How Cool Is This?!

2 06 2014


Molly Peacock will teach a master class called “The Art of the Turn: Techniques for Change in Sonnets and Villanelles”…I love it!  This increased emphasis on the turn in poetry is very heartening.  (N.B.: I’m not claiming any responsibility for it–I’m just glad to see it taking place…!)

So, if you’re interested in the turn, get to West Chester University in two days.  There, you can discuss the turn with Molly Peacock, and hopefully with a number of other conference participants who have done work on/with the turn.  (Critical/scholarly work, that is…it’s hard to imagine any strong poet who has not worked with the turn in their poetry…)  For example, craft workshop leader Annie Finch and poetry consultants Ned Balbo and Jehanne Dubrow all are contributors to Voltage Poetry.  (Read Annie’s reflection here; Ned’s here; and Jehanne’s here.)  Additionally, poetry consultant Kate Light has written a sonnet, “And Then There Is That Incredible Moment,” that I take to be one of the great poetic statements of the turn’s power to surprise.

If you can’t make it to the conference, explore this site and the Voltage Poetry site.  Here, there’s evidence of how the turn can be used productively to help students make significant new work: Scott Wiggerman discusses a workshop that he led on the turn (and offers some great examples of student work), and I discuss a lesson using the metaphor-to-meaning structure (and offer some excellent student writing that came from it) here.  Additionally, there’s plenty of reflection on the place of the turn in the sonnet, including some thinking about the importance of the turnthe turn’s literal place in sonnetsthe volta and, as Christina Pugh calls it, “sonnet thought,” and how to use the turn to “raise the net” on the sonnet.  Over at Voltage Poetry there are a host of reflections on the thrilling turns in sonnets, but there also is a terrific reflection, called “Two Villanelle Voltas,” by Beth Gylys, on the turns in Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” and Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.”

Turn, turn, turn!

Praise for Structure & Surprise

12 02 2013


Over at Iambic Admonit, there is a terrific interview with poet Ned Balbo.  Among the smart, insightful comments Balbo makes, he includes this generous appraisal of Structure & Surprise:

“This might be the time to mention the critical anthology Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns, edited by Michael Theune, which examines poetic structure through turns of thought or unfolding ideas rather than through rhythm or meter. Particularly incisive are essays by D. A. Powell (‘The Elegy’s Structures’) and Jerry Harp (‘The Mid-Course Turn’). It’s a great place to start moving beyond the tired ‘meter vs. free verse’ controversies.”

This is incredibly kind, and, if I may, perceptive.  One of the aims of Structure & Surprise is to emphasize a way of talking about what poems are and do that cuts across poetic types and aesthetics.  In “Notes on the New Formalism” (reprinted in Can Poetry Matter? (1992)), Dana Gioia observes,

“I suspect that ten years from now the real debate among poets and concerned critics will not be about poetic form in the narrow technical sense of metrical versus nonmetrical verse.  That is already a tired argument, and only the uninformed or biased can fail to recognize that genuine poetry can be created in both modes.  How obvious it should be that no technique precludes poetic achievement, just as none automatically assures it (though admittedly some techniques may be more difficult to use at certain moments in history).  Soon, I believe, the central debate will focus on form in the wider, more elusive sense of poetic structure.  How does a poet best shape words, images, and ideas into meaning?  How much compression is needed to transform versified lines–be they metrical or free–into genuine poetry?  The important arguments will not be about technique in isolation but about the fundamental aesthetic assumptions of writing and judging poetry.”

Structure & Surprise tries to move this debate–or, perhaps, ongoing discussion–along. Thanks to Ned Balbo for sensing / seeing this connection.  Check out one of Mr. Balbo’s own excellent poems (a sonnet, so expect turns!) here.