Page Eight–Zen Poetics–The poetics of fiction 2
©2012 by Jack Remick and Robert J. Ray
This is the Second Posting on Zen Poetics for Fiction Writers:
A Golden Rule: Force the writer to create with power.
Zen Poetics: How to read a poem
To read a poem, you must first HEAR it.
Let the words roll out and over you.
To read a poem, do this—tape yourself reading it then close your eyes and listen.
Poems want to enter you as voice.
Poems want to enter you as emotion.
The voice enters you and you hear action and you see images.
Story to the fiction writer is the big thing. Story moves in time.
Image and action and compression are the big things to the poet.
Compression means the poet squeezes out all the Unnecessary leaving only the Essential.
Time is essential to story. Not essential to poem.
The Unnecessary is any word or cluster of words in a line that impedes the image’s completion.
Image is analogy.
Analogy is metaphor.
Her hair hung like copper wire
Coiled on ashen shoulders
Zen Poetics Unearths Illusion
Fiction writers get lost in language because language is deceptive.
Clearing out the Unnecessary lets the writer show the story as it happens instead of telling the story in garbled mucked up prose loaded with embedded clauses and wondereds and imagineds and realizeds.
The fiction writer learns to practice Zen Poetics because s/he lives in a world of Screens and the screens are filled with images. The screen can be the reader’s mind – the visual cortex where words create direct emotional links to the limbic brain, or the screen can be a big screen in a theater or it can be the small screen of TV or a computer display.
The fiction writer reads poems to learn how to move the story down the page.
Down the page is a concept. Look at this paragraph that stretches across the page, margin to margin, the style of story:
The trees lining the Kings River hung limp in the heat. The sun, still hot and bright even though it was after six, beat through air stagnant the way it gets in August. The muggy air damped the river’s flow to a dull, slow hiss. Everything in Sanger showed the signs of a miserable summer. Plums came in early, peaches ripened on the heels of the early plums, and the grapes, sure to be three weeks ahead, were already gray with must. The heat, cranked up in the daytime, turned nights into torture chambers. Sleep was something you talked about but you didn’t know who to talk to without setting off fireworks and I firmly believed that I should have begun to think about taking first communion.
This is a fiction writer building an emotion for story but what happens when the writer hits that last line – I firmly believed that I should have begun to think about taking first communion?
No music. Squeeze first communion and emotion squirts out in action and image:
I took first communion on the steps
of the Jazz Cellar too young to buy
my own booze, too pure to steal it.
I heard Rexroth rip the nation naked
over the beat of conga drums
and horns crystal in the night.
Here the image is clear—The Narrator sits on the steps of the Jazz Cellar.
Here action is clear—The Narrator heard the poet Rexroth rip.
The metaphor is music as First Communion.
What can the fiction writer learn from this exercise?
1) Compress the line to let image and action shine through.
2) Build images with concrete nouns
3) Build action with simple, strong verbs.
Zen Poetics: prose sings, but the poem dances
A good poem has patterns in it.
A good poem has images.
A good poem has this:
In each line there is a strong image: horns crystal in the night
In each line there is a strong action: the beat of conga drums