Ira Sadoff “Structure and Poetic Memory” Drew 2nd Residency

Notes and Fancies from Ira Sadoff’s Lecture “Structure and Poetic Memory”

Ira challenged us to really consider the structure of the poem – not its grammar, or its form, or its meter or lines, but structure as the connection between all the craft elements and its poetic argument, as how the poem carries meaning and how it builds its authority, earns its right to say what it says.

Poetry, Ira argued, is very different from prose or other forms of writing because it is not a character study or narrative source of information, description, or plot. Poetry is associative, the place where improvisation and form intercept. The “music” of a poem (or the racket, as Ross Gay calls it) is there to reinforce the poem’s emotional moment. Poetic structure is also the way images echo and argue with each other within the world of the poem. The structure of a poem is its emotional spine; while poems do have and convey ideas, poetry happens in the place that is embodied, physical, and emotional.

Structure is also the way poems build authority, how they earn the right to assert what they say, or question, about the world. In this way, structure demands that poets do not settle for the easy, the thematic, or the conventional. Poems should be allowed to ask questions, should not be forced into what the poet wanted to say. As poets, we have responsibility to our own language, and to not using rhetorical flourishes in place of the hard work of making meaning and music. The poem must be responsible to each word that it uses and how the echoes between the words and music accrue meaning as the poem progresses. This accumulated meaning is poetic memory, and is also the structure of the poem.

Also, these insights:

-Consciousness engenders passion and a penchant for justice

-Imagine if we could make every moment matter, if we refined and honed the art of paying attention

-an embodied consciousness is the religion of poetry

-poems move toward intensification

-the key to revision is to ask of the poem “what’s the obsession? what’s the inquiry?”


My additions, as scribbled in my notes:

About poetic authority—the authority must come from within the poem itself, not from the known life story of the author. This is so many “topical poems” or anthologies of “X Kind of Writers Speak” are often so very very bad. Their biography is doing the work, so their writing isn’t expected to. Identity is infinitely interesting to me, but it is not the same as a poem that makes its own meaning real.

A poem is such a living object, creating meaning between itself and its reader each time. To read a poem is a four dimensional experience, since you are in the sensory world created by the poem and the reading itself takes the time it takes, so you are traveling with the words through space and time. Like desire, which is ever mutable and reforms itself constantly between people but is nonetheless a real, felt, object or power, the poem lives as we read it, it pushes on us and we push back and that new thing that is created between the poem and reader should have its own name. Actually, I guess, there is the shape created between the writer and the poem, and then the shape created between the reader and the poem, and these are distinct realities beyond the writer, the poem, and the reader. These are, to borrow a phrase from the vocabulary of comics, which are also 4 dimensional communicative art forms, the gutters, the spaces between, and the gutters are where the meaning is made and remade endlessly.


Ars Poetica, Drew, 2nd Residency

Ira Sadoff on Dickinson—the powers of complex metaphors connected by association, the wilderness of her imagination

Anne Marie Macari speaking about Theodore Roethke—when I feel a poem in my mouth, in my body, I am rich in physicality

Jean Valentine quoting Berryman’s advice to a young poet—“If you have to be sure, don’t write.”

Ira Sadoff in a lecture on structure:
-Poetry is associative, the place where improvisation and form intercept.
-Poetry has everything that makes for a good crash and burn love affair.
-Consciousness engenders passion and a penchant for justice.
-Imagine if we could make every moment matter, if we refined and honed the art of paying attention
-An embodied consciousness is the religion of poetry
-poems should always move toward intensification
-the key to revision is to ask of the poem “what’s the obsession? what’s the inquiry?”

Gerald Stern describing Alicia Ostriker—she shows her loyalty by not forgetting and by insisting, which are the same thing

Anne Marie Macari
-When we get to our real poems—after a long apprenticeship—the poems only we can write write us
-We are what we write, we are our language
-metaphor is not just a poetic device, it is the ultimate pattern of thought, the source of all new insight
-Never to get lost is never to live. To be always sure of where you are is very dangerous for a poet
-I’m not interested in transcendence
-We are being distracted by distraction from distraction
-We must live as if language were matter and mattered

James Haba:
-Poetry has become something to read or hear, but before print, poetry was something you could be. Imagine poetry before irony, which has contaminated our understanding, replacing feeling with gloss and substance with reflectivity. Poetry was shared, communal, never alone or solitary.
-the effect poetry is to shatter your fundamental assumptions
-of the final line of “Prufrock” –drowning is terrifying, but then everything is terrifying

Richard Hugo – you’ve written every poem you’ve loved

Gerald Stern of Jean Valentine’s poetry—in her work, I and thou are in a lifelong conversation

Peter Cole—aesthetics is to art what ornithology is to birds

from my notes from Joan Larkin—a poem’s meaning is the combine harvesting 10,000 hours of labor (did she say that, or did I invent it in response to something she said?)

Joan Larkin on Hopkins—there is a kind of joy in the recognition that we are not alone in our despair, in the glory of the music. Anyone who can count syllables, make rhymes, is no longer in the grip of despair

Dmitri Shostakovich—Art destroys silence

Lynn Emanuel:
-A book of poems is not a plate of hors d’oeuvres
-we must avoid the fetish of the perfect poem
-when we are reading a book of poems, what makes us turn the page?