemer,
a rare charmer, a seamless liar,
a serial rimer (all his similes are
sheer miracles). He’s a hammer,
a chisel, a seismic missile –
he smashes racism, he erases malaise.
His cashmere lies caress me,
his alchemical mercies shall heal me.
He is a real mishmash (as harsh
as Islam, as rich as Israel). He is America!
“A lot of people are writing poems and don’t realize it. They have this limited idea of how the poem should sound or what subjects it should address.”
“Poetic success is when you write a poem that makes you excited and bewildered and aglow.”
“If I begin a poem, “I am a donkey,” reason kicks in and says, “She is taking on the persona of a donkey.” But if I write, “I have taken so many drugs I can’t see my feet,” the tendency is to take that as a confession on the part of the poet. Maybe that doesn’t matter. I’d almost prefer for it to be the other way round.”
“Usually form seems to find me in the process of writing a poem, though I have nothing against starting out with the form.”
“Writing a poem is always a process of subtracting: you start with all of language available to you, and you choose a smaller field.”
“In my own writing, I’ve mostly abandoned end-rhyme, but wordplay is still a huge part of my process.”
“Writing directly from a feeling of anger or sadness is difficult, but if you distract part of your brain with word games, the ignored emotion often tiptoes in.”
“I don’t think all poems need to be written in conversational language – those are often great poems but there should also be poems of incoherent bewilderment and muddled mystery.”
“I write poems from dreams pretty frequently. It’s limiting to think the poem has to come from a sensical lyric “I” stating things clearly or dramatically. This whole course is trying to say there are millions of ways to approach writing a poem.”
“When I start writing a poem, I can usually know quite early on whether it’s a lineated or prose poem, but I don’t think I can explain how. It’s like deciding whether to wear a skirt or a pair of pants.”
You might remember a post I wrote at the beginning of this month on the anagrammatic selfie, a poetry form I created (or at least honestly believed I did) almost 20 years ago for a children’s poetry workshop I was leading at a local library? Well, recently, I was surprised to discover another poetic form with which it shares many similarities. The beau présent (aka “present beau”, “beautiful in-law” or “beautiful gift”) is a French form interestingly invented by an American writer, Harry Matthews. It is best described as a short poem written as a gift or a tribute to another person using only the letters available in that person’s name. At first glance, these two forms may appear almost identical, but there are at least two major differences between the two. The first is rather obvious: the anagrammatic selfie is written about one’s self, and the beau présent is about another person. The other difference is the rules concerning the words that can be used to create the poems. With an anagrammatic selfie, a letter can be used in a word only as many times it appears in your name, while this does not apply to the beau présent. For example, I could not use the word pizzazz if I was writing an anagrammatic selfie, because the letter z appears 4 times there but only once in my name Paul Michael Szlosek. However, if someone else was writing a beau présent about me, the word pizzazz would be perfectly acceptable since it doesn’t matter how many times a letter appears in the person’s name. Thus you will have a larger base of words to write with when writing a beau présent than an anagrammatic selfie, which might make the task easier or harder (depending on your point of view).
Because it was originally meant to be written in honor of a person, I feel it is probably best (though it may be tempting) not to use the beau présent as a rant or tirade against people you dislike (like perhaps certain politicians or coworkers) since its tone should not be insulting or even critical, but affectionate and respectful (though also definitely whimsical and playful). Of course, you could write one about anyone you wish, but I highly recommend to write yours about people you genuinely like, love, and/or respect such as friends, family, or even favorite writers, poets, and artists. For example, I wrote the following beau présent was written for my cousin Dwayne:
A Beau Présent For Dwayne Szlosek
(My Cousin and Childhood Companion)
On lazy weekends, we’d snooze,
Awake woozy and dazed,
And swallow anise and seaweed soda,
We’d walk dense snowy woodlands,
Sneak down dank dead-end alleyways.
We’d saddle a seesaw, lasso a donkey,
Slay a dozen deadly snakes and eels.
We doodled and drew yellow yaks,
Woolly weasels, and walleyed koalas.
We yelled, yodeled and kazooed as
Annoyed newlywed ladies looked on.
Nowadays, we allow no nonsense,
No looneyness. We analyze essays
and lessons, know only a swollen
sense of loss, a deadness,
needless sadness and woe.
O Dwayne, we need a new deal –
Say we skedaddle, sail away
on a slow wooden yawl on
an endless odyssey and seek
new lands and zany old ways?
Yes? Okay? Okey dokey! Yay!
We’ll do so on Wednesday!
And here is another one about one of my favorite poets of all time, Robert Frost
(please note I included his middle name Lee so I would have access to words with the letter L):
A Beau Présent For Robert Lee Frost
O Br’er Robert, Frere Frost,
Let’s be footloose, be free.
Let’s rebel! Let’s loot stores-
Rob sellers of stereos or
Boost bottles of root beer.
Let’s flee streets bereft of trees
To stroll soft forest floors,
Offer steel toe boots to footsore settlers.
Let’s be referees for slobs, feeble fools,
Restore teeter totters, obsolete robots.
Let’s be better – be sober,
Be effortless, be Robert Lee Frost.
Like always, I hope you enjoyed and found this post useful, perhaps even be inspired to try writing a beau présent about your own favorite poet or writer. If you do, I’d love to see it so please don’t be afraid to share. Thanks so much for reading!
“How do poems grow? They grow out of your life.”
“Real writers are those who want to write, need to write, have to write.”
“The urge to write poetry is like having an itch. When the itch becomes annoying enough, you scratch it.”
“If anybody’s going to be a writer, he’s got to be able to say, “This has got to come first, to write has to come first.” That is, if you have a job, you have to scant your job a little bit. You can’t be an industrious apprentice if you’re going to be a poet. You’ve got to pretend to be an industrious apprentice but really steal time from the boss. Or from your wife, or somebody, you see. The time’s got to come from somewhere. And also this passivity, this “waitingness,” has to be achieved some way. It can’t be treated as a job. It’s got to be treated as a non-job or an anti-job.”
“The poem is a little myth of man’s capacity of making life meaningful.”
“The poet is in the end probably more afraid of the dogmatist who wants to extract the message from the poem and throw the poem away than he is of the sentimentalist who says, “Oh, just let me enjoy the poem.””
“For what is a poem but a hazardous attempt at self-understanding: it is the deepest part of autobiography.”
“You have to be willing to waste time. When you start a poem, stay with it and suffer through it and just think about nothing, not even the poem. Just be there. It’s more of a prayerful state than writing the novels is. A lot of the novel is in doing good works, as it were, not praying. And the prayerful state is just being passive with it, mumbling, being around there, lying on the grass, going swimming, you see. Even getting drunk. Get drunk prayerfully, though.”
“The poem is not a thing we see; it is, rather, a light by which we may see.”