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Make it new

April 24, 2013

Ezra Pound advised aspiring poets to “make it new.” But what does that mean?

Pound suggested to one writer that the first step is to “get the tools for your work” and study other poets, although he had little good to say about any English poets except Chaucer. Wordsworth was “a dull sheep,” Byron’s technique was “rotten” and he said everybody had been sloppily imitating the Elizabethans for too long anyway.  He generally recommend learning Latin, “if it isn’t too much trouble” because the Romans “had approximately the same problems we had.”

More helpful was his advice to:

  • Say what you mean in the fewest and clearest words.
  • Present images that stir the reader.

It’s good advice for a poet and a bigger challenge for anyone else. How can we make words, images, stories and ideas new? In our creative writing class last week, instructor Laura Lush challenged us to write a fresh simile or metaphor about the moon, stars and sun. How about, “the stars scattered like salt across an expanse of black ice.”

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 24, 2013 6:33 pm

    She walks in beauty, like the night. Rotten Byron!

  2. Alison Colvin permalink
    April 24, 2013 6:36 pm

    Nothing wrong with some of the Elizabethans. I quite like Robert Herrick

    “Oh how that glittering taketh me!”

  3. Valerie McDonald permalink
    April 24, 2013 10:07 pm

    You’ve both obviously acquired the tools for your work!

    • Frank Gavin permalink
      April 25, 2013 7:32 am

      Alison’s comment reminded me of an extraordinary image from the same poem: “Whenas in silks my Julia goes / Then, then, methinks how sweetly flows / That liquefaction of her clothes.”

  4. Valerie McDonald permalink
    April 25, 2013 1:54 pm

    I am a plain language plodder among poets! That is an extraordinary image.

    • Frank Gavin permalink
      April 25, 2013 2:54 pm

      There’s never enough plain language. Many have said the most memorable sentence in the whole of The New Testament is “Jesus wept.” And didn’t the same Ezra Pound say something about prose being harder to write than poetry–or maybe it was that poetry should aspire to the qualities of good prose?

      I suspect most writers and probably most people who enjoy fiction, whether they write or not, once wrote poems and then stopped. Maybe it would be good to try writing poems again just to see what results–though I hope there would be fewer references to “the labyrinths of my mind” which was a phrase that seemed to appear in nearly every adolescent’s poetry some decades ago.

  5. Bruce Stratoon permalink
    April 25, 2013 10:17 pm

    Plain old Bob Dylan:

    And every one of them words rang true
    And glowed like burnin’ coal
    Pourin’ off of every page
    Like it was written in my soul from me to you

  6. April 25, 2013 10:35 pm

    Hallelujah! (Leonard Cohen)

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