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Dialogue with Doubt

“I sometimes wonder how you’d define poetry these days”, she said.

And I know it was just a conversation on Twitter, and I know how I answered it: that definitions and analysis aren’t always what we need, that you can get lost in a less than helpful way in that kind of dissection, that the absence of a definition doesn’t stop us knowing a poem when we find one, doesn’t stop us recognising its rhythm and feeling its pulse.

But still, it was enough for some of the doubts to creep in.

The inner dialogue went something like this:

What do you know about poetry anyway? Doubt whispered.

You don’t even have a definition.

What are you thinking of, sharing something you dare to call poems, she said.

Well I know you’ve done it before, but don’t you think you should know better?

I know some people said they liked them, but they were probably just being kind.

Oh but hang on a moment, the publisher argued, didn’t you just say that definitions didn’t really matter?  That we’d know one if we saw one, that a poem has rhythm, has pulse, isn’t that enough?

Plus, she said, after a rummage in the archive, haven’t you already written that the writing of the poems is what mattered?  That the act of poem writing can help us to change state, that there are some days when reason gets us down and poems offer a different kind of truth-telling, so… wouldn’t that mean your poems were allowed?  Might fit?

I’ve got an idea, said the editor, what if you simply changed the way you describe your work.  What if you dropped the capital, that’s an easy change to make, what if you swapped it from Poetry to poetry?

It’s a modern world, she continued, you can call it anything you want to.  Prose poems, performance poems (you know you love to read them out loud), blog poetry maybe [doesn’t that sound fun?], or what about simply “poetry practice”?

That would help, the writer acknowledged. I like that.  Let’s go with that.

Besides, said the blogger, it’s not as if you’re claiming them as Art.  They’re not being published in some lofty tome.  You’re not claiming they’re great literature, simply part of what it means to blog: to share a bit of yourself, to find ways to create and connect, to express some of what it means to be a human in the hope you will connect with the experience of at least one other person…

Besides, added the blogger, it’s your blog, and you can write bad poetry there if you want to.

And she started to sing [yes, really]:

“It’s your blo-og, and you can write bad poetry if you want to, poetry if you want to, you would do too if it happened to-o you…”

[Here's the music in case you'd like to sing along too:]

And with that, order was restored.  Poems whether good or bad howsoever defined will continue be shared on the blog.  Lids will be lifted on the place where more of the material can be found, after all: it’s only practice.

And songs that banish doubts will be sung, and extracts from the wild dialogues that seem to be part and parcel of finding the courage to be creative… will be shared.

After all, it is Friday;-)

Has doubt ever got in the way of you sharing something you’d really like to share?

Have you found ways to shift the inner dialoge so you can get past it?

It’s also a quiet way of lifting the lid of the site where I’ve been developing my poem writing practice.  I’m making no claims to its quality, but if you’re interested to see a bit more of the work-in-progress you’ll find the material at Poetry Practice.

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  1. Robert Hruzek says:

    This sounds exactly like the conversation I had with my own Muse when I wrote my last poem! Ah, well… :-\

  2. Tweets that mention Dialogue with Doubt | Confident Writing -- says:

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  3. Robyn McMaster says:

    Joanna, when I take an amazing walk by a river with the mist rolling in, I often see something that acts as a metaphor. A poem is short and a metaphor wraps up the mystery of what cannot be explained.

  4. Leah Pauls says:

    So well said, Joanna!
    I remember discussions in my college poetry class; people would say that when poems had rhyme and rhythm, they were “sing-songy,” as if poems were not allowed to cross the chasm between literature and music. I think that’s exactly what poems are meant to do. Not to attempt to define poetry, but I do think it spans the gap. It is a long and wide and sturdy bridge connecting two of the most glorious gifts of creation and creativity.

  5. Elana says:

    There’s a lot of emphasis on defining things which, for me and most everyone else, narrows them down into an uncomfortable space to try and fit into. With words, more than anything, I am (we are) creating a space that is uniquely personal; extremely intimate, and freeing. A free space to express and let our hands dance and paint with words. The last thing I want or need is someone - scholar or otherwise - telling me how it does not meet certain qualifications, or the numerous ways in which it fails to be, definably, a Poem. When I was in Grade 6 I wrote a poem for language arts class. My teacher showed the principal, and he was so impressed that he paid me $5 for it! That was the only time, other than one or two on the blog recently, that I’ve showed my poetry to anyone (and that was involuntary). Let’s all lift the curtain of timidity and shame and not-good-enoughness and share our dances. It is an incredibly brave and liberating gesture toward our deepest selves to share our writing. I say - WRITE. And be free. THanks for this post Joanna. Awesome.

