October 01
Male, Jewish, in my fifties, married with kids (well, at this point I guess that should be "kid"). Thanks to Lezlie for avatar artwork - sort of a translation of my screen name. "Salaam" is peace in Arabic, hence the peace sign. (No, my name doesn't mean "hunk of meat" and yes, the pun is intentional.)


Koshersalaami's Links
JANUARY 26, 2013 9:33AM

A Pointless Question with a Point

Rate: 10 Flag

Previously published (barely) on OurSalon

Almost a week ago, I posted a poem called Pointless. It went like this:


suppose that


could attempt


write poetry


the fact remains


I don't have the beginnings


a clue as to


I'm doing.

Then there were a couple of pictures. The pictures were just there to be cryptic; I grabbed my phone and took a pair of odd pictures around my house. I'm more interested in the text.

Let's say I had written it this way:

I suppose

that I could attempt

to write poetry

but the fact remains

that I don't have the beginnings

of a clue

as to what I'm doing.

I considered making the fourth line "but the sad fact remains".

The thing is, this post, while fundamentally silly, is actually dead serious.

On what basis would anyone who either writes poetry or knows anything about writing poetry make such a decision?

I could do it a third way:

I suppose that

I could attempt to

write poetry but

the fact remains that

I don't have the beginnings of

a clue as to what

I'm doing.

I'm not trying to be a poet. I am, however, trying to understand what I'm reading and, currently, I don't.

I'm not looking for an answer like "You just do it whatever way you want." I'm looking for Why anyone would make a decision or series of decisions. If the answer is "you just do it whatever way you want," I could:

I suppose that I could attempt to write poetry but the

fact remains that I don't

have the beginnings of a

clue as to what I'm doing.

which I chose because it seemed to have the least logic to it.

Or I could pick a song melody and try to match the words to the song's rhythm. Possibilities come to mind, none of which exactly fit. At the moment, I'm thinking about Satisfaction ("that I don't, that I don't, that I don't, that I don't Have the beGIN NINGS da da dahhhhhhh of a CLUE UE da da daaaah da daa daa). You get the idea.

This is, to me, mysterious. I seek enlightenment.

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I wrote a post called "Passing Over Poetry" in my first days at OS, which basically showed, or was intended to show, my own ignorance about poetry. I got a little grief on it, but mainly I got some some really nice comments and suggestions from a lot of the poets here. I still can't say that I understand what makes a good poem, or how to structure them, but I do dip my toe in and come across ones I appreciate. If you'd like to read the thread on the post I did, I think it will come up if you search for "Passing Over Poetry." I'd do a direct link for you, but I understand computers even less than poetry.
Thanks, I'll check it out.
Classic poetry follows very strict structures of rhythm and rhyme.
Modern poetry is more loosey goosey. I don't know much about it either, but like the definition of pornography, you know good poetry if you see it. Tink put a link to Alan Ginsberg reading "Howl" and it was amazing. JP Hart posted a poem called "Remembrance" on this site. I don't know if it was a good poem structurally, but it moved me and I think that is the litmus test. Interested to see where this discussion goes. R
I took a summer course couple of years ago. Decided that I still wasn't good at following classical I just write what looks like a poem but really isn't. It's fun to play with words and form.
"Poetry" is a funny thing, Kosh. Like with sandwiches, we each have an opinion about which is nectar and which tastes like dog shit.

I've posted a couple of attempts of my own on OS...and I posted a poem I especially enjoy (It's Raining In Love, by Richard Brautigan)...and perhaps indelicately, I've opined that much of the so-called poetry posted on OS (including mine) is not world-class by any stretch of the imagination.

I've actually written a lot of poetry...sometimes set out an essay in that form rather than outline form. I've convinced myself that doing so helps make the essay more spontaneous.

I suspect that writing poetry without having a clue...IS NOT a liability to writing poetry. In fact, it probably is an asset!
Writing poetry, as with singing in public or dancing solo are against my religion. But I admire people who do make the effort.
Maybe Art James will show up. Of course, if he does, he'll answer me in poetry and I'm afraid I won't understand his answer.
Introduction to Poetry

Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Ask someone why they get up and watch a sunrise, or the way a baby's smile makes them feel, how lonely the universe feels when viewing the stars on a cold night, or how the warmth of a lovers smile is.. there you have it. Who is to say or judge any of these things.
Sorry to come back again but this is my favorite poem and it describes exactly the feeling of savor. Of savoring the way a poet does I guess. When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer

WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick; 5
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Sometimes, it just as simple as that.

As much as I love that poem,
and I thank you for bringing it because I actually do love it and have never read it before,

that isn't my question.

I'm asking about how some of them are,



I'm not asking for help in what it means.

Did I just write four poems or did I write one? One, I would think.

I'm not talking about the quality of the poem. The poem is obviously flippant. I have no illusions about its quality, nor about my having abilities in that area.

I look at Art James' work and I notice the right sides of his line always have a curve to them, so I conclude that the physical aesthetic must be part of his experience.

Buildings can be pretty but they still take architecture.

So does music. I play things, I've been taught by very good people, I know. I could sit down with you at a piano and, if you didn't know, show you how some things are made pretty. It isn't just magic, it isn't just feelings, it's an understanding of what produces what result. Where is the tension? What do you do about it to make the phrase more compelling? How do you control ebb and flow and why? It's not that all soulful playing is analysis but it helps to know what variables to play with.

And, here, I don't. It's just:


Create what?

What will help it be good?

Yeah, I know, I know, I know.........

Feel it.

I could throw you in front of a piano and say

Feel it

and you might.

But that doesn't mean I would.
I meant the Billy Collins. I hadn't read the Learn'd Astronomer. The Learn'd Astronomer is great, but the Learn'd Astronomer isn't responsible for creating the stars you look at.

