May 8, 2007

Top 5 Ways to Become a Major Poet or Problogger (With Apologies to W. H. Auden).

Top 5 Group Writing ProjectSpring is in the air, so it must be time for a new Group Writing Project over at Problogger. The task is simple: post a list about any Top 5 things, but they must be related to your blog. My list combines two of my interests, an old one and a new one: Caribbean poetry and blogging. So here are my Top 5 Ways to Become a Major Poet or Problogger (With Apologies to W. H. Auden).

In a recent post over at the Poetry Foundation, Patricia Smith noted five criteria that W.H Auden listed for a writer to be considered a major poet. Interestingly, the same guidelines may be applied to becoming a problogger and by using the work of three major poets from the Caribbean and posts from probloggers, you may well be on your way to becoming a major poet, problogger or both?

Mr. Auden, no slouch himself, offered these principles:

A large body of work

Anyone who has studied the work of Derek Walcott will immediately recognize the vast amount of work in the theatre, journalism, and poetry that he has done. Especially in poetry. One of his major works, Omeros, which was cited when he received the Nobel Prize, weighs a ton and has a fifty dollar words thrown in for good measure. Word for word, there isn’t a better bargain in town!

Similarly, a problogger such as Al Carlton has posted 10-15 times per day for the past eighteen months, and Darren Rowse has even advised that newbie bloggers should have at least ten posts before announcing the birth of a blog. In order to gain problogger status, you will need a substantial amount of posts before anyone will even consider linking to your blog, and you will need to keep adding posts regularly. So, gentlemen and ladies, fire up your keyboards and begin posting.

A wide range of subject matter and treatment

The one trick pony days of blogging are out. For example, Nandini Maheshwari, manages approximately 133 blogs and posts on a wide array of subjects and styles. Even a cursory glance at the subjects covered on Instablogs should give an indication of the range and the variety of treatments that she applies to each post.

Over the years, the Barbadian poet, Kamau Brathwaite, has incorporated history, court documents and snippets from newspapers into his revolutionary Sycorax style of poetry and the cross –fertilization of his profession as a historian, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770-1820, and his practice as a poet have yielded dazzling poetics.

3. An unmistakable originality of vision and style.

I don’t think it’s just the bald heads, but Dennis Scott and Seth Godin have a lot in common. Dennis Scott’s placement of words and the way the words danced and paused on the page were the hallmarks of his poetry that demonstrated a truly unique vision unrivaled in Caribbean poetry. Also his use of everyday subjects, knives, cats, birds, spiders, and his ability to transform these into surreal images was just part of his appeal.

Seth Godin’s popularity is linked to his vision and style. He can change the most humdrum experience such as parking or choosing a wine into a valuable insight, not only about blogging or marketing, but about life.

Of course, you can always use these methods to increase your creativity. But if that doesn’t work, you can always try shaving your head. Darren did, and see what happened!

4. A mastery of technique.

Derek Walcott once called himself “a mulatto of style,” and he has mastered many of the forms of poetry, sonnets, ballads, and terza rima and techniques such as metaphor, simile, and imagery to make his verse truly memorable. Thirty years later, a line from Another Life still haunts me, “Darkness, soft as amnesia, furred the slope.” Good writing is unforgettable.

And that’s a valuable lesson every blogger needs to know--how to write well. This comes about by reading and practicing with metaphors, similes and analogies or even some of the techniques from the old masters like Cicero or modern masters such as Ernest Hemingway and Kurt Vonnegut. Many probloggers such as Liz Strauss employ a conversational style—almost like someone we’d like to pull up beside a bar stool and listen to them talk about anything. Very few of us are born with that gift, so we have to work at writing everyday so that our content will match our technique.

5. A constant, progressive process of maturation--so that should an author's individual works be placed side by side at any stage of his or her career, it would always be clear which work came first and which came after.

If anyone would like to witness the growth of a poetic voice, they should read Derek Walcott’s earliest poems, “Prelude,” where Walcott states, "And my life ... / ... must not be made public / Until I have learned to suffer / In accurate iambics," and the confident voice of “The Schooner, ‘Flight’”: “In idle August, while the sea soft,/ and leaves of brown islands stick to the rim/ of this Caribbean, I blow out the light/ by the dreamless face of Maria Concepcion.” Walcott’s early work, which one critic said was filled with “verbal pyrotechnics” matured into a voice that Seamus Heaney said is “sponsored by Shakespeare and the Bible, happy to surprise by fine excess.” Walcott's steady growth as writer can clearly be charted as his later work showed all the promise of his earliest poems.

The work of probloggers shows similar progress. Darren Rowse has admitted that the first posts that he wrote for Living Room weren’t all that great, but as he posted more frequently, his style and confidence changed, so that without looking at the byline on Problogger, a reader can now tell whether it’s Darren or a guest blogger who’s writing. The writer grew into his voice and that is a lesson no other writer can teach.

So there you have it. Five ways to successful career in blogging and poetry. In fact, some probloggers have suggested that code and metatags are forms of poetry—one misplaced comma or parentheses and nothing works! Oh, did I forget to mention three other things? Practice, practice, practice.


"ME" Liz Strauss said...

Hi Philip,
Thank you for noticing my work. It was an honor to be included with such wonderful writers. Also thanks for taking the time to get the flavor of the writing I do at Successful blog.

I was such a pleasure to poke around at your blog here to day. I so enjoyed reading your writing. I would love to share an email or two after the SOBCon conference is over. I'd also like to introduce you to my writing blog.


Geoffrey Philp said...

I checked it out and I loved the writing.


Amy Palko said...

Thank you so much for this post. I really enjoyed it! Number 4 particularly resonates with me, as I'm curently writing up my phd thesis, which has to be in a very formal academic style, and then, of course, there's my blog, which has to have a more informal, conversational style. I'm sure I don't always get it right, but it is definitely something that I'm very aware of. Thanks again!

Stephen A. Bess said...

One man told me to just keep on writing. :)I will. This was nice.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Dear Amy,

Yeah, academic writing does strain the mind and this is why I always return to blogging and the freedom of this kind of writing.

Good luck with your thesis.


Geoffrey Philp said...

Stephen, and yes, sometimes it just comes down to "Keep on, keeping on."

Juan Arellano said...

Excellent post. Good writing stands out even when writing a handbook. Everything depends on the writer's skills. (Sorry for my english if something sounds strange).

Geoffrey Philp said...

Nothing to be sorry about, my friend.
Welcome and thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

I thought this was incredibly insightful. I've got it bookmarked and plan to go back through it more carefully (clicking each of the links!) when I have more time. Thanks so much.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Thanks, Nancy!
And welcome.


Anonymous said...

Hello Geoffrey:

This post is inspirational at a variety of levels. Thank you.

My Top 5 entry is at