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The Poetry Window

a round table discussion

part 1

We already have “The Critics’ Corner” and “The Reading Room”; since Bewildering Stories has experienced a boom in poetry in the past year, it seems time to add a “Poetry Window” to the architecture. As in all the other departments, everyone is invited to join in.

This first installment grew out of correspondence with Donna Gagnon, Thomas D. Reynolds, and Carmen Ruggero. Not everyone was in contact with everyone else; hopefully we’ll all be in this together soon.

As moderator, I asked a few questions as conversation starters. The conversation doesn’t necessarily stick to the initial questions; it goes its own way.

References to particular poems within Bewildering Stories are too time-consuming to link up; they can be found in our Biographies & Bibliographies or in Michael E. Lloyd’s Titles, Authors, Genres Index.

Don Webb: Do you have any personal favorites among our poets ? Do any of the poems — be they whimsical or profound — resonate with you in some way? Can you give us some insight that might help the general reader appreciate them?

What poets outside of those in Bewildering Stories do you most admire? Are there any you emulate?

Donna Gagnon: I never really liked poetry when I was younger. Just like I never really liked opera or math. Ick. But one day I discovered Leonard Cohen and the light went on. Suddenly, I understood that Bob Dylan’s a poet and Carole King’s a poet and ... I went nuts!

My favourite poet (and that’s just my ‘today’ answer, okay? I reserve the right to change my answer at any moment) is Kimmy Beach. She used to be a stage manager in the theatre and now teaches English in Red Deer, Alberta. Here’s a link to one of her poems (“Betray Me With a Kiss”) that doesn’t appear in any of her three published books.

As for the poets in Bewildering Stories, Rebecca Lu Kiernan’s work is sexy, although I sometimes find myself drowning in some of what one might call... hyperextended... metaphors. from “Meeting Winter”:

Even ghosts open their palms
To the icy shards of rain.
My puma coat flies
In the razory moon-drowned wind.

“Conference Call” by Ian Duncan Smith is a real punchy one. As in punches you in the gut.

Don: Agreed about Ian Smith’s “Conference Call”: he has a keen sense of the possibilities for irony in everyday life, doesn’t he?

I would also agree that Rebecca Kiernan’s poems well repay study. They seem almost compulsively sensuous; for example, the lines you quote are more tactile than visual, and the last line has an auditory component in the sonorities of “moon-drowned wind.”

As I see it, Rebecca tends to paint landscapes or interiors into which she draws the reader with the senses of hearing, touch, smell, and even taste. If I were writing descriptive prose, let alone poetry, I would warm up with a close reading of Rummy Park; one can learn a lot from it.

And then there’s the ever-present element of mystery, but we can talk about that at another time.

Carmen Ruggero: Of the poets in Bewildering Stories, two come to mind right now: Mary King and Mary Brunini McArdle are two whose poetry I really like, but I’d like to go back and re-read some of them to be able to discuss them.

Of the poets outside Bewildering Stories, three whom I really admire: Joseph Armstead is a horror fiction writer and his poetry is often dark but absolutely excellent. His poems are often about a moment in someone’s life. It is so palpable. If he describes an open window, you can actually feel the breeze.

In his a poem “Cigarette Under the Bridge,” the cigarette is only a prop, it never gets smoked. That’s the fiction writer in him. The poem is about a man under a bridge, watching the river flow, contemplating a moment in his life. He resolves nothing, takes the cigarette and puts it back in his shirt pocket and walks away.

We’ve all lived moments like that when we dwell on something, and then, “Oh well, I’ll think about it tomorrow.” I can’t forget that poem. From him, I learned how to use fiction elements in my poetry.

Phyllis J. Green: her poems are about reality. She used to be a school councilor and often writes about childhood things but never writes the obvious and never writes trivia. It always hits you at the end. Super intelligent woman.

Helga Ross is my sonnet mentor. She’s from Canada, by the way. I call her “eagle eye” — nothing gets by her. Her sonnets are impeccable. She and I write very differently. But what I’ve learned from her is that in writing sonnets, we must always think poetry. To give you an example, the final couplet on “Quilt of Deception” reads:

Still they lay on their lonely bed each night
threading on their quilt the words: it was right.

She read it a few days ago and suggested I change the last line:

Still they lay on their lonely bed each night
stitching their needlework words: it was right.

The sonnet is about a loveless relationship. Using the quilt as a metaphor for covering up their discomfort is emphasized by using the words “stitching their needlework” implying a sting.

Don: Perhaps “stitching in needlework: it was right.” The rhythm / - - / - - / - - / seems more regular. On the other hand, “stitching their needlework words: it was right” makes a triple alliteration in “w.”

But whichever you choose, “needlework” is essential because of the “needle,” which implies that the couple “needle” each other and think it’s a normal state of affairs.

Carmen: You’re right: the rhythm is smoother. I think it would work either way, as far as meaning goes. “Needlework words” has a more direct application to the things they might say to one another.

Helga Ross taught me to think like that whether it’s form, or free verse; she taught me to think poetry. We only have so many words in which to tell the story. Every word counts, and we must use metaphors to our advantage.

All four of us write very differently, and about different things but I learned something from each of them.

Thomas D. Reynolds: Carmen, I share Don’s admiration for “That Gaudy Red Hat.” It was interesting to find out that you have a background in theater, because that poem seems to follow the grand poetic tradition of dramatic monologue (Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” etc.). It describes and narrates a moment in time, yet also suggests an entire life history in only a few lines (relative to a short story).

Could this poem/story be expanded into a short story? Of course, but the situation seems to be complete. Somehow I feel the story would have less power. I wouldn’t want or require anything else. The suggestions provide space for the reader to create for him/herself. Good stuff.

Carmen: Tom, I just read your poem: “I know You Can Hear Me.” I read it several times. It gave me the chills and not just because of the subject matter, but rather because of the honesty. It felt as if you wrote it completely from within the mind of the character. All show, no tell. And I have noticed that throughout the poems I’ve read of yours.

Quite often, poems like that are written in the third person and it may be the fiction writer in me, but I don’t find them quite as effective. I believe some times writers/poets detach from the character, or subject matter, and I feel that weakens their prose or poem. Can you discuss your approach to writing?

To be continued.
In part 2 we’ll hear more from
Donna Gagnon, Thomas D. Reynolds, and Carmen Ruggero.

Copyright © 2006 by Bewildering Stories

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