Monday, February 20, 2012

How it's done.

Tomas Tranströmer's poem "The Indoors is Endless" --

Tranströmer -- at Poetry Foundation

No one should try to copy another poet's style. That's silly. But I've been trying to mind-meld with this poem, to understand its approach and some things about its structure. Why is it so excellent? A few things occur.

First, the voice, the cadence. It does not call attention to itself. The meter is subtle. Yet it isn't prosaic or tone-deaf.

Second, theme. Generally speaking, this poet considers the world outside himself. He is not lamenting the state of his miserable soul. Or boring the universe with his amorous obsessions or the banal claptrap of a relationship (which means he is not parading his ego and its needs). And he is not really *telling* us how it is out there. More of a questioning or marveling tone is alive in TT's poetry.

Third, language. Images are clear. Even his starling metaphors flow with a naturalness and understatement. He doesn't produce "profound" stream-of-consciousness word-magic. He's not trying to be artsy. However unusual his symbolism, it has a certain aesthetic and semantic clarity.

Finally, the "aha" moment for me. It seems to me that TT's subtle meter controls not only what images are possible as emergent things but also has a way of projecting consciousness away from ego. (A certain inspired-yet-tempered cadence is necessary -- merely blah-blah-blahing in a ho-hum fashion won't get the job done). And it may be that a subtlety of rhythm prevents even the possibility of thematic nonsense or moribund topic from reaching the page.

Conversely, there could be axiomatic effects when writing stuff about the inside: it causes dead or drunken cadence and leads to clunky, self-conscious image construction.

No one should try to copy another poet's style. But maybe an awareness of excellence and its ingredients can be a kind of subconscious aesthetic template for one's own forays into poem-making. Who knows?

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