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June 18, 1977 - Image 7

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Michigan Daily, 1977-06-18

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Saturday, June 18, 1977 THE MICHIGAN DAILY P'ge Seve
Contemporary poets discuss creativity


50 Contemporary P o e t s: The
Creative Process, edited by Al-
berta T. Turner, David McKay
Company, Inc., New York, 1977,
355 pP., $12.50.
A POEM THAT is publicly success-
ful is almost always publicly
criticized, categorized, and anal-
yzed, but rarely does the poet we
know as creator become poet as
teacher. In 50 Contemporary Poets
we are provided, if we care to'look,
at both sides.
Based upon a questionnaire de-
veloped by Alberta T. Turner, fifty
American poets attempt to answer
questions regarding t h e i r poems
and the creative process. In the
familiar struggle over interpreta-
tion, this is the college-student-in-
tellectual dream. At best it' is a
crack at the role of Woody Allen in
Annie Hall, who gracefully makes
the artist appear in time to bite
the opponent's tongue with a first-
hand explanation. 50 Contemporary
Poets is a good attempt at that, but
more often than not, the poet may
have fared better by letting the
poem stand a 1one. The book is
more an exercise in poets' compos-
ing techniques than a book of poe-
try, and it is more, academic than
aesthetic, but if you are interested
in the mind behind the lines, often
at the expense of the lines, it can
be valuable.
Acting as a.savior of misinter-
pretation, e d i t o r Alberta Turner
asked contemporary A m e r i c a n
poets if they would be willing to
respond to a "rude" questionnaire.
The one hundred poets who re-
sponded to her query had one of

three reactions: One-fourth did not
wish to assume the role of teacher,
another fourth did not have the
time or energy to spare, and the
remaining half agreed enthusias-
While some of the responses are
witty, entertaining, and illumnnat-
ing, it is discouraging to find many
that are shallow and evasive. Since
I trust there are rich minds behind
rich poems, the basic flaw is rooted
in Ms. Turner's questionnaire:
1. How did the poem start?
2. What changes did it go
through from start to finish?
3. What principles of technique
did you consciously use?
4. Whom do you visualize as
your reader?
5. Can the p o e m be para-
phrased? How?
6. How does this poem differ
from earlier poems of yours
in a) quality, b) theme, c)
The questions a r e pedestrian,
colorless, and objective, which is
just what Ms. Turner intended. For
teaching purposes it is functional,
but with r e s p e c t for the poem,
which stands alone, it often of-
Along with the positive responses
received, Ms. Turner reveals that
others responded with more than
a faceless "no." In fact, she re-
ceived a series of hostile letters
strongly objecting to critical an-
THE P O E T S represented here
range in age from 20 to 70, in
location from east coast to west
coast. Most are involved, or have
previously been engaged in teach-
ing responsibilities. The book repre-
sents a cross section of "establish-

ed" American poets; no more and
no less.
P e r h a p s the most interesting
quality of the book is the wide va-
riety of poetry it offers. The poems
range from prose p o e m to free
verse, through loose meter, stricter
meter, and syllabics. They differ in
length, in form, from concrete de-
scriptions to surrealistic descrip-
tions, from d r e a m fragments to
logical arguments.
The responses to the question-
naire bring with them every ex-
treme. On "How does a p o e m
start?", there is everything from
the poet who begins with no prior
idea to the poet who can describe
every detail that affected the poem.
The most valuable, and perhaps
the best teaching devices are the
responses to the questions "How
did the poem change?" Many poets
were k i n d enough to send first,
second, and third drafts, and these.
are printed in their entirety. Here
the reader is allowed to draw his/
her own conclusions, free of the
poet's afterthoughts, through stu-
dying the actual process on paper.
Some poems, however, are written
once, twisted, and left alone,
For most poets, the question of
technique is o f t e n unwelcome.
Many insist that technique is un-
conscious, but in the replies it is.
apparent t h e y are actually very
aware of structure. One poet, Philip
B o o t h, describes technique this
way: "A poet in the process of writ-
ing need be no more or less aware
of 'techniques' than a skijumper
approaching the lip of a jump. On
hills where darkness has c 1 o s e d
down early, he has alredy learned
by example, and practiced every
possible technique. Readied, he is

full of experience and feeling, set
to inhabit blank air. What may
once feel mechanical becomes, in
process, organic."
Most encouraging was the com-
mon reply among poets who refused
to paraphrase their work. A poem,
it was generally agreed, is already
written with as precise a diction
and imagery as possible. No para-
phrase can equal a poem. Most dis-
appointing, however, was that few
poets seemed concerned with the
poem's shape or appeal to the eye.
On hearing this lack of insight, the
poems tend to lose credibility con-
For those who are now beginning
to write or read poetry seriously,
and particularly poets who feel a
lack of poetical discussion, the book
can be both helpful, and at times,
inspirational. It is best to take the
time to fully ingest the poem, how-
ever, before taking on the poet's
The poems of course can stand
separately, and this is probably the
best way to view the book. Unfor-
tunately, the responses depend too
much u p o n the handling of the
questionnaire and even more so
upon the reader's editing ability.
The line-up of poets and what
they chose as their most "recent
and successful" poems Is interest-
ing. Among the wide variety offered
here, you will indeed come across
some beautiful poems, particularly
Loneliness by H a y d e n Carruth,
How It Goes On by Maxine Kumin,
Nothing Inside and Nothing Out
by Ray Amorosi, The Line-Up by
Joan Swift, and others.
Constance Ennis is a frequent contri-
butor to the Saturday Magazine.

