Festival Internacional de Poesía de Medellín

The Poet As Sculptor and
Other Thoughts On Writing Poetry

By Althea Romeo-Mark
From www.liberiaseabreeze.com

I have learned from attending writers’ workshops over the years that a poet is a sculptor. Some of the best teachers I have had include Maya Angelou, Allan Ginsberg, and Jerome Judson. They taught me that a freshly composed poem is like a block of marble or a large piece of wood that must be chiseled and carved until it reaches a shape of perfection that pleases the eye. Similarly with a raw poem, you chisel away excess words until you reach a form that is concise, concrete, and conveys meaning in brief, vivid phrases that evoke a response in the reader.

I have attended writers’ workshops in the past – the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference at Middlebury College in Vermont, the Cuyahoga Writers’ Workshop, Cuyahoga, Ohio, and the Geneva Writers’ Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, and I have been a member of writers’ groups wherever I live—the USA, Liberia, and now Switzerland; there is always something new to learn, and the workshop experience stimulates and sharpens a writer’s mind.

The poet as sculptor continues to seek perfection and works towards becoming the Michelangelo of poetry. Michelangelo lived with a stonecutter and his wife and family in the town where his father owned a marble quarry and a small farm. At thirteen, he was apprenticed to a painter and later took up sculpturing. In every profession, we begin as apprentices. We learn the basics before we use them to interpret and apply those innate sensibilities with which we enter this world. Sometimes these intuitive ideas are misplaced, or they lie dormant until they are awoken by someone else, or they are ignored by creative souls who refuse to acknowledge their existence. There are also those who allow arrogance to stifle their talent by refusing to accept the guidance and wisdom of those more experienced.

The artist/poet, gifted or learned, must first study the elements of poetry which allow them to analyze their own work and that of others. It is necessary for the poet/learner to examine these tools to see how they work or function. After that, he or she can decide which tools are necessary to shape the ideas they set down on paper and communicate to others. Some will refer to this process as finding your own voice. The elements of poetry are like the sculpturing tools to a sculptor, the wood carving tools to the wood carver. All great poetry have these elements, ancient or modern, no matter where found in the world, whether oral or written.

The elements are:

1. Alliteration: two or more words which have the same initial sound.

2. Assonance: a partial rhyme which has the same internal vowel sounds amongst different words.

3. Metaphor: a comparison which does not use the words “like” or “as”.

4. Onomatopoeia: words that sound like their meaning, for example, “buzz”, “moo”, “pow”.

5. Repetitions: the repetition of the same word or sound throughout the poem to emphasize significance (purposeless repetition, however, detracts from a poem).

6. Rhyme: the repetition of sounds within different words, either at the end, middle or beginning (though rhyming just for the sake of rhyming is a put off for readers).

7. Rhythm: the flow of words within each meter and stanza.

8. Simile: a comparison using the words “like” or “as”.

9. Style: the way the poem is written in freestyle, ballad, haiku, etc. Includes length of meters, number of stanzas along with rhyme techniques and rhythm.

10. Symbol: something that represents something else through association, resemblance or convention.

11. Theme: the message, point of view and idea of the poem.

During our general education, some of us are taught the elements of poetry; others are not. Aspiring poets should take it upon themselves, as seekers of knowledge, to study them and apply them to the molding of thoughts which give to the ordering of polished words full of meaning and message that tug at our senses.

The process of writing can be quick. It is possible to have a great moment of inspiration and find the right words to communicate a feeling, an idea, an experience. On the other hand and more often, writers might need several revisions over time to find the right words to share that experience he/she feels compelled to impart to others.

A writers’ group is the perfect testing board for the gem you feel you have produced. Writers are great at pointing out those imperfections which your own eyes and familiarity fail to detect. There is nothing like honest, constructive criticism.

You, the writer, might go home with your ego deflated, but the desire to publish keeps you on the right path. Self-proclaimed writers who cannot accept constructive criticism will not grow nor get published. A serious writer must be willing to learn, have fresh ideas, must be disciplined, patient, be willing to accept disappointment, and then success will extend its hand.

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