after an assignment for the voice of poetry class

i want to get as close to a fully inclusive articulation of craft as i can, and i think the only way for me to do that is to think of craft as, most simply, about a poet’s choices. and not-choices.

this idea of “choosing, not choosing” comes from sharon cameron’s book of the same name, which looks at emily dickinson’s work in its manuscript context rather than how her poems have been published posthumously (ordered, isolated, broken into lines, altered syntactically, etc.). i’m not even that into emily d., but i think cameron’s discussion of how her decisions to reject form, normative syntax, sequence, etc. were not seen as decisions at all, but as oversights, is fascinating. instead of recognizing her not-choices as radical departures from formal, sequential, and thematic standards in poetry at that time, editors looked at her handwritten collections thinking she just hadn’t gotten around to doing these things yet.

i think craft and choice are always political, because language, power, and privilege inform our decisions, our options, and our perceptions of what our options are in writing. the decision to align with norms or subvert them comes from somewhere, is socially situated. in this way, i think craft is about who, where, what, when, how, why? who’s behind the poem, who’s in the poem? where’s it coming from—emotionally, physically, geographically, culturally, linguistically, etc.? what’s at stake? when does the poem take place— in the poet’s personal timeline, in a wider historical context, which movements does it interact with, etc.? the how and the why are more subjective. but there is always a why, and it is key.

i think it’s important to understand craft as boiled down to a writer’s distinct choices and not-choices (a poet’s decision to not employ a certain element of form, syntax, structure, etc. can be just as intentional and meaningful as employing it) because it breaks open infinite possibilities for the poet and allows for multiple styles, subjectivities, literacies to be acknowledged. this can happen by meeting a poem and its craft on its own terms. i don’t think we can meet a poem or a poet on their own terms solely by identifying what elements of craft exist in a poem, we more so have to investigate what those choices mean, how they work. and we need to be comfortable not always having or knowing the language for it.

craft glossaries are important. it’s helpful to know metaphor, anaphora, caesura, sonnet, closed form. but in no standard, abridged craft glossary have i seen mention of the zuihitsu form, or reference to language poetry, or informally-named strategies individual writers have come up with to explain what they do in their poems. [think june jordan and vertical rhythm .]

i guess i advocate for craft with a little “c,” then.

craft is about space on a page—how sparse, skeletal or how packed, full. the poet’s page margins are craft decisions.

craft is about punctuation and grammar—but not whether or not it’s correct, more so about the effect. what is the relationship between these decisions and the voice and goal of the poem?

craft is about how loud or quiet a poem is—how is that achieved?
to what end?


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