Tonight’s guest blog post, an extra to the normal three a week schedule, on the topic of poetry techniques is brought to you by poet and interviewee no.55 Phillip A Ellis.
Technique Is Part of a Poet’s Voice
When you hear that every writer must, at some point, develop their own voice, you may be wondering what that means, and what it entails. There are a fair few elements to a writer’s voice, and to a poet’s voice, and I am going to talk about one of them: technique.
A poet’s technique is, at its simplest, the poet’s command of their poetry’s technical aspects. That is, all the nuts and bolts that work to make a poem a poem. Rhythm is one. The ways a metaphor is structured, but not what the metaphor says, is another. As is the degree to which the metaphor integrates with others.
A poem’s sense of musicality is another element of technique. The degree to which it aspires to the condition of music, partly through rhythm, partly through patterns of sound, is part of the element of technique.
In a sense technique is the technical elements of a poem, what can be learnt and practised, and what can more easily be mastered than can diction, or tone, or narrative distance. But knowing what is covered by technique is one aspect of the matter.
The techniques of poetry can vary from poet to poet, and from poem to poem. The best poets tend to vary their technique. So that their best poems tend to be ones where technique works in concord with the other elements. So that there is, as it were, a sense of harmony even when the poem is not harmonious.
For example, the technique used by T. S. Eliot in The Waste Land is in harmony with the sense that the poem consists of a mélange of disconnected voices. That there is chaos in the world, and that the world has lost its meaning and unity. Compare this poem with his Four Quartets and you can see shifts in the technique employed, so that the latter poems are, on the whole, more unified, helping to convey their religious worldview.
As a result, particularly when it comes time to revise your poetry, you need to develop and exercise your technique. Some poets I know argue that what a poem is saying is paramount, so that they tend to focus on that, rather than technique, and it shows in the sparsity of their voice, and a tendency towards a less-developed technicality. Others, such as myself, see the need for both elements such as voice and images, and the technical aspects to work more harmoniously. As a result, in my best poems, there is the illusion of a transparency that reveals, on analysis, a greater sense of the poem’s sense of technique.
I would like to quote some of my work, to reveal this, but I invite you to look elsewhere online. Searching for “Phillip A. Ellis” is easiest, since it is my preferred name, but you will see that I write rhyming verse, free verse, and formal unrhymed verse among others. Having this variety is part of my emphasis on technique, after all, since I want to excel in as many poetic forms as is possible.
Yet, given that technique is part of a poet’s voice, and given that it can be learnt from practice and example, it should be easy to realise that there are aspects of being a poet that make poetry a craft, something that can be learnt, as well as an art, something requiring a degree of talent. And if you can master enough technique to write passable verse, you have the start of a gift, a gift that can bring joy to friends and family.
So, if you’re thinking of becoming a poet, or becoming a better poet, look towards practising your technique. You can do so by reading poetry, and writing poetry, and it means you’ll become a better writer in the long run.
Wow. Thank you Phillip!
Phillip A. Ellis is a freelance critic and scholar, and his poetry collection, ‘The Flayed Man’, has been published by Gothic Press. Gothic Press will also edit a collection of essays on Ramsey Campbell, that he is editing with Gary William Crawford. He is working on another collection, to appear through Diminuendo Press. Another collection has been accepted by Hippocampus Press, which has also published his concordance to the poetry of Donald Wandrei. He is the editor of Australian Reader, Melaleuca and Breaking Light Poetry Magazine.
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).
The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with Pete Morin – the two hundred and second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords.