For the longest time I have wanted to read a specific poem from which, to date, I have only been able to read a few verses. The first two verses of the poem are included in a book I have about meter. Though I have searched online, I have not been able to find the poem reproduced in its entirety anywhere.
I am super excited to report that yesterday I had occasion to re-visit an institution from which I have been estranged for decades: the public library. I obtained a library card and borrowed three books. The books are, of course, from the poetry section, and one of them is a collection which includes the poem I have wanted to read. The collection is called Touch (The University of Chicago Press, Chicago/Faber and Faber Limited, London, 1967) by Thom Gunn , and the poem I have been looking for is called "Pierce Street."
My latest publication here at Poetry Magnum Opus is an aubade called "Vintages." It begins Brown sunlight creeps through slats, around/edges and tans her naked shoulder ... I am considering the possibility that I was influenced, subconsciously, by the first lines of "Pierce Street" where Gunn writes, ... Long threads of sunlight slant/Past curtains, blind, and slat ... " I would not deny or try to hide being influence from anyone. To the contrary, I have wanted to share "Pierce Street" in PMO's A Poem I Read Today forum for several years, and now that I have the complete poem available to me, I can even use it as an example to expound upon this matter of influence.
For the sake of example, take the words and image in the lines cited above from Gunn's "Pierce Street" and compare/contrast them with the requisite words and image in tonyv's "Vintages." Both are talking about window dressings, about daylight making its way into a room. There are two words in common: "sunlight" and "slat(s)." But I will posit that that is where the similarities end. "Vintages" is an aubade, whereas "Pierce Street" is something else.
I found it uncanny that in a part of "Pierce Street" which I had not read when I wrote "Vintages," Gunn wrote, Out of night now the flesh-tint starts to dawn. When composing "Vintages" I searched for a while for a word or expression to convey "flesh-tint" and settled on "tans her naked shoulder." I wonder had I read all of "Pierce Street" before I wrote "Vintages" would I have subconsciously pilfered "flesh-tint"? Probably not. I considered "tints" on my own and chose "tans."
I am drawn to the works of poets from several eras, one of which includes Edgar Bowers and Thom Gunn. Both were students of Stanford University's Yvor Winters. It is their writing, their style which attracts me. To some degree it is the subject matter of their poems, but mostly it is their use of contemporary language in metrical verse. From other schools I admire Larkin and the loveliness of Tuckerman. I have other sources of inspiration from fine art to music, but theirs is the writing to which I aspire.
Wikipedia has an interesting, though I suspect elementary, article on plagiarism. There is even a section on "self-plagiarism" which could be an issue if one has assigned the rights to his own work to someone else. So far, I have only showcased my work here at Poetry Magnum Opus, not elsewhere. That said, I will rip off my own work as much as I please and with impunity.
Now, you all have your own recognizable styles. Who are your influences and to what degree do you emulate them? Disclose. Don't hold back.
I recently finished listening to a "Poetry Podcast," available at the website for The New Yorker, called "How Do You Fact-Check a Poem?" It features a fact-checker for The New Yorker. I wasn't aware that publications had fact-checkers for poetry.
I do a lot of fact checking whenever I work on a poem. Many of my poems involve geography, and I want to make sure that my geographical references are accurate. Fact checking is important to me, and I want to save myself the embarrassment that would come from getting directions, longitudes and latitudes, weather and seasons, or flora and fauna wrong. For example, in my recent poem "Vintages," I mention that elsewhere, where it is summer, clusters of grapes are growing and await their harvesting. Though I did not expressly declare it in the poem, the speaker is in the Northern Hemisphere where, tonight, the temperature will drop to 20F (-6.6C). However, Argentina is at the height of summer, and the temperature there is currently 99F (37.2C). Yes, grapes are growing right now in the Southern Hemisphere from which the next vintage will yield! I have written other poems where a discrepancy would be even more apparent and it was even more important to me that geographical references made sense. In my poem "Prudhoe Bay," I make reference to the north pole; I refer to it as "ninety degrees north." I had to look into that to make sure that that actually is the coordinate for the north pole, and it is; zero degrees would be the equator. There have been several other instances where it has mattered to me a great deal that my facts, geographical and others, were expressed correctly.
Then there is the matter of artistic license. Sometimes it is possible to get so bogged down with fact that one loses sight of the art and its message. In my poem "Goodbye," I was dealing with what seemed like chronological inconsistency, and I could not decide on past versus present tense in a part of the poem. An esteemed PMO member, @Benjamin, reminded me that, "Yes I think this poem works fine in the present tense with the chronological issues you stated -- 'it is poetry after all' -- and the appreciative reader still requires the courtesy of having a little imaginative work to do ... " I appreciated this help very much, and it comes to mind whenever I start to get overly bogged down with facts while composing a poem.
Do you fact check when writing poetry? To what extent?
Have you composed a self-portrait? Painters and photographers have made extensive use of the genre, and poets have, too, but there's no reason poets shouldn't add more extensively to the realm.
The self-portrait does not have to be flattering. Many are not. It can be outright disturbing. Gottfried Helnwein, a visual artist that I admire, has created many self-portraits. See them here.
In the past, galleries have requested artists to donate self-portraits. Have you considered donating a self-portrait to PMO? I'm starting work on my first one, and I'll post the work in progress along with revisions in the forums.
Here's the link to my first one: Self-Portrait 101
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Tõnis Veenpere aka tonyv