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.
Our latest comes from Mary Makofske, whose poem “Museum of Dusty Metaphors” appeared in LPR’s Summer 2015 issue. More recently she is the recipient of the 2017 Atlanta Review International Poetry Prize and the 2017 New Millennium Poetry Prize. Her poem “Doldrums Near the End of Empire” appears on the New Millennium site. Her latest book is World Enough, and Time (Kelsay, 2017).
Inspiration and perspiration
Inspiration is real—that bolt of lightning out of nowhere, the whole line, or whole stanza, or whole poem which appears like magic. But that gift is, for most of us, rare, and it’s more likely we will receive such gifts when we’ve had years of practice. Jane Hirchfield says of the “gift” poem: “A person cannot speak much of ‘craft’ under those circumstances, except to the degree that craft is pressed into the psyche over a lifetime of reading and writing poems.”
No one who hasn’t studied and practiced for years is going to sit down at a piano and compose a symphony. We can’t expect poets to become expert without experience, either. Yes, there are the rare geniuses, but for most of us, some perspiration is required.
Inspiration for me has come not only from my own experience and observation, but though the poems of writers I admire. My poetry pantheon has challenged me to take on subjects and styles I feared. I read poems in two ways. One is analytical—reading a poem carefully and examining how it works. Is it a formal poem, such as a sonnet or sestina? If it is free verse, how is it structured? How does it use metaphor? Does it contain an “I” speaker? Does it address someone? How does it handle time? Where does the poem go? Where does it begin, how does it progress, how does it end?