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Passions in Poetry

Elements of writing

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Member Ascendant
since 04-30-2000
Posts 6413
Texas . . .

0 posted 09-26-2003 11:15 AM       View Profile for jwesley   Email jwesley   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jwesley

Most of you have probably read this some time or other - me, I'm just getting around to it, but thought it pretty well covered everything my poems don't have so wanted to share it.  Reading this, then thinking back on the multitude of wonderful work I've read in PIPTALK - I can see they all had all, most, or at least some degree of all/most of  the elements spoken of here. (Of course, Item two - CONSISE - is way beyond me, so I just skipped that!)

In any case, thought it interesting and worth the read - hope you do too.

walk easy  -  jwesley


"WHAT MAKES A GOOD POEM? by Hale Chatfield

"If any of us knew strategically how, exactly, good poems are written--then we would almost certainly write nothing else. But even if the question of quality in poetry is a bit mysterious and even more elusive, there are seven things I know that I look for in a good poem when I'm looking for one:

"A good poem is:

"(1) Enjoyable to read. From the very first words of a poem I want to be having a good time. The words and their patterns should be fresh enough to hold my attention--or even to wake me up if I am making a lazy start. I don't want to read for a while before the poem really gets going; instead, I like to think that the poem is quicker than I am and that I'm working to keep my balance.

"(2) Concise. I want to have the feeling that every word of the poem is necessary, that no word or phrase is there just for padding or to make the meter come out properly. When I encounter an adjective, I don't want to feel that it might have been omitted if its noun were more carefully selected. Nor do I want to feel that an adverb has been stuck in to brace a poorly chosen verb. When the poem is finished I want it to stop. I don't want it to summarize or to explain itself. I am furious at a poem that tells me what conclusions I ought to have about it, or a poem that tells me how I ought to live.

"(3) Unique. I want to know for sure as soon as I begin a poem that I have never seen another one quite like it.

"(4) Competent. After the first few phrases, I am giving myself to a poem that I am reading--almost as I might give myself to a lover. I want wonderful things to happen, but I want to be safe to let the poem work me over. If the diction or grammar or spelling of the poem are clumsy or stupid or careless, I don't want to risk the nerve, the intelligence, or even the time to read it through.

"(5) Filled with adventure. At every point in the poem I want a sense of excitement about what must be coming next. If I try to guess what is coming next, I want to be proven wrong. And I want being proven wrong to be a pleasant experience: I want to be delighted that the poem has done its next thing better than I would have done it. I want to be exploring energetically in a new town on a new planet.

"(6) A potential for discovery. I want the sense that I am doing my exploring without a guide or a map, so that everything I find is a surprise--and so that I feel I have found it by myself. I want no sign saying "THIS WAY TO THE NEXT WONDER!" If there is something wonderful in this place I want to feel delight and take pride in having found it for myself, and in being able to recognize it. The very worst thing I can imagine is to find something interesting and, while I'm reverberating with it, have somebody come along and tell me what's good about it. I like to think I'm in this new place because I can manage for myself.

"(7) A continuing surprise. If a poem has kept me surprised and delighted from start to finish, I like the poem. As an editor I'll publish it; as a reader I'll return to it. It is in the very nature of surprise and delight that nobody can tell anybody how to do it. I think most poets try to learn how to perform the task of surprising and delighting themselves as they write their poems, and when they succeed they are surprised and delighted to discover that they may have written a good poem."

[This message has been edited by jwesley (09-26-2003 11:17 AM).]

S Arthur Grey
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since 03-19-2001
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woven by a poet's loom

1 posted 09-27-2003 01:11 AM       View Profile for S Arthur Grey   Email S Arthur Grey   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for S Arthur Grey

Very interestin, j.
Now, can you tell us more about Hale Chatfield?  Pardon my ignorance, but I hadn't read this before either so I'm wondering who this person is and how he might have come to these assessments.  (He seems a bit jaded, don't you think?  Maybe that's the editor's curse?)
Thanks for posting this.

