Tag Archives: poetry

No Life but in Things

Because You Have To            Two lines from two famous poets come back to me whenever I think about the life of objects in writing.

One is the brilliant, beloved Richard Wilbur’s Love calls us to the things of this world, from the poem of the same title, a gorgeous meditation on the difficult (but desirable) balance between concerns of the physical and the spiritual in the human heart. The other, from the equally brilliant, beloved William Carlos Williams, is the phrase No ideas but in things, which was, as I understand it, a kind of rebuking manifesto to other poets of his time (quoting online analysis here), urging “simplicity of language” and the “precise placing of each visual element [as] an argument for clear sight in poetry, stripped of conventional symbolism.”

Those two lines re-awaken me, by dint of their beauty, simplicity, and joy, to the artistic fertility of objects, places, weather—all the physical incarnations of life on earth, including the inanimate—in writing. The way written things can embody what a writer strives to convey, relieves that writer of the deadening effort to spell it out conventionally; to tell instead of show.

This is why I exhort myself, in the raw hours of making new work, to pay ravenous attention to the physical world of my stories, to rove my  imagination’s eye around the street or room, and (like a Ouija board’s token) see where it alights—more accurately, what it alights upon. Curtains, walls, chairs, paintings, photos, trinkets, laundry, beds, food, flooring, light through windowglass—a wealth manifests before the mind’s eye’s slow-panning camera.

The writer’s job is to transcribe what she sees as fast and capably as she can.

Somehow in the very mundane-ness of those objects, qualities, and surroundings, dwells a kind of gold: what playwrights sometimes call the reflector, or (more simply and usually) concrete details. They help the story tell itself. Their effects carry the story into the reader’s body—because the reader’s body recognizes the things of this world, and gladly (in Sven Birkerts’ words) “bustles about” furnishing its vision of the story with those items. And once inside, like a Trojan horse emptying itself of secret soldiers, the inanimate thing releases its cargo of emotion: sadness, jubilation, bewilderment. A writer learns to trust her instinct to deeply (if selectively) involve the life of objects in her storytelling. Magically, she is made larger for it, right along with the reader.

Because You Have ToJoan Frank is the author of five books of fiction, and a recent essay collection called Because You Have To: A Writing Lifejust nominated for the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Nonfiction. Joan holds an MFA in creative fiction from Warren Wilson College, is a MacDowell Colony Fellow, Pushcart Prize nominee, winner of the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Short Fiction, Richard Sullivan Prize, Dana Award, and is the recipient of grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, and Sonoma Arts Council. A two-time nominee for the Northern California Book Award in Fiction and San Francisco Library Literary Laureate, Joan has taught creative writing at San Francisco State University, and continues to teach and edit in private consultation. Joan also regularly reviews literary fiction for the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review. She lives in Northern California.

Site: http://www.joanfrank.org/

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Filed under Inspirational, Joan Frank, Writing & Editing

Poetry Forms

The NSA FilesI’ve been writing poetry for a long time. Enough to have three collections and six chapbooks available, and then some. I’ve written in a lot of traditional forms, but like many poets writing today find that free verse suits me best. That doesn’t mean I don’t still write in traditional forms, I do. It just means that it’s less and less often.


Since I don’t often talk about poetry in my blogs, I thought I would today. A few years ago, I was feeling less than creative—I still wrote, but it felt like I was dragging the work out of my chest. So, what I did was to create a poetry form of my own. I wanted something that was strict and limited, yet offered me the chance to open up and be creative. It’s amazing to me how much more creative I can get while trying to fit into a form. Anyway, I wrote a series of poems in my particular form, and have put that book together. It should come out in six months to a year, I hope.


Here’s what I did: I kept the idea of free verse, but restricted each line to a single sentence. Then I held the poem to three stanzas of six sentences each. I ended up with eighteen lines to each poem. And, the second line of the third stanza is always a question. I wanted the imbalance of the question to come near the end, where I had no time to answer it, really, but where there was the most hope in answering it, as well. Also, the question I felt often put the poem that came before it, into perspective somehow.


As a poet, I know that it’s impossible to ever know if what you do is any good, or worth anything to anyone but yourself. This form somehow satisfies a need inside me. And, even after the initial poems in the series, I’ve continued to go back to that form. Here’s a recent poem.


Two More


The stairs have stopped creaking.

The carpet is shy.

Nothing happens for a reason.

You’ve been lied to for years.

One can of tuna can stink up the house.

The car is still running.


Forever is too long for some people.

Always sounds greasy and wet.

Evening smells like loneliness.

Eyes can do no more than they have.

Simple is the most complicated life.

Do only what you must.


Give more often than you take.

What could be worse or better?

The sky is different at every angle.

Fish love water more than they need it.

Rain is never enough.

Sometimes you have to say no.


Ten Months In WonderlandTerry Persun writes in many genres, including historical fiction, mainstream, literary, and science fiction/fantasy. He is a Pushcart nominee. His latest poetry collection is “And Now This”. His novels, “Wolf’s Rite” and “Cathedral of Dreams” were ForeWord magazine Book of the Year finalists in the science fiction category, and his novel “Sweet Song” won a Silver IPPY Award. His latest science fiction space opera is, “Hear No Evil”, his latest fantasy is “Doublesight”, his latest mainstream/literary novel is “Ten Months in Wonderland”.

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