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  7. Am says:

    I remember spending endless hours in my high school English class discussing meter and themes and symbolism and whatnot in different poems and novels. And I remember thinking… did the author do this much mind-numbing analysis when they birthed their literary creation? Wouldn’t their minds be filled with incredible doubts and fears if they knew that people would be criticizing and analyzing their work centuries after they were dead?

    What if they wrote the poem, short story, or novel, simply for the joy of it? Why the need to analyze and criticize everything? Sometimes worrying about things like the scientific name of a flower stops you from appreciating the true beauty of the flower itself.

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  9. Brad Shorr says:

    Hi Joanna, You’ve really captured the flavor of the conversation that goes on in my head about certain pieces of writing. I’m much better at talking myself out of something than talking myself into something. This is a real drawback to creativity. I was looking at Pablo Picasso quotes the other day and this one seems relevant to the discussion going on here:

    “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
    Pablo Picasso

    So now I’m thinking: doubt is the opposite of innocence. Children create. They don’t think about the reaction before, during or after the creating takes place. How wonderfully liberating it is on those occasions when we allow ourselves to recapture such innocence!

  10. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    @Robert Hruzek: sometimes I think there’s no escaping her whispers… only learning how to keep going despite them ;-)

    @Robyn McMaster: ‘the mystery of what cannot be explained…’ - yes, I think that’s where my poems come from. And walking by the river in mist. Thanks for making me think about the metaphors too Robyn, I do think poetry comes from and speaks to the unconscious mind, as do metaphors… there’s a lot in common there

    @Leah Pauls: I totally agree with you Leah. In my head a lot of the work comes out almost sung, or maybe recited… I wish I could find the words for it… but it somewhere in that space between music and literature. Although I’m sometimes tempted to, I don’t really think I should be editing it out.

  11. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    @Elana: I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for this wonderful response:

    “Let’s all lift the curtain of timidity and shame and not-good-enoughness and share our dances.”

    Absolutely.@Am: I know just what you mean. Not only that but this kind of teaching can kill the enjoyment of reading too. I feel quite glad I’ve never studied poetry as a form - I think it would get (even more) in the way of me enjoying writing it.

    @Brad Shorr: that quote is very apt - you’re right, no child would go through this kind of inner debate, they’d just press on with it. I’m not sure there’s any easy way through this - other than shifts to the education system - and even then I suspect that it’s a part of us growing up for the second time - growing beyond the inhibitions of adulthood and allowing ourselves to be who we really are.

  12. Judy Adamson says:

    Joanna - just to respond to your first paragraph, I can’t honestly say that I recognise the difference between poetry and prose these days so it was a serious question and one that nobody seems to want to answer.

    I do think definitions are sometimes important - too often people discuss or argue without clarifying what they mean by the words they are using and the discussion then becomes futile!

    I also think it’s essential to *stop* thinking, analysing, defining in order to get stuck in and create - but there’s a time and place for each.

  13. [...] few days after writing my dialogue with doubt, I still had questions running through my head about how we lay claim to the writing of [...]

  14. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    @Judy Adamson: I think part of the problem Judy is that it’s an unanswerable question. There aren’t any black and white dividing lines between prose and poetry - as soon as you tried to define the limits, you’d be able to find examples that broke the rule.

    Thinking about this over breakfast, they both use language, the word (written, or spoken) as the medium, so there are inevitably overspills between one and the other. I’m sure there must be an analogy in art - the dividing line between one movement and another.

    That being said, I suppose (for me) there are certain defining characteristics or qualities of poetry:

    The language is more compressed - each word does more work

    Sentence structure and grammar rules don’t need to apply

    There’s more emphasis on rhythm

    There’s more emphasis on rhyme, and the sound patterns of words (they might alliterate as much as rhyme, or play on the rhythm)

    Language is played with in a different way - playing with the look, sound and feel of words, with their double and hidden meanings as well as what’s on the surface

    You might see more imagery than you’d expect in prose - a closer connection with the language of the dreamworld, and the unconcsious mind

    But as I write these, I can see that any of those qualities could be used to describe some prose work.

    Maybe I’m struggling because I don’t find it hard to tell which is which… or am happy to accept what is presented to me as a poem, whatever form it comes in

    I will keep thinking on forms of the answer though