What if I am?
For those of you who are curious,

over on the other site, The Good Daughter took on my question. I absolutely love her answer. I would highly recommend reading it.
Thanks, Toritto.
It helps when it's personal.
Get with Sage (if you have a half a day to spend) and he will set you free on how to write poetry. What little I know I learned from the Sage. He is a favorite poet of mine on OS, but don't tell him I said so.
Good idea. Sage is a friend. In addition, I'd have a look at what The Good Daughter wrote in my comments on the other site. She seriously addressed my question, both in terms of dealing with it directly and in terms of actually teaching me stuff.
I've been writing poetry for a long while now, and it usually starts with a line in my head, and things flow from that point. Yes the simple answer is that you write whatever you want and what feels best, usually when after I've writen something I read over again on the page and if I think of something to tweek it along the way I change it. In my opinion poetry is meant to be mechanical its meant to be more of a natural being. Example people ask is poetry supposed to ryhme, no its not required, if my poetry has a ryhme in it its purely accidental so to speak its never intentional. So free flow
Thanks, but I'm not asking about rhyming. That, oddly enough, I can do, though not as well as others here, particularly Jan Sand.

I see a lot of poetry here that

kind of

looks like this

and I try

to discern

why the poet is doing that.

It's not prose, partially because it's in broken phrases rather than sentences and partially because it looks so spare on the page. So I look at this and go:

OK, what's the deal? Why is it presented like this? What's driving these decisions?

So far, the best answer, and it's actually an excellent one, showed up on my OurSalon version of this post in a comment by The Good Daughter. She did a really nice job of answering my question.
Thanks for the mad props! (I've been around high schoolers too long.)
Kosh, I was thinking about a couple things I said yesterday and want to give a little more explanation. In the first excerpt, the yellow tulips one, it was more than getting that mute thing, though that was paramount; breaking it where I did allowed me to also give a clear visual image of the flowers on the car seat.

That line break that stopped me in my tracks, the "spindles, you / name it"--now that I've had that in my head a while, my not liking it is less about breaking up "you / name it" than it is about the line "spindles, you" because that is awkward in every way--sound, meaning, flow.

Over on OurS, Lezlie and others mentioned space on the page. Here's a poem that has a line break I don't particularly care for (though I think I get the reason for it) and also makes use of a stanza break to create a blank space that actually helps achieve meaning--Manhattan Buddha--by Mark Smith-Soto:

Straight-backed, seated on the window ledge,
he looks down at traffic pebbling the street
ninety floors below, the hair at the back of his neck
about to catch, nothing but morning air under

his dangled feet. The flames behind him make
the sound of waves trying to clutch the sand
they just can’t hold, the way they never could.
He sees it all and smiles. There is no

humbug in him, in his oblique worship
of the horizon, the seagulls, the faithful ferries
dragging like dunked flies across the water;
his face alert as if he watched God watching,

he opens his arms and falls — leaving me here
inside, clinging to myself, the walls on fire.

This is a beautifully crafted poem. I really like the first stanza break, after the word "under." Maybe I'm getting carried away, but to me that space emphasizes "nothing but air under" because then there's immediately air/white space under that line. My inclination would have been to put "under" on the next line, but you'd lose that little visual trick as well as the emphasis on "dangling feet." Putting "under" with "his dangling feet" would lessen the impact of that image. Also, the second stanza break has taken me a while (years, actually!) to like. Again, it's awkward to stop at "no." But splitting "no" and "humbug in him" gives both "no" and "humbug" more power separate than they would have on the same line. Besides that, the line can't end on "there" or "is" and to break after "humbug" would still be distracting (and weaken the alliteration of the h's), so to counter all that you'd need that line to end on "in him," which would wreck up his sonnet-like form. I think he worked that out well, and I've come to appreciate it more than I originally did when I first read it in 2001.

Apparently I love to hear myself talk, because there's one more thing. Several people wrote about poetry being inaccessible, even incomprehensible. I have two feelings on that. First, I completely agree. Every now and then I look at the annual 100 Best American Poems of whatever year, and invariably I get angry and disgusted. One year I went through that whole book and found only TWO poems that I understood! I know a good bit about poetry, and I'm pretty smart, but that's ridiculous. The poems made me feel stupid, and I do not like feeling stupid. If I, with my background and passion, can't understand more than two poems, what is the average not-into-poetry person to think? That poetry sucks, basically. On the other hand, I do know that the reader has to work to get some poetry. Some of Sylvia Plath's work, for example, becomes a thousand times more meaningful if you take some time (okay, I'm a nerd) to look into what you don't understand. I mainly know this from a class on her. I had to work my ass off to really understand a good number of her poems--looking up words that I knew, but the meaning didn't make sense in context, and finding that she used the fifth meaning that I had never heard of, for example. The woman was brilliant. I'm not willing to do that all the time, but when I did with Plath's work, I felt FANTASTIC and brilliant and really proud of my effort and the payoff. For what it's worth.

Enough from me. I have enjoyed the other comments and the poems, especially lorianne on craft on the other side. And it has made me think about my own craft, so thanks!
I also really liked Lorianne's comments, and even her criticism. Was it just lines on a page? Yes.

In this, I loved the first break. The dangling imagery was really well handled. The second one was harder, but I'm beginning to get it.

I studied a little Plath in a class in college a million years ago and don't remember much except that it started to sink in over time.
Walt Whitman's poem above relates that you can learn all you want about the stars, the physics involved, the maps and equations or you can go out into the night and be thrilled by them.
Just like poetry.
I don't find poetry as obvious as stars. Just experiencing it wasn't working for me because there's too much I'm not seeing.