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  • A.K. Lee

Disciplined Writing

While I haven't been reading books, I have been reading poems and also attending writing critique groups. In 2019, I know I have to be more disciplined in my writing practice, so that is my new year's resolution: to write 500 words a day for my novel at minimum. I've run into a mental roadblock in writing The Kaedin Forge late last year. I thus decided to step away by challenging myself to write without planning, and that got me to over 10,000 words of an urban fantasy before I wrote myself into a corner. That exercise got me out of the mental funk and I'm back on The Kaedin Forge again.

I've picked up lots of advice about writing. One piece of advice I hold dear regarding the craft is to read poetry, in order to gain a better 'ear' for rhythm and flow. I personally find it difficult to read poetry in English; I much prefer Chinese poetry, particularly those from the Tang and Song dynasty, because I find them very lyrical and vivid. I also love haiku, because the condensing of a moment into words is something I wish to attain in my own writing. As for English poems, there are many which are excellent, but I find it challenging to appreciate the craft in them. English is not my first language. I did not have that cadence of speech that gives some poems their power; I cannot identify iambic pentameter even if you hit me on the head with it. For me, a poem works if I can see it unfold in my head, or hear its music. I cannot analyze the techniques beyond the most basic level; I cannot write essays on why a poem has such an impact on others.

And yet, isn't poetry supposed to touch your heart in that inexplicable way? Below are two that I have memorized:

In a Station of the Metro

[Ezra Pound]

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough.

I came across this when I was a beginning teacher and looking for short poems to share with my students. Pound's single sentence painted a picture in my head as vibrantly as if I was there on a crowded Metro station, a stationary point of view while people rushed about, their appearances blurring into smears of color.

Recently I was reminded of this poem when I viewed an exhibit on Wu Guanzhong's work. Wu was a contemporary Chinese painter and is considered to be a pioneer of modern Chinese art. There was a painting titled Falling Flowers, and immediately Pound's words came into my mind.

Falling Flowers, Wu Guanzhong

Perhaps the memory of Pound's poem enhanced my appreciation of the piece, or vice versa, but I could see the effect of petals and leaves swirling through the air, against a backdrop of dark, wet branches and twigs. It was a strangely touching experience that I hadn't expected.

So We'll Go No More a-Roving

[Lord Byron]

So, we'll go no more a-roving

So late into the night,

Though the heart be still as loving,

And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,

And the soul wears out the breast,

And the heart must pause to breathe,

And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,

And the day returns too soon,

Yet we'll go no more a-roving

By the light of the moon.

I have a soft spot for this poem because it reminds me of my favorite Chinese poet, Li Bai, who often referenced the moon in his works, but I feel that Byron was the more sentimental between the two. The final two lines of the second stanza are what makes this poem special to me. "The heart must pause to breathe, / And love itself have rest" reminds me that I cannot give all of myself to my partner, and that everyone needs time to be selfish and to recharge. Of course, the entire poem can be read with much innuendo, but that's what makes a poem fun!

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