Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"Howl" Excerpt: Invention

In the following clip from the recent film based on poet Allen Ginsberg's famous poem "Howl," the poet's life, and the obscenity trial that helped broaden the poem's audience, Ginsberg talks about how a particular line came to him. We can take it, I think, as exemplary of one way creativity works: form preceding content, or more particularly, a pulse in the yet-to-be-written line or passage that seems to lead the poet toward the words themselves.

This is not the only way poets invent, but it is a common occurrence. It might sound counter-intuitive to new writers, but I think the impetus to such experiences is the intensive reading that I have already argued for in my lecturing: read, read, read, widely and deeply, out loud, silently, listen to others read, and then, when you write, voices and the patterns of language, will rise in you. Better, sometimes, not to know what theme you'e aiming for; just listen to the pulse. But first, you have to jolt it into being by listening to its permutations in poem after poem.

After watching this clip, you might read an earlier post about the poet Robert Frost, whose argument about the sources of a poem is very similar:

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