Tension Points for Poets and Other Writers

Soon or later, poets and other writers have to confront or avoid a series of decision moments. They have to admit that they are not the first and only poets to have ever lived. With this admission comes the relation that everything they write has a historical precedent, whether they know it or not.   Therefore, when a reader or listener meets their work, each reader will bring his or her own knowledge of these precedents. The more that writers know of these precedents the better equipped to make informed decisions about what kind of poet they want to be, and what kind of poetry they want to write. And, therefore, the better equipped they will be to welcome or thwart the expectations of their readers.

I am not saying one has to choose one side and stick with it forever.  I am not saying that these moments as listed form a simple dichotomy of reality and that life isn’t much more complicated.  I am not saying that one has to select one side to the exclusion of the other side.  I am saying that when one writes, one will come to a moment in the process, in the composition, where one will realize that one can be either, for instance, optimistic or pessimistic.  That theme, that choice, for your characters or for the narrator will present itself.      Choices will present themselves:  do I write in long loose sentences or in short choppy ones?  Does this scene take place in outside in moonlight or in the sun, or inside?  Is this poem asking to be a short poem or a long poem?  Is this work a prose poem, flash fiction or short story?  Do I what to show present my character in this story through actions or thoughts?  Am I writing this work for others or for myself?  That is all I mean.  When you read other writers’ work, think about these decision moments in their work.  What can you learn from them?


Yin                                            vs                    Yang

Male                                         vs                    Female

Apollo                                      vs                    Dionysus

Light                                         vs                   Dark

Optimistic                               vs                   Pessimistic

Outward Focus                      vs                   Inward Focus

Research                                 vs                   Observation

Projection                               vs                    Memory

Loud                                        vs                    Soft

Large                                       vs                    Small

Shape                                     vs                     Sound

Form                                       vs                    Organic

Studied                                   vs                    Spontaneous

Political/Social                       vs                    Personal/Familial

Inaccessible                           vs                    Accessible

Elitist                                       vs                    Populist

Poetic                                      vs                    Anti-Poetic

Literature/Art                          vs                   Expression/Therapy

Maker                                     vs                    Seer







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About lymangrant

Lyman Grant is a professor of creative writing and humanities at Austin Community College. He has work at ACC since 1978. He is the author or editor of two textbooks, two books relating to Texas literature, three volumes and a chapbook of poetry. Recently he traveled the United States for a year in a 34-foot RV 5th wheel trailer with his wife and two younger sons.