Member Ascendant
since 04-30-2000
Posts 6413
Texas . . .

2 posted 09-27-2003 06:29 PM       View Profile for jwesley   Email jwesley   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jwesley

SAG - thanks for asking....
I think this will answer your questions about Mr. Chatfield -- there is also a picture of him at this site "" which is where I copied the following information.  Personally I thought what he said was great - but they fit my feelings/ideas about poetry closely - just that I don't write within their borders the way I'd like.  Anyway...introducing Hale Chatfield:

Hale Chatfield was the founder and editor of the HIRAM POETRY REVIEW, an international poetry journal first published in 1967 (Ohioana Library Association Award for Editorial Excellence, 1985), and in 1998 he retired after over thirty years as Poet in Residence and Professor of English at Hiram College, where he continued on the adjunct faculty. He was President of Chatfield Software, Inc., designers and distributors of computer software for education, and he had more than twenty years of active experience in Ohio's Poets in the Schools program.
Chatfield's eighteen books include ten volumes of poetry, HALE CHATFIELD'S GREATEST HITS (Johnstown, Ohio, 2000--in preparation), HALE CHATFIELD: Selected Poetry 1958-1998 (Hiram, Ohio, 1998: a CD-ROM disk for Windows 95--see the "Products Page"), VOX (Hiram, Ohio, 1995), THE SOTTO VOCE MASSACRES (Hiram, Ohio, 1990), POSSESSIONS (Cleveland, 1984), WATER COLORS (Gulfport, Florida, 1979), WHAT COLOR ARE YOUR EYES? (La Crosse, 1978), AT HOME (Ashland, Ohio, 1971), TEETH (Trumansburg, New York, 1967), and THE YOUNG COUNTRY (New York, 1959). A monograph entitled PlayGROWnd (1998) was published in 1998 as a CD-ROM for Windows and Mac multimedia computers (see the "Products Page"), and another entitled POETRY AND LOVE (1988) appears with a second edition of At Home as HIRAM POETRY REVIEW SUPPLEMENT NO. 9. He was co-editor of two volumes of work by Henry Dumas and was one of two poets featured in VOYAGES TO THE INLAND SEA, No. VII (Center for Contemporary Poetry, Univ. of Wisconsin--La Crosse). Another recent book is a collection of short fiction, LITTLE FICTIONS, LOVING LIES (Gulfport, 1981). His poems are published widely in literary periodicals and are included in numerous anthologies. Two short novels (EPISODES: A POST-MIDCENTURY ALBUM and NORTH STAR) were published in 1992 and 1993.

Literary criticism by Hale Chatfield has appeared in AMERICAN IMAGO, KENYON REVIEW, MEDITERRANEAN REVIEW, MILTON QUARTERLY, NORTHEAST, TRACE, UNIVERSITY REVIEW, and elsewhere, including the reference works CONTEMPORARY LITERARY CRITICISM and DICTIONARY OF LITERARY THEMES AND MOTIFS. He has been a consultant to programs in experimental education, and he has taped a two-week educational series on poetry with NBC-TV. He was an innovator in the area of computers and poetry and has provided frequent commentary on the subject in the HIRAM POETRY REVIEW.

He received degrees from Wesleyan University and Rutgers University and completed a program of study at Bairnwick Theological Seminary. From 1968 to 1972 he was Co-Chair of the first Literature Advisory Panel to the Ohio Arts Council.

Chatfield received a 1975 poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and in that same year accepted a poetry residency at Yaddo, in Saratoga Springs, New York. In 1980 he received a writing fellowship from the Ohio Arts Council, and in 1993 he received the Ohioana Library Association Poetry Award.

E. Hale Chatfield passed away on Thanksgiving Day 2000 of a sudden heart attack. He had had a wonderful day and had even read some of his favorite poems to his family.

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