The “Concerning Craft” series introduces Little Patuxent Review contributors, showcases their work and draws back the curtain to reveal a little of what went into producing it.
Please meet first-time contributor, poet Gregory Luce. Greg was born in Dallas, Texas, and raised in Texas, Kentucky and Oklahoma. Along the way, he acquired a BA in English and an MA in Creative Writing at Oklahoma State University and did additional graduate work at the University of Southern Mississippi. He currently resides in Washington, DC, where he works for the National Geographic Society.
With the publication of two chapbooks, Signs of Small Grace (2010) and Drinking Weather (2011), he joined the literary community as a full-fledged member. Commenting on the recent DC conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), he blogged, “I was deeply gratified to feel myself among my peers, not like the kid with his nose pressed against the window of the candy store.”
Here’s Greg reading “A Decent Happiness” and two other poems at the January 30 launch of our Winter 2011 “Water” issue:
And here are some of his reflections on craft:
“A Decent Happiness” was originally written years ago, while I was still a graduate student in Creative Writing. It makes a good jumping off point for discussing craft because it represents one of my earliest successes in finding my own voice.
Prior to composing this and similar poems, my work was largely the usual beginner’s pastiche of themes, forms and styles picked up from too deep immersion in Romanticism and popular music. I had begun to read such modern poets as Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, and Robert Creeley, but they had yet to make much of an impact on my writing or even my thoughts about poetry.
The turning point came toward the end of my graduate education. Under the influence of rigorous critiquing from peers and with the help of a close friend and accomplished poet, I began to shed the mannerisms that had obscured my own voice and sensibility. I started looking closely and thinking deeply about elements of craft, especially linebreaks, eliminating excess verbiage, and more conscious and creative use of sound elements, in particular assonance. These components require close attention if one’s inclination is to write free rather than formal verse.
In the absence of fixed forms, I focus with particular care on linebreaks. Breaking lines in different places can slow down or speed up the pacing of a poem, as well as create fruitful syntactic ambiguity, causing the reader to consider the line first in isolation, then as part of a larger meaningful unit.
Equally important for me is concision. Since many of my themes come from the contemplation of emotions that arise from encounters with natural phenomena (especially clouds and skies, rain, bodies of water, wind), excessive words could easily lead to sentimentality. I prefer to compress so that the feeling is suggested rather than telegraphed. I find that this makes for greater intensity of expression.
These two elements—linebreaks and concision—also give my poems a pleasing shape on the page. While I recognize that poetry is a sonic art form, most people encounter it in print form first. I am very conscious of a poem’s visual impact on the reader.
As this poem indicates, I am often inspired by the words of other poets. Several other poems pay tribute to Robert Creeley, which is appropriate since his example more than any other shaped my own thinking about economy of language, taking risks with syntax and careful manipulation of linebreaks.
Many years after grad school, I still turn to discerning readers for feedback before launching a poem. My first and best is my friend and fellow poet Naomi Thiers, whose work also appears in the LPR. In addition, I have made use of my blog and social networking, which have greatly expanded both my audience and my sources of support and useful criticism.
In the next installment of “Concerning Craft,” Naomi Thiers will give her take on what goes into the making of a poem. We will then move on to three prose writers, followed by three visual artists. We are pleased that this series has prompted our readers to look at their work with a fresh eye. Prudence Barry has submitted an analysis of a poem that will be presented shortly, and we encourage others to participate as well.