Talk, Talk, Talk: Famous or Not

wake

Some beginning poets are too wary, I think. Too conservative. They don’t want to try new forms, sentences or lack of sentences, stanza types, subject matter, et and cetera, because they want to stay within what they believe to be universally accepted lines, the equivalent of using training wheels while they learn to bike.

Truth is, there’s little you can’t try as an aspiring poet. Today’s poem features two techniques that newbies might consider “filler” or “against the rules”: dialogue (even lots of it) and/or quotes.

Whether you use quotation marks or not (and it’s your choice), entire poems can be dialogue or monologue (think Shakespeare, think soliloquies). Quotes, sayings, or aphorisms are also fair game, as long as you embed the source.

If the talk or conversation is interesting to you as a writer, then it should be interesting to readers as well. Ditto to the way you weave personal meaning around familiar or not-so-familiar sayings, be they from famous people (e.g. Lorca, below) or anonymous sources (e.g. a well-known proverb from a particular country).

The key is contextualizing. As a poet, you build a particular situation (the unique) and fold it into the broader context of something you overheard, created, or researched (the familiar). This means you can use either talk (and any prose writer will tell you readers love it) or favorite quotes from favorite writers as a lens through which to better see a scenario of your own making.

Here, Malena Mörling provides a narrative about a wake. She goes against expectation (sadness) to feature an instance where a wake brought joy. More important for poets learning the craft, however, is how 6 of the poem’s 19 lines—almost a full third—are not the words of Mörling but of Lorca.

Idea-wise, this might provide fodder for your own poetry. Have a favorite saying or quote, a touchstone you come back to or repeat to yourself often? No doubt there’s a reason for that, and no doubt that reason is rooted in experience. That combination is poetry waiting to happen! As an exemplar, I give you “A Wake”:

 

A Wake
Malena Mörling

I called Michael and he told me he just got home from a
wake. “Oh, I am sorry,” I said. “No, no,” he said, “it was
the best wake I have ever been to. The funeral home was
as warm and as cozy as anyone’s living room. We had the
greatest time. My friend looked wonderful, much better
dead than alive. He wore his red and green Hawaiian
shirt. He was the most handsome corpse I’d ever seen.
They did such a good job! His daughter was there and
a lot of old friends I had not seen in years. You know,
he drank himself to death. He’d been on and off the
wagon for years, but for some reason this is what he
ended up doing.” As my friend kept talking, I thought
of Lorca and what he wrote about death and Spain: “A
dead man in Spain is more alive as a dead man than any-
place else in the world” and “Everywhere else, death is
an end. Death comes, and they draw the curtains. Not
in Spain. In Spain they open them. Many Spaniards live
indoors until the day they die and are taken out into the
sunlight.”

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