Sunday, 16 June 2013

Guest Post - Are all modern poetics personal?

In today's guest post Jack Remick provides a double guest post for today, in the first part he tells us about his experience as the featured author for the Allen Ginsberg Memorial Open Mic Poetry Marathon. He then provides an interesting article entitled 'Are all modern poetics personal?'

Guest Post for Michael Brookes
Goodreads Writing Group
On June 1, 2013, I was honored to be named the Featured Poet for the 12th Annual Allen Ginsberg Memorial Open Mic Poetry Marathon in Seattle. For the past twelve years poet and archivist Paul Nelson has engineered this event. Paul has the pulse of poetry in the universe. He’s been a guest poet in China, he’s interviewed Ginsberg, McClure, and has written about the Projective Verse poets of the Black Mountain school—Charles Olson, Creeley, and Duncan among others. His two books: Before Slaughter, poems, and Organic Poetry—American Field Poetics are landmark works. Paul’s goal is to keep it coming—poetry is the heart beat, the blood, the juice of the modern idiom. The marathon is just one aspect of his dedication to poetry.
By marathon Paul means a marathon. He kicked it off at 8:00 PM June 1st by giving me 45 minutes to read from my collection Satori, poems. At 6:00 AM the next morning, there was a recitation of Ginsberg’s Wichita Sunrise Sutra followed by a communal breakfast of scrambled eggs and pancakes and man, we were back in the days of the Summer of Love—the only thing missing was the acid dream. Paul ended the marathon at 1:00 PM June 2nd . This is a glorious tribute to the enduring power of Allen Ginsberg to inspire writers, to keep alive the zen of Beat writing, and to expose poets to a new voice—the voice that arises when all of the arts come together.The Marathon included open mike, music, free writing, and short verse creation on the spot, but two episodes will stick with me for the rest of my life--—The Four Hoarsemen performing pieces from Michael McClure’s Ghost Tantras. There is no way to write about the Tantras in performance, but McClure says this: “Look at stanza 51. It begins in English and turns into beast language—star becomes stahr. Body becomes boody…Pronounce sounds as they are spelled…don’t look for secret meanings…” When you hear the Tantras voiced, you hear poetry reduced to two pure elements—Sound and Rhythm. Rhythm and Sound. The language of the body, not of the mind.—A cyclical, hours-long reading of Ginsberg’s autobiographical piece about his mother Naomi. The reading-time was shared by those still standing at 5:00 AM, June 2nd . That in and of itself was a marathon. It’s amazing how, at that time, with no sleep, the readers found the inner rhythms of Ginsberg’s writing and it flowed as if we were in his mind. Letting go of expectations, taking the words as they come, reveals the beauty of Ginsberg’s perpetual motion writing. Glorious. I repeat that word.Next year will mark the 13th re-enactment of the Marathon. For those writers who share some of the Beat juice, or for those who want to discover why the Beats gave us a new language—after Kerouac, after Ginsberg, after McClure, it is a new language—mark your calenders. Next June, around the first of the month, in Seattle, another Ginsberg Marathon.
You want to evoke extraordinary images using ordinary words.

Modern Poetics

Are all modern poetics personal?
Jack Remick

Ask most poets about their poetics and it’s hard to get an answer.
Is there an esthetic base we can all use, or has the notion of free verse broken us loose so that each poet has a poetics that serves that poet alone? Rather than sit down with pen and “critique” holding to some phantom notion of “poem” can you start with a set of elements and write from it?

The Imagists—Pound, HD, Amy Lowell, Aldington—searched for luminous details—gave us “free verse” Almost all modern poetry is “free verse.” Imagists looking for a new poetics attacked the old work:
Take away strict meter.
Take away poeticisms.
Take away stanzaic structure.
Take away blank verse
And they said you end up with the image.

Where does a modern poetics start?  Three words—
Tell.    Show.  Evoke
What is an image? An image is something you can see.
Two phrases from Latin remind us that this isn’t a new idea:
Poema pictura loquens, pictura poema silens—a poem (poetry) should be a speaking painting, a painting should be a silent poem.
Ut pictura poesis-- As is painting so is poetry.

Pound calls it the luminous detail.    It SHINES, we SEE it.
You start with the line. What is a line?
Pound writes about the Image as LUMINOUS DETAIL.
Ezra Pound was half-right. Image is the center of the poetic line just as the verb is the heart of the sentence.
A poetic line possibly and I say possibly starts with two elements:

Image and Action.

Image means Concrete nouns, Action means strong verbs. It’s hard to evoke an image using abstract nouns.
For example: if you write—
She believes in Jesus.  Belief isn’t action.
But if you write: She carved a cross on her chest. You can see it.
Concrete nouns are objects you can see.
Strong verbs evoke action.
The modern poet is looking for an economy of means (the relationship of screenwriting to poetry here) You want to do the most with the least.
Is there something in the English language that will point us a way to get the modern line without relying on the elements that Pound  and the Imagists rejected?

