Touch: The Journal of Healing



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Touch: The Journal of Healing

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Poet in Residence Essay Series


The craft of poetry is much-neglected these days, I believe.  Not because there aren't people in the world who want to learn or appreciate something well-written, but because the trend in publishing follows its own circular, difficult path.  Right now, the poets who rebelled against Milton and studied under the Beat and Imagist poets are publishing most poetry.  As humans, we are constantly curious: we want the new, the innovative, the startling thing, and that is what is popular, however impenetrable the verse.  Even so, I believe the trend will circle back again and a love of craft will bloom so that poetry will once again become a comfort to more than academic readers.  Even now, people read poems at weddings and funerals, and sometimes just for the joy of it, but they aren't reading difficult verse.  They're reading older poems that rhyme.  They're reading poems their parents cherished.

One of my fondest poetic quotes is a passage from the "The Satirical Rogue on Poetry," a little book by Robert Francis.  It's from the chapter called The Indecipherable Poem:

"… a poem that is very difficult to read may not have been at all difficult to write."

He's talking about the delightful trap that plagues many writers, beginning and experienced, young and old: it's really easy to plop words down on a page that you think are awesome.  It's not so easy to be sure that those words will make sense to your reader.  They make sense to you, after all.  How would you know if a reader will find them as clarifying as you thought?  Of course, the answer is more simple than one thinks: practice craft.

For me, writing poetry is akin to drawing, using words instead of oils and charcoal.  I want to create art that another human being can absorb and appreciate, and perhaps walk away with, appreciating the nuances of the language and the meaning imbued within the lines.  To do this, I had to first learn how to communicate using word tools: punctuation, line breaks, assonance, and more.

When we learn to pick up a pencil and put words to paper, we're most concerned with forming our letters well enough for our teacher to understand them.  When learning how to write a poem, the pencil and paper disappear, and the words themselves become the devices through which the poet conveys meaning.  It's easy to know what's in your head, not so easy to write it down in a way that isn't boring, or abstruse, or unintentionally silly.  Poetry is the art of marrying meaning with sound and narrative.

I spent a year teaching myself how to write sonnets.  I studied the cloud forms our scientists have categorized, and wrote poems exactly fourteen lines long that celebrated these ephemeral bits of atmosphere.  Each poem was a study in learning: how to use meter, but not so much that it became tedious.  I discovered enjambment.  I stumbled over slant rhymes.  At the end of the series, I'd grown to know almost instinctively how to guide a reader inside the poem.  Practice makes perfect.

Poets use techniques that help make their work not only comprehensible, but also beautiful: metaphor, alliteration, imagery, etc.  It takes years to fully appreciate each of these tools, and years more to put them to use in a way that creates a poem a reader will simply love without having to deconstruct it.  Some poets deliberately pile difficulty into their lines.  For them, the choice is clear — they want to be modern and witty and perhaps believe being indecipherable is the mark of a true artist.  I disagree.

Other poets use the same tools in a way that eases a reader's way into the poem.  It's the difference between hacking through an overgrown, vine-choked trail and strolling through a deceptively well-kept garden filled with cherry trees.  Both have their moments of beauty, but when the cherry trees bloom, there will be a stone perfect for sitting right along side of the path.  The difficult trail will still be … difficult.  True artistry employs simplicity.

The following poem, “The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost, illustrates this point.


The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.


The best poems endure not because they aren't complicated, but because they're so well put together we don't notice how much craft has made them so utterly perfect. 

Christine Klocek-Lim, Poet in Residence

© 2013  Christine Klocek-Lim

© 1916  Robert Frost,“The Road Not Taken”

Christine Klocek-Lim received the 2009 Ellen La Forge Memorial Prize in poetry. Her poetry was featured as the Editor’s Choice in the September 2011 issue of Touch: The Journal of Healing. She has four chapbooks: How to photograph the heart (The Lives You Touch Publications), The book of small treasures (Seven Kitchens Press), Cloud Studies - a sonnet sequence (Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks), and Ballroom — a love story (Flutter Press). She is editor of Autumn Sky Poetry and her new website is