Posts Tagged ‘“A Key to Modern British Poetry”’

The Power of Detachment….

August 5, 2010

That sounds like a funny title.  Sometimes essays start with funny titles that don’t seem to have much resonance to the text, but perhaps they grow around it.

This issue of detachment has been on my mind lately: perhaps it’s the issue of trying to write, to finish a manuscript, to write without the attachment of friends, etc…. who are annoying.  They would not like to be labeled with such a sentiment, but they can’t help it.  Some are in the first flush of excitement over something, and they want to ‘share’ that personal excitement and drag you into their ‘ campaign du jour’.

I’ve been there…many times….I’ve instigated them over the years, so I understand the pulse of these kind of things.  But something changes over life, or perhaps you just get more impatient or tired or perhaps you become more ‘committed’ to a path you are determined to stay on.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I am trying to write full time.  That is what I try, but ‘other life’ gets in the way.  Marriage needs to be attended to, and I have the most wonderful husband in this respect:  he cuts me a lot of slack and doesn’t expect much of the wifely stuff.  He supports the writing efforts and is a dedicated reader  and when he does, is an excellent proof reader.

Over the past four years I have wasted a lot of time and energy on stupid stuff and some very stupid people, but I recovered.  I think the excitement and joy of writing saved me from a lot of crap.  It wasn’t so much the responses from other readers, or writers, but the sheer joy of words cobbled together that developed scenes, then progressed to  full blown stories.  The characters were ‘people’ who either thrilled, intrigued or disgusted me, but they were always interesting.  Terribly flawed, but aren’t we all?

I live in Atlanta, and there are always these political jackasses who demand time and attention.  Hell, our neighborhoods are so full of issues you can spend all your waking hours trying to find solutions…none that please most.  I guess I have learned something important over the past 40 years here:  you can’t change lives, nor really environment, regardless your good intentions and energy.  People will continue to do what they do.

The point of all of this is not to let it consume you.  I have a couple of friends and neighbors who let it consume them.  But then again, they aren’t writers.

And as to writing, you have to constantly read.  That’s probably 70% of writing.  It goes way beyond research for a particular story or novel.  It is something that never ends, this desire to develop your cobbling of words.  For in the end, this cobbling is what gives life and substance to it all.  Hopefully you go from a lower level to a higher level in your writing.  But that takes time.  It annoys me when people have blogs and they don’t try to develop their writing. They just think what they put down is ‘good enough’.  Well, it’s usually not, but they will either sink or float by the amount of work they put into their writing.  It’s not rocket science.  And I can spend hours cringing reading my own stuff.  That is what I think propels us forward, those of us who consider ourselves as ‘serious’ writers: we work endlessly at it.  And the improvements are incremental.  Maybe it gets easier down the road, but I’m not there yet.

I wanted to write about Lawrence Durrell’s “A Key to Modern British Poetry”, 1952 edition.  This is something I recently picked up, and thought there had to be something of resonance in there for me…since I was attempting to form my own poetry.  There was, and I was surprised at how much spoke to the issue:

(From Beyond the Ego, an essay in Durrell’s book)

To speak of reality at all is to limit and debase it; in understanding poetry it is always the words which get  in the way.  It is a great pity that we cannot inhale poems like scents–for crude as their medium is, their message, their content is something which owes little to reason.  The is why one should, if possible, allow poems to impact themselves without too much dissection of detail.  Let them be totals to experience first of all; then afterward see if your brains and reading cannot add to the first impression and support it.  The great enemy is the conceptual syntax and the dictionary meanings.  Yet used properly to supplement experience, they can become great allies.

….You should let the whole poem flow through you as a cinema film flows across your vision…..You do not think too consciously about it, you let the successive scenes flash upon you, surprising you.  Only when the film or poem ends should you begin to think about it and call up your power of judgment.  But while you are experiencing it you should be receptive–nothing more.  Do not blunt its impact by too much head-work.

There is a lot more here….especially good is Durrell’s essay “The Limits of Criticism” where he writes about accepting the poet’s word order as the clearest statement of what he means.

That doesn’t mean, which can be seen so much in modern poetry,….that the poet doesn’t work and work very hard to refine what he means to the best of his poetic ability.   He owes this work to his craft.

But perhaps in Durrell’s words above, this issue of detachment comes around more fully, or in a real sense for a poet and a reader.

Detachment is good.  It may allow for freedom and progress.

Lady Nyo


A stuttering wind blows across

Clouds tinted by the falling sun.

Brittle air is softened by colors of peach-gold

and a faded azure blue.

A late flock of Sandhill cranes flies over,

Pale bodies blending in the

White above with legs

Flowing like dark streamers,

Their celestial cries falling to

Earth like harsh, chiding rain.

The trees below in the valley

Are massed into graying darkness

As fading light steals

The color of nature,

Creeps from field to hillock

And all prepare for the

Rising of the Corn Moon.

Even the frogs in the pond

Listen between croaks

For the intention of the night.

“From “White Cranes of Heaven”, soon to be published.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009

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