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PETER KROK : THEY ARE THE ONES
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poetryrepairs #215: 15.07:081
PETER KROKI don’t know where my interest in poetry come from. However, let me offer some background. I did not have a happy childhood. For a reason I can’t explain it is clear I came to poetry in my teens. When I used to ride buses and subways as a youth I always had Louis Untermeyer’s book of poems, A Concise Treasury of Great Poems, with me. That book became my touchstone. Why, I don’t know. Poetry became my companion. Poems became the means to talking to myself, an outlet for my insecurities, and a place to go to in my dairy. My first poet was Rilke and his own self-searching, longing, solitariness, and attachment of the scenes around him. Rilke’s statement in “For the Sake of a Single Verse” and his Letters to a Young Poet became my sounding board. The next poet I became devoted to was Yeats and then Mandelstam. Yeats’ poems sang and Mandelstam gave me the desire to become a poet who expresses a relationship to the age. Once I approached a well-known and recognized English teacher after I graduated from college and gave him my attempts my poems poetry and his response was, “This is not poetry.” My poetry was not grounded in the language of daily life but had a kind of romanticized reflection, a kind of very poor imitation of Walt Whitman. I met another fellow, a good contemporary poet, who told me that my poetry does not embody a contemporary voice but an expression too removed from the contemporary idiom. It was then that I started to work at finding my own voice. Poems seem to happen in unexpected moments. If I sit down to write a poem in my study and say I am going to write a poem, it won’t happen. At best it will be a feeble attempt to string words together with a right margin. Poems for me are a spontaneous overflow, an emotional response looking for words. It is the voice inside looking for words. The words spring from an internal response -- what for me is often a question. I find questions essential. These questions best capture the spirit of my expression. My only book is titled Looking For an Eye which really deals with the questions of my life until the early 2000’s. What is my creative process I have no process. I only have my response to the voice inside me. Poems come from almost anywhere. In a sense I feel compelled to give expression to some thing. Poems are not so much a conscious ordering of words but an unconscious associating in a stream of words. The best expression of what I strive for is Milosz’s definition of poetry as a “passionate pursuit of the real.” I like to think my work is grounded in some sort of pursuit of the real. The demands of finishing the poem is in the editing process. It is the crafting, the weaving of the initial inchoate response into a pattern of words that one hopes to work as a poem. That is where the labor comes from – to avoid the obvious (to not say what in effect has been said before). The essay that most influenced me about writing was “Politics and the English Language “by George Orwell and his five rules for writing. I find too much of what I read today is missing rhythm, music and emotion; I find these qualities best embodied in Yeats. Poetry should have a multiplicity of meanings, a resonance, an interplay of sound. A poem should have layers, a ripple, so that when the page is turned there is an echo. An excellent example of this is Stanley Kunitz’s poem, “The Layers.” I like to achieve a personalization of poetry; the lyric is the mode I feel most drawn to. I look for a music and emotion in poetry but see little of it in today’s literary journals. I might add that my work may not apply to any of the values I prize, but it does reflect my thoughts on the matter. Perhaps a gauge for what I consider my influences can best be evoked in the poets I see as touchstones: Yeats (music), Rilke (longing and the urban solitariness in Neue Gedichte; Eliot in The Four Quartets; Mandelstam, Montale and Zagajewski (who for me is among the best contemporary poets). Based on these influences, I must be an outlier. The American poets I relate to most today are Anne Sexton, Billy Collins, Stephen Dunn, Mary Oliver, Stanley Kunitz, and there are others. I especially prize the English poet, Philip Larkin, for his mastery of form and marvelous concision. I find it difficult to respond to formal poetry because too often it seems inadequate in expressing modern life and the world I live in. It lacks what I might call a modern voice. The voice of formal poetry too often seems out of sync in dealing with my relationship to contemporary life. Most formal poetry has charm and emotion but lacks a resonance, but the music in formal poetry is its best feature. I admit I have little interest in most of the poetry I find in journals and contemporary poetry books. Perhaps admittedly it is a failing on my part. Much from my perspective can best be captured in what Frost called himself a “Synecdochist.” He explained it as, “always a larger significance. A little thing touches a larger significance.”
poetryrepairs #215: 15.07:081
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