Herbert Transcending history

Children of Dune, by Frank Her-
bert, New York: Berkeley Pub-
lishing Corporation, 1976, 409 pp.
IN ITS MAY survey of college and
university book stores, The
Chronicle of Higher Education re-
ported that Frank Herbert's Chil-
dren of Dune had replaced Roots in
the top position as the most popu-
lar piece of reading in academia.
This was a momentous occurrence
on two counts. First, Children of
Dune's new-found status marks its
author's return to the heights he
so masterfully attained with Dune,
but failed to miserably to achieve
in the second work of his now com-
pleted trilogy, Dune Messiah. But
there is a far more vital metaphoric
significance to be found in this un-
seating of Haley's attempt to ex-
plain the present through a de-
tailed exploration of the past, for
's it has been observed of Chil-
dren's main character, Leto,
The child who refuses to travel
in the father's harness, this is
the s y m b o l of man's -most
unique capability. "I do not
have to be what my father was.
I do not have to obey my fath-
er's rules or even believe every-
thing he believed. It is my

strength as a human that I can
make my own choices of what
to believe and what not to be-
lieve, of what to be and what
not to be."
This is not to say that Haley's
masterfully constructed h i s t o r y
simply wallows in the past, or that
Herbert simplistically dismisses his-
tory as an essential facet of human
understanding. On t h e contrary,
most of the philosophic exploration
which o c c u r s in Children (and
there is a considerable amount)
centers precisely on the dilemmas
of historical determination. Both
Leto and Ghanima, twin offspring
of Dune's man/god Paul Atreides
and hero and heroine of this final
third of the trilogy, are "preborn"
-within them d w e 11 the living
memories and personalities of their
ancestors, ever threatening to en-
gulf the growing identities of the
two ancient "children" in a sort of
demonic possession. Indeed this is
the case with Alia, Paul's preborn
sister and the villianess of the piece
due to the control of the evil Baron
Harkonnen within her.
Nevertheless, a great deal of the
popularity and impact of Children
can be traced to its profession of an
idea whose intellectual vitality is
currently strongly felt, and which
truly makes this work a fitting suc-

cessor to Roots in the number 1
spot. This is the realization that
the past may be a crucial starting
point, but that ultimately mankind
must go beyond it. As Claude Levi-
Strauss has informed us in his The
Savage Mind, history is applicable
to studies of the human condition
only because:
It proves indispensiblo for cat-
aloguing the - elements of any
structure whatever, human or
non-human, in their entirety.
It is therefore far from being
the case that the search for
intelligibility comes to an end
in history as though this were
its terminum. Rather, it is his-
tory that serves as the point of
departure in any quest for in-
telligibility . . . history leads
to everything, but on condition
that it be left behind.
CHILDREN'S PLOT is c o m p1 e x,
and its central theme is the
perplexity of choice and decision
against the restricting fabric of
Time. Always there is feint within
feint, stroke within stroke, as each
of the major characters attempts
to control Dune and, through its
invaluable spice trade and Freeman
warriors, the entire Imperium com-
mitting the appropriate acts at the
essential moments. Paul's mother

Jessica seems to play into Farad'n's
hands, all the while planning to use
him in the Bene Gesserit breeding
programs to create a Kwisatz Hade-
rach (male Reverend) even 'as the
Bene Gesserit are using her. Sim-
ilarly, Alia is constantly betraying
others, even as they plan to turn
on her. Above and behind it all is
Leto who, through control of his
preborn nature and the prophetic
space melange, manages to face the
possible alternatives of the future
and use even his great father in
the creation of a magificent yet
horrible destiny.,
Following Leto's "Golden Path" is
equivalent to walking on the edge
of a knife. for his knowledge of the
.future is as dangerous as the past
lives which seek to control him.
"No," he tells his grandmother, "to
know the future absolutely is to be
trapped into that future absolutely.
It collapses time. Present becomes
future. I r e q u i r e more freedom
than that." The paradox is that
while Leto's choice of direction is
based on a refusal to be confined
in the systen of others, it simul-
taneously confines him to an equal-
ly restrictive shell, both philosoph-
See DUNE, Page 9
Mark laselkioyn recently receis ed his
Ph.D. in English.

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