Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Monday, September 10, 2007

Poetry Writing Advice: C.K. Williams and Walt McDonald

As another academic term begins, I am again reminded of questions about issues I consider every time I open my poetry writing course. Most of my thoughts target the type of guidance I might provide that would direct young writers toward more careful consideration of poetry as an art form requiring acquired knowledge and a honed skill developed slowly over time rather than a mere therapeutic outlet for instantaneous or unfiltered composition filled with intimate emotional revelations and personal opinion.

Indeed, much of the lesson to be learned in a poetry writing workshop appears to involve not just a fostering of inspiration or how to arrange initial expressions in lines on the page, but the instilling of a willingness to work diligently at revision, an understanding that the process of rewriting may be as important as the original act of invention in order to produce more effective poetry from which readers will attain a sense of enrichment as well as entertainment.

Although I may have shared some of the same observations and recommendations in workshops each year the past two decades or so, I must remind myself the suggestions spoken to this semester’s students might sound new, supply useful words of advice they had not heard before. Nevertheless, I am always seeking additional helpful sources of information for my poetry writing class. Consequently, I found a number of interesting tidbits in a recent article, “A Letter to a Workshop” by C.K. Williams, which appeared in this summer’s July/August issue of American Poetry Review and was reprinted as a Poetry Daily Prose Feature.

Among the wise advice offered to aspiring writers by Williams, he suggests: “ideally the poet would strive for the curiosity of the ethnographer, the precision of the philosopher, the moral flexibility of the social theorist, the scrupulousness of the scientist . . ..” However, he also speaks of forming an “actual functioning consciousness” and a poet’s mentality, something difficult to define, but an attitude that arrives gradually over time and trial.

Despite Williams’ comment that his workshops in the past have been “mostly in graduate programs, now undergraduate,” much of the advice appears geared more for the graduate students or experienced and sophisticated writers, particularly since he seems to allow a lot of leeway in his recommendations. Frequently, Williams will qualify or temper his suggestions by repeatedly phrasing his advice with words that equivocate—such as “on the other hand” or “at the same time”—or language that wavers between opinions, perhaps reflecting one of Williams’ statements: “Along with the right not to concentrate goes a corollary: the right to vacillate, to wobble, to shillyshally, be indecisive in one’s labors.”

Further, Williams correctly communicates that aspiring poets should read poetry, “as much of it as possible; there’s always something to be learned from reading poems, poems you don’t know, and those you already know and love.” However, when Williams remarks that many young poets “should also have the right not to read poems, or even more to the point, sometimes the obligation to not read them, at least some poems, at least particularly poems by your contemporaries,” he seems to be under the assumption that beginning poets are overwhelmed by their reading of poems. He states: “too much reading of those whose language and history and vision is by definition close to one’s own can seem to overload the world with poems, dilute it, pollute it with poems: poems, poems, poems. It’s happened to us all.” I must confess I have never encountered this problem in any of my undergraduate creative writing courses.

Additionally, when Williams appears to minimize the most basic advice to beginning poets that they ought to hesitate when writing abstractions, he again seems to be speaking to more experienced writers than one would find in an undergraduate writing course. Williams offers: “Abstractions are a useful implement for clarifying the usually muddled impressions which inform our vision of experience, and they’re just as useful in poems. In other words, the old workshop maxim has to be revised from ‘Don’t tell, show,’ to, ‘Tell: everything you can.’”

For these reasons, as I begin the new semester, I have returned once more to an essay by Walt McDonald, “Advice I Wish I’d Been Told,” which appeared in the premiere issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review and I have used to begin poetry writing courses every year since then. In his list of recommendations, McDonald opens with advice apparently in opposition to what Williams presents, and perhaps more suitable for undergraduates or others just starting to write poetry.

McDonald recommends young poets resist abstractions: “General and abstract statements are easy to say, and usually flat. They don’t show; they tell.” Unlike interesting abstract paintings—for example, works by Kandinsky or others—filled with specific geometric shapes and exciting color combinations that appeal to the eye and mind, abstract words or phrases frequently fail because they are bland and tedious to read. One may include abstractions in first drafts as thoughts come together; however, they usually should be replaced during the revision process. Of course, McDonald does not completely outlaw abstractions: “No one I know says ‘Don’t ever use abstractions,’ but simply ‘Go in fear of abstractions.’” I have discovered such a warning provides exactly the cautionary note undergraduate poets need.

McDonald also emphasizes the significance inherent in rigorous revision, the search for exact and vivid language that communicates clearly yet evokes emotions and produces enough ambiguity to invite repeated readings: “Creative writing is hard work; but it’s fun enough, or you wouldn’t do it. You sacrifice time, and you get back a handful of poems.” He also points out distinctions necessary for undergraduates and other young poets to realize: “Poetry is not autobiography, but art; not merely facts of your actual life, but invention; not confession, but creation.”

Whether one is teaching poetry writing or aspiring to write poetry seriously, I recommend reading both of these essays as a starting point, a pair of useful pieces one can regard almost as opening addresses or first day lectures delivered in a workshop by two of our finest poets.

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