Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Shock or awe?

At the Mighty Tieton LitFuse workshop, Kathleen Flenniken talked about how each line of a poem could (or should) contain a surprise—so that if you looked at that line on your own, even out of context, you would find something new or disturbing or delicious. At least, that's how I interpreted.

But when does the surprising become the startling, and when does the startling become vague or even a little monotonous?

Last week, I read a few poems from Black Warrior Review on the
Verse Daily website. They worked very hard at juxtaposing disparate images for surprise or shock or even glee. But at the end of each poem, I felt left without a coherent whole.

Maybe a poem doesn't need a coherent whole. Maybe that's a crutch I rely on. Still: How do you surprise the senses without dulling them? How does your work avoid becoming a cliché of itself?

3 comments:

Andrew Shields said...

For a while back in the late nineties, I tried to make EVERY line break in every poem as meaning-laden as possible. Two results:

1) I failed.

2) Even when I came close to succeeding, the frequency of the effect diluted the effect.

So I think Flenniken (or the idea you derived from what she said) is wrong, because if every line contains a surprise, then no line is surprising anymore.

An analogy: if every paragraph in an essay contains a rhetorical question, then the rhetorical effect of the questions will dissipate.

Andrew Shields said...

PS: I posted my comment on my blog, too.

PPS: Disaffections: GREAT book. Let's hear it for my friend Geoffrey Brock for doing such wonderful translations.

Joannie said...

Good points! I agree that anything done too much becomes--too much (as opposed to just enough).

It is entirely possible and even probable that I misinterpreted Kathleen's ideas. I don't want to give anyone the wrong impression.

That said, I was trying to distinguish between textures--the surprise isn't the same inside each line. It might be an image, it might be a combination of sounds, it might be very subtle, or it might just be a really good verb.

I was trying to juxtapose that notion of textures with the idea of putting something shocking, even if it's random, in every line. Or maybe the images are just random to me, and I need a little more insight.