Monday, October 20, 2014

Of Sonnets, Inspiration, and Method: a brief chat with Mack Hassler and Michael Butterworth

Filial Sonnet for Two Remarkable Sons

                        "There were giants in the earth
                        in those days; and also after that."
                                                            Genesis 6:4

Perhaps one needs to craft a solid form
Capable of standing tall and quell
That energy where wanton waves can swell
The writing reeds obsequious in the storm.
Such sycophants, in fact, do minor harm.
The little writer writes on passing well.
The lover rigs his line to cast a spell
And magic holds the stage and saves the farm.
Still I think our children need to know
Even as they crowd the busy scene
That other stories might have been,
That taking bows, that even pledging troth
Are preparatory.  Work must follow both
And overcoming many deaths is how we grow.

                                             Donald M. Hassler
Mack Hassler has sent us (above) a sample from the section of the work he is preparing for Emanations 5. This is an Italian sonnet.  In the octave, the speaker expresses frustration with the work of a poetaster he's recently heard, which, for lack of sound craft and a paucity of  substantive matter, strikes him as tedious--I am wont to say the poems the speaker has been hearing are "minor" and (maybe) "vapid"... but the point that I really wish to underscore is the poetaster's lack of integrity and, in turn, lack of art. In the sestet, the speaker offers resolution by underscoring the need to engage poetry as a matter of procreation and endurance--that is, producing something that endures and survives from generation to generation (and Mack has his sons in mind as his speaker advances these views). In order to endure, in order to survive, poetry must convey this same knowledge, and the complex of ideas having to do with generative themes and survival are appropriate--if not key--subjects.  Poetry is made of (and made for) seeing--and seeing through--real difficulties. Craft should thus be fit to the subject, as the subject is to the craft, and thus craft itself must be identified as part of the subject. And here forgive my "acute obtuseness" and potted explication, but I am making points rather than offering a close reading. Also, I think I am learning something about Mack's poetry--and learning something about how to write about Mack's poetry.

This theme of craftsmanship: our Submissions Call for Emanations places sufficient emphasis on experimentation and "unusual" work.  But I want to underscore the notion that also we are interested in craftsmanship--close craftsmanship, conscientious attention to detail, and studied but graceful aesthetic sensitivities...  These qualities are evident in Mack's sonnet.  So while we are "experimental," I think it is equally important to emphasize that we are not simply discovering new life forms, slapping together chimeras, or forcing fantastic transformations: we are just as attentive to the action of experimenting through craft... and in the same way that Mack is speaking through the sonnet, which in the bestiary of poetic structures is surely not a new life form, and certainly no chimera.

Michael Butterworth:
I am more of an expressionist writer in the way I produce my work. I have learned very little craft because the complexities of language are not something I'm good at grasping in a conscious way. Charles Platt once said that my writing is produced by an unconscious process of synthesis. I undergo long periods of sensory input and mental processing at an unconscious level, then the writing comes out whole (when it comes out at all). I don't think of an idea, then a plot, then a structure and so on. I sit and wait by the typewriter for something to happen. Once something is written, I will chip at it to shape it better. I can sometimes do a lot of editorial work on it at this stage, and can often see how disparate pieces that I didn't know what to do with link together, and writing bridging text.

I envy writers who can bring craft to their work, and I can see Mack does. If I had been able to master it I would have been a more confident writer (ie by having a ready prepared framework) and a more prolific one. I believe, ideally, that craft and 'expressionism' (for wont of a better word) should go together.

One of the many admirable policies of New Worlds (like Emanations) was its willingness to embrace all forms or writing, high and low, old or new, craft-driven or not, but one of its central edicts was that form should fit the subject matter. In other words things should work in their own right, and it didn't matter how, so long as they did. Part of the novelty of both NW and Emanations is coming across new pieces of writing that surprise you in so free and expressive in this way, that isn't afraid, even, to be a platform for contemporary (New Wave?) classical writing.
The bottom line, though, is content, having something interesting to say that will also hopefully be relevant to today, whatever form it takes.
Over to Mack for a conclusion (at least a conclusion for the time being):
I think Michael is right on message. I never try to write unless I think I have something to say. But when I start to say it, the message either seems trivial  or my expression of it seems weak. That's when I fall back on whatever tricks or wit I might have seen and remember. When the message and the tricks blend, I feel good about it. That happens way too little in my case. I envy the blend in others.
 Please visit the Emanations 5 Call for Submissions by clicking HERE.

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