Photo by Vanessa Locklin
The most important advice I have for writers is that a poem can be on any subject in any type of language (but the best for its purposes of that type). In other words, there are no subjects that are “unpoetic” or unfit for poetry and there are no levels of discourse (slang, standard written English, Spanglish, wise-cracks, sexual, critical, familiar, scholarly, religious, philosophical, sarcastic, etc.) which cannot serve as the vehicle for a poem. A poem can be a letter, an anecdote, an elegy, an essay, a story, a meditation, an ekphrastic work (taking as its starting point a work from another art, e.g. painting, sculpture, symphony, opera, athletic contest, play, novel, film, other person’s poem, rock or rap or jazz concert, ballet, musical comedy, what-have-you), an insult, a tribute, a parody, a piece of nonsense, surrealism, an exquisite corpse (look that one up), a rant, a dramatic monologue, a love poem, a nature poem, a work intended to be spoken out loud, a work intended to be read on the printed page, a work to be apprehended conceptually (poesia concreta), a work to be illustrated and scored for the Internet, a work in which the signifiers (words) are liberated from their signifiers (meanings)—it can be anything . . . as long as it is at its core and start to finish an example of the music of language—and there are as many forms of “language music” (poetry) as there are of “music music.” You can find examples of the above in Horace, Catullus, Sappho, Frank O’Hara, Edward Field, Allan Ginsberg, Gertrude Stein, Lewis Carroll, Alexander Pope, Wordsworth, E. E. Cummings (he did not spell his name with lower-case letters), Keats, Marianne Moore, Charles Bukowski, Whitman, Rilke . . . well, you can find examples somewhere or other in the history of poetry. So read them, all of them, read everything. The only way we learn to do anything is by imitation and trial-and-error. Get started now or you never will. Originality, by the way, comes at the end of the process, not the beginning.
Biography of Gerald Locklin: My most recent full-length collection is Gerald Locklin: New and Selected Poems, World Parade Books, 2008. A collection of recent fiction and non-fiction prose is forthcoming from World Parade Books in spring of 2010. www.worldparadebooks.com www.geraldlocklin.com www.kaminipress.com www.nyquarterly.com