Writing poetry: from the inside out by Sanford Lyne
(Sourcebooks, Naperville, IL, 2007)
FEELING GOOD AND WRITING POETRY
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.