Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Monday, September 12, 2011

Guest blog: Tom Kepler on poetry

This week, I have a guest blogger taking the floor.

Some of you might know I started off life as a published writer with poetry. Although I haven't done much since the 1990s, after publication of my collected poems All the Wrong Places, I have kept an eye on the scene, building fascination about poems that tell a story and fulfill the narrative sequencing sought by readers of fiction.

Tom Kepler is my guest blogger today. He delves into this subject much better than I ever could. His collection Bare Ruined Choirs is worth keeping handy, for the occasional foray into a gentler, more contemplative read that elicits understanding of the human condition, of human emotion.

Without further ado, here's Tom.

Poetry That Tells a Story

We'll start not with "poetry" but with "poetic" to lessen the clicking sound of readers mousing to another website.

"How poetic of you!" and "How poetic!" are common enough sayings, and what those expressions mean is pretty clear to everyone: poetry extending into prose, words used with greater intensity, more meaning packed into fewer words.

So what about when the storytelling of prose wriggles its way into a poem? We have three possibilities:
Writing poems in a series is a fascinating opportunity for a writer. A poet can create windows of perception--poems one by one--and then link them.

Modern technology gives us the "slideshow" effect as an example. Each photo is its own reality, yet together the images conjure a greater effect. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

The same is true with a series of poems. They can be crafted, each with its own beauty, yet can also be compiled and organized to tell a story. Like flash fiction, poems can be short, impressionistic vignettes that "hint" at a larger story.

If novels are like the cinema, a series of moving pictures, then modern lyric poetry is the individual photograph, each viewed one by one. What is the functional difference of experiencing these two modes of storytelling?

In a movie, the audience is stationary and experiences images as they move. This is true also in a novel; the action occurs on the page to the characters. When a sequence of poems tells a story, the poems are like still images mounted on a wall. It is the viewer or reader that moves from reality to reality--transformed by words that are "possessed of more than usual organic sensibility," to quote William Wordsworth.

My book of poetry, Bare Ruined Choirs, consists of twenty-eight poems that document the life of a relationship. Six years after the last, fading years of my first wife's life, I realized I had the makings of a story, a chronicle with a beginning, middle, and end.
The organization of the poems, though, is conceptual, rather than chronological to the order of their writing. The artistic, universal story supercedes the biographical--or perhaps the two blend together to the universal story of "love, life, and death."

If passages in novels can be poetic prose, then certainly a series of poems can be designed to tell a story. That's what I tried to do with Bare Ruined Choirs, anyway--to tell a universal story and to structure a tribute to a brave and tragic lady.


Thank you, Tom: this gives those wishing to venture into poetry once more a springboard. Stories are what writers love to tell, and shaping them as you have, into a book of poems that together form a narrative, yet stand individually rather well, might be the way.

Find out more about my guest here:

Tom Kepler
Tom Kepler Writing Tom Kepler Writing and Website)
Tom Kepler Writing/Wise Moon Books (Facebook Writing Page)
Tom Kepler at Smashwords

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  1. Very nice you two! Don't write poetry without guitars attached myself, but I can still recite the prologue to the Canterbury Tales from half a lifetime ago.

  2. I love finding new poets. What a shame this book is not available from Book Depository or somewhere that takes Paypal.
    I also started with poetry, gravitated away for a while then came back to it along with novel writing. A collection of poems can tell a story. Even one poem can tell a story.

  3. Dale, I'll see whether Tom can find a way to get a copy to you. Dan - thank you for visiting. How about a song?

  4. I found Tom's comments thought-provoking and self-revealing. Some writing is distanced from its author; the work may be good but at the end of the book the nature of the author remains a secret. Tom's interview suggests he draws on his personal insights of life to strike chords others will resonate with. I was also reminded how writing can be a fruitful outlet for personal hurt
    Margaret Sutherland

  5. What a beautiful interview! As I progressed through the interview, I found myself repeatedly nodding my head in agreement. I especially loved his statement, "Like flash fiction, poems can be short, impressionistic vignettes that 'hint' at a larger story." Love your blog and I'll be back!

  6. Rosanne was nice and mentioned that there had been some comments. Thank you all for your kind words. I am interested in working with PayPal but haven't the time right now to set it up. I'm working on some other possibilities . . .

    Poetry is really just intensely structured language--most readily recognized in "poems." (Since Rosanne is in Australia, should I place the period outside the quotation?) However, it is utilized everywhere--current "in" words, in the advertising industry, sports. We don't usually call it "poetry" until the words or phrases combine to create something long enough to be recognized as not being prose--then we say, "Oh, a poem."