Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Good Advice

I'm reading a book about poetry. I just read that Juan Ramon Jimenez told Claribel Alegria not to write free verse. "You have to go through all the traditional forms. You can free yourself after that. Then you will know what you are doing." Great advice.

My own poet-mentor gave me the same advice. Alexander Whitaker at Berry College told me: "Learn all the forms intimately. Write those meters in your head over and over. Use those forms until you know all the nuances. Then, later, when you break the rules, you'll know what rule you're breaking and why. It will mean more to you and your audience." That was probably the best advice any one ever gave me about writing. I still write in those old forms. I like the rhythms, the meanings of themselves. And it does make breaking the rules that much sweeter. And I do like breaking rules.

Writing by the rules taught me that rules have reasons. They exist because they matter. They remain because they continue to matter. And if you didn't have rules, you wouldn't know who your revolutionaries are. If no one is out breaking those rules, reinventing reality, then we know we aren't growing. And when people are out breaking those rules, we know where the autocrats are ruling. And we can break free of their power.

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