Friday, November 30, 2007



Writing poetry: from the inside out by Sanford Lyne
(Sourcebooks, Naperville, IL, 2007)


Sanford Lyne offers the following bit of guidance: “The earth is a good place to be” (193). This is not a book for anyone who considers herself not to belong: readers of Dostoyevsky, Kerouac, Woolf, Nietzsche; punk rockers; hipsters; public chess players; anybody who digs Dickinson and/or Whitman; skateboarders; or individuals otherwise possessing the slightest bit of wit and interest in resting matters into their own hands. This book may appeal to schoolchildren and roller-bladers. Approximately half of the voters who elected President Bush may also find something of use in it, as will approximately half of the voters who did not elect him. It’s unlikely that any European reader wouldn’t scoff at it.

There is no possibility of recommending this text to any reader under any circumstance for any purpose. Lyne wants poetry to be introduced to every person. He deems it a worthwhile—if somewhat imaginary—goal to get every person writing poems on a regular basis. He believes this will do the Spirit in them good. This book provides no balance to the view it offers, not only of Poetry, but of the World at large. Books so overly slanted towards making their readers “better” in whatever terms chosen are foolish and naive. This is the sort of work that encourages a self-glorying arrogant ignorance in people which ends up emotionally and imaginatively damaging them. Such material shapes the thinking which lies behind schoolteachers who scold and belittle the most promising among their students due to their own inadequacies which are reflected back by the eyes and tongue of the enlightened youth.

It’s not that it is at all difficult to find an agreeable passage. It’s the use which Lyne is putting his references to, the manner in which he directs his readers. His touchy-feely preconceptions of them ooze from off the page sending shivers down the spine.
What kinds of things grow our consciousness, our circles of awareness?
Living—life itself—will grow these circles. That’s in the design of life, for life is movement, change, and, therefore, response and hopefully reflection, new insights and understandings. Reading will grow these circles, especially if we talk with interesting people, people who are also awake and expanding their awareness. Emerson—like his student Henry David Thoreau—also believed that walks in nature expand our awareness. Emerson called nature “the great unread book,” and he thought our time in nature was essential—indeed, indispensable—to our growth. And again, writing grows these circles, for in writing we enter our own silence, our own stillness, and listen (172).

If people were to be trusted to attend to doing what is necessary and doing it well, this might be a passable bit of encouragement. Unfortunately, a significant portion of humanity looks to the easy way out of the majority of entanglements when thus confronted. Lyne conveniently leaves out the necessity of working hard. He gives a vague gist of Emerson in the above passage. A glimmer off the cream-puff top of an enormously engaging bore of wonder. If the reader doesn’t bother to go back to photocopied high school copies of Emerson’s essays—let alone become at least aware of, say, Carlyle’s influence upon them—he has not done her an ounce of favor, but more likely considerable harm. It’s similar to watching the Star Trek films which reference Moby-Dick and never reading the novel, especially the copious notes of the sub-sub-librarian which preface it. Granted, Lyne is perfectly adaptable reading for many graduate students in American Literature and the majority of their younger professors as well.

The hope would be that Lyne is not to be found of use to anybody who has spent the barest amount of time sitting with poetry, whether writing or reading it. Unfortunately, this is an unlikely assessment of the current situation. The problem is found in Lyne’s approach in general, it takes the norm into terrific consideration and does everything to be welcoming to it. Everybody is treated comfortably, any challenge must be gentle. No jarring of the individual’s world and temperament. None but the softest of demands are to be placed upon them; to be ever accommodating to their needs and perspective, utter passive acceptance.

Given that the norm is saturated with an ever increasing onslaught of digitalized distractions which make it increasingly difficult to focus on actual circumstances of interiorized personal growth and development, there’s little chance of his approach not growing in popularity. This is good for Lyne because he means to sell his book and continue teaching his poetry writing exercises in various workshops across the country. As is a well acknowledged fact, poets don’t make any money off writing poetry. Lyne has found his niche and now, in the vein of traditional American Capitalism, is successfully exploiting it. There’s a place in Dante’s Inferno for such abuses of the Imagination and a plethora of curses hurled by William Blake against those who support the Infernal Machines which Lyne appears to have no qualms of doing, may he find his own path to eternal peace.


Patrick James Dunagan lives in San Francisco and works in the library at USF. Poems and chapbooks have been published by Auguste Press, Blue Book, Chain, Pompom, and Red Ant Press among others.


Anonymous said...

I absolutely loved Writing Poetry: From the Inside Out. I hadn't written much in years, but I found inspiration again in this book. I highly recommend it to anyone who is stressed out, overburdened, and wants to reconnect to the artist inside: This book is an oasis.

EILEEN said...

Dear Anonymous,
Happy to post your experience with this book. But, you know, recommendations (or cris) tend to be more credible when not made anonymously :-)
Da editor

Anonymous said...

This is the most arrogant review I have ever read. Lynes approach helps all the people who are discouraged by people like Dunagan from reading and writing poems. These reviewers seem to know that their way is the only right way. Comparing readers and users of Lynes book with the thought of Bush is an evidence of intolerance and stupidity. Dunagan never seems to have stood before a group of demoralized people. Any approach that helps people to discover their creative and poetic side is right. How wrong is also Dunagan presumption Lyne wants to make money only with the book, shown by the fact that Lyne at the time of publication of the book was already dead. As Dunagan published his review, Lyne was already nine months dead
It may be that Lyne's approach is not suitable for Dunagan. But where does Dunagan the right to speak for others? How does he want to know that Lynes approach for other people is not helpful?
For the future it would be better if Dunagan writes poetry only, instead of discouraging and false reviews. Such reviews have nothing to do with freedom of speech - their only goal is to humiliate people. I lived in a communist system. So I know how important it is to encourage people. Their liberty oppressed by the system they must learn again to discover. This applies equally today for capitalism. Lyne is a helper. Dunagan an oppressor. I advise Dunagan, to leave his library to look around in the real world. There's life.

patrick\ said...

For the record: I agree with Eileen that anonymous opinion is lousy. It's as bad as anonymous reviewing. I'm in the world. And am happy to engage in correspondence (or go have a beer) with anyone, any time. The library lists an email contact for me on its website:

As for being an oppressor, my sister often does tell me I'm dogmatic. However, when it comes to making a thing (in this case poetry) and/or discussing a made thing, I go for broke, ie The Ultimate (which I align with words such as "truth" "honesty" etc for whatever that may be worth). I'll take nothing less. Unless, of course, it's FUN.

Being a demoralized people sucks and I am fully opposed to any and all such POWER which holds sway over others. I hadn't realized that Lyne's book was targeted directly at such readers. It seemed marketed for (and written towards) a much wider audience and that is the one I was addressing.

If Lyne's book is helpful to some readers that's hopefully for the common good. I bear such readers no ill will, but I do not care for Lyne's perspective. However I do believe and support the FACT that everybody should feel relatively good about herself most of the time. It is also my belief tho that a bit of gloomy self doubt is absolutely normal and healthy, also entirely useful.

As for "Comparing readers and users of Lyne's book with the thought of Bush is an evidence of intolerance and stupidity." I did say "approximately half" and since this is a 'man' who managed garner enough voes to be re-elected, I stand by that statement. Check your last couple of ballots and ask your friends.

I'm sorry to hear Lyne is dead. But I feel rather assured he benefited while alive from pushing such rubbish as is contained in his book. I stand by what I've written.

And I think William Blake is smiling fondly (if not out right beaming!) Yes, "there's life," and for some of us it's eternal.

yrs~Patrick James Dunagan