Today, some writers, are hungry for something to hold onto because, just maybe, they’re disillusioned with Free Verse—What Is It?—and those writers are turning back to rime and meter.
There’s nothing wrong with that, the poet needs to use all the tools available,
BUT…I think the language is still alive and can give us everything we need to work up a modern poetics—that is some techniques that go beyond the personal.
The modern poem, if it's not built of meter and stanza, might, after settling on Image and Action, have these elements:
 Beat (does not equal meter. but is related to hammered stress) We take advantage of the floating stress pattern of English to focus on the strong beat.
Breath. (Turn the line on the vowel, you can only sing vowels.)
Rhythm (rhythm can be built on rhetorical devices—a couple we use are:

Anaphora—repetition of a word at the beginning of a line
Epistrophe—repetition of a word at the end of a line
Conduplication – tracking  a noun or a verb through the poem.
If we accept the rhetorical devices as rhythm-givers, we can look back to the deeper past to see how the Bards and Skalds and Scops handled the image. We take what we need from the past and adapt it to our modern voice. 
We go forward by looking to the past—
So—I offer this: A poem is a musical moving picture
We look first for Music and Pictures…
We work the beat –those strong stresses inherent in English
We work the rhythm—we build lines using one or more rhetorical devices
We work the breath line.
And last, we look at story or the narrative line. (Echoes of MacLeish here: A poem should be not mean.)
English is still alive and very powerful and we can tap into that power if we listen to the basics of English for word-formation:
We create Kennings--metaphors of metaphors. Tiny poems of two words that get beyond the sense of either word separately. Kennings have strong evocative power:
For example: the Nordic poets developed systems of kennings--
We use kennings all the time in modern English but you don’t think of them as anything special:
flesh-fish—what is a flesh-fish?
word-wound—what is a word-wound?

Summary for the Beginning of a Modern Poetics: We develop Hard, concise, precise images –that Luminous Detail--and we Set them in motion.
We  look at the natural stress pattern of English which floats. Spanish has penultimate stress. French no stress so they count syllables.
We look at the strong beat on the word, do not build the line on meter but on strong stress. Don’t care how many off-beats, so let the strong beats carry the line.
We Look at Three part alliteration or more if you have the guts to push it.
We strive for Assonance instead of driven rime which often distorts the language beat and rhythm and sometimes falsifies the hemistich.
We search for vowel harmony which can derive from anagrammatic playfulness of which the transposition doublet is the simplest example.
An example: bardic froth gushes forth from my word-wound….

This from Root of the Hoard:
I am horde-hammerer, shaper of the unheard.
I am instrument honed flesh-fish sharp.
Bardic froth gushes forth from my word-wound
Sweep of swallow-singing. I am rooted in this tongue.
Its words rise up a bulwark of ancient rhythms
all that I am, it will make me--
What is mine, is not mine but power given,
crafting in me, crush and build—angle-image
seeks light and sound, fills this Saxon-son
civilized by cogs, wheels, living in sky-needles.
I carve word-roads through the universe of rime
create maps of labyrinthine coil.
Claim the treasures locked in my own dark cells.

The kennings are: horde-hammerer, flesh-fish, word-wound angle-image, sky-needles, word-roads.
The transposition doublet is: Forth/Froth. I have a list of others I've developed. Purpose--to develop vowel harmony or euphonic integrity which negates the need for rime.
Three part alliteration (highly modified): horde-hammerer/unheard; sweep, swallow-singing.
Anaphora is: I am horde-hammerer; I am instrument
Conduplication is: I am, I am, all that I am. (note it dovetails well with anaphora for a weaving effect)
Assonance is: wheels/needles. (Read Wilfred Owen for an introduction to assonance)
All of this, if you read it aloud shows you that you don't need either meter or stanza to create hard hitting poetry. Breath, beat, rhythm, story. Music first, story last.

Jack is also the author of his novel 'Blood', find out more below:

Ex-mercenary Hank Mitchell gets five years hard time for stealing a tubful of women's underwear. In prison, Mitch finds the peace he needs to write his own story—a saga of family deception, sexual obsession, and contract killing. Now his time is up and his family want him?out and back in the killing game …

Buy Blood now from Amazon
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  1. We were delighted to have Jack Remick feature at the 12th Ginsberg Marathon (see: and I am impressed with his take on poetics. I don't think there is anything I disagree with here and it is a good nuts and bolts for an poet writing in English today. Very well done, Jack.

    I would add that there developed in 20th Century USAmerican poetics, from Williams and Olson, to Duncan, Levertov, McClure and the TISH poets of Vancouver, BC, a notion of Projective Verse or Organic Poetry. In this "the way to the universal is by means of the most intensely personal" (McClure) and it is "a use of speech at its least careless and least logical" (Olson) and it is where "form is never more than a revelation of content" (Levertov). More at

    That the form of the poem would evolve as the poem is composed, or is one choice made as one is making a poem, is part of the charge of the organic approach. Robin Blaser's essay: "The Practice of Outside" also gives good direction and I just finished re-reading that and will get something on my blog here before too long.

    That we should remember Pound's Logopoeia, Phanopoeia, Melopoeia is important, but also Noopoeia, which George Oppen suggested was sudden revelation in the poem, and other poeias collected by Ed Sanders in the Naropa Disembodied Poetics book of essays.

    Thanks for this, Jack and for all you do.

    1. Thanks for the comment, my knowledge of poetry is limited to my love of Paradise Lost, but it was a pleasure featuring Jack.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Michael: Paul, the quintessential poet, always pays his dues. He knows we didn't get here by ourselves. He knows that without poetry, we're just a band of hunters.
    Thanks for posting these pieces about poetry and thank you for including the link to Blood. For your readers who might be interested in connecting the words to a voice, here's a reading of the opening of Blood, the novel:

  4. The driving force behind contemporary poety is concreteness. "Professional" poets tend to use concrete language and few psychological or emotional terms.

  5. Good comment, Michael D.

  6. Michael D: I ran four poems through your calculator.
    Poem score
    The Second Coming 1.6
    Coyote 2.0
    fugue for 3 AM 1.9
    Memory of Wood 3.6

    the three contemporary poems scored higher than Yeats' The Second Coming. The three contempo pieces are all written using the techniques outlined in the piece Michael B. posted. This is an interesting business.
    I then ran Tetelestai which calculated out at 0.4.
    even more interesting.


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