Friday, October 21, 2011

Artisan Poets

Ojimi Bead carving of Bird
East West Poetry will have its first anniversary soon and it's interesting to look back at how an idea found its form.  Originally I wanted to use the subtitle "Artisan Poets for a New Generation."  A little pretentious, I admit, so it was dropped ~ but I mention that here because it lies beneath the foundation of the site: the love of craft and well-crafted work.

There is a unique and interesting beauty in well-made, lyrical verse, and, over the past century, our world has been less rich for its loss. Mastering any art or magic it takes years of practice to produce works of grace. Though I'm just a journeyman, I have worked enough in my own way to appreciate the gifts, grit and tenured talent it takes to make lyrics appear both luminous and effortless.

I love well-crafted verse in the same way that I love a garden with stone steps and paths that bring me to standpoints where something unexpected is featured and so discovered or, if revisited, savored.  Carefully crafted poems can be as marvelous as an Ojime bead, a mile of detail in a quarter-inch of boxwood.  There is a thrill in the precision, the playfulness, the breathtaking finish.  It gives the stuff of language a crystalline structure ~ the poet compresses and condenses, then shapes it with a well-practiced hand.  

We are fortunate to live in a day when when some amazing poets are revisiting and refreshing the lyric arts, fortunate to live in a day when A. E. Stallings is writing for us.  Alicia ~ whose books are true delights ~ is young, playful, passionate and precise, crafting work that is architecturally advanced and filled with light.  Her sense of timing and ear for the music of the language are both challenging and refreshing.  Enjoy her Blackbird Etude below and look to the next posting to read more.

Blackbird Etude 

For Craig

The blackbird sings at
the frontier of his music.
The branch where he sat

marks the brink of doubt,
is the outpost of his realm,
edge from which to rout

encroachers with trills
and melismatic runs sur-
passing earthbound skills.

It sounds like ardor,
it sounds like joy. We are glad
here at the border

where he signs the air
with his invisible staves,
“Trespassers beware”—

Song as survival—
a kind of pure music which
we cannot rival.

A. E. Stallings's poem Blackbird Etude originally appeared in Poetry Magazine (2009) and will be collected in her forthcoming book, Olives: Poems, a TriQuarterly Books imprint, to be released by Northwestern University Press in the spring of 2012.

(Poetry reprinted with permission)

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