Integrity–Poetic Advice

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RT’s latest book recommendation is Mark Strand’s 100 Great Poems of the Twentieth Century; he has just started reading, but has been impressed by the range of styles and content in the anthology.

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By this point, readers may have gathered that one of RT’s poetic criteria is integrity, a term that he freely admits is difficult to define. If pressed to give a definition, however, RT will say that integrity is the degree to which a poet is personally involved when writing a poem. Many masks are available at the moment of composition, and while some may be useful or necessary to the poet’s goals for a particular poem, it is all too easy simply to hide behind them. Urgency (another abstract term) may be a trustworthy sign of when a poet is delivering the best he or she can.

Consider the story (perhaps recounted in these pages before) of a Russian poet who was so angry at Stalin he had to sit down and write out a satirical poem. Stalin, upon learning of the offensive act, threw said poet into the Gulag for some years. When he got out, an interviewer asked if it had been worth it; the poet said yes.

That’s integrity. (And would that we all had the strength for it.) But whether or not any particular poet can get all the way there and speak truth to power (or just to share how he or she is feeling), we should all strive for the courage that will allow us to.

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Here is RT’s brief poem on the subject:

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Strategy has been their entire study

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i see no life

i feel no heart;

poets do not exist

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until they share

the dangerous business

of being themselves.

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© 2013, The Rag Tree.

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PhotoCluny, remaining pieces of gothic architecture; WikiCmns; CC 1.0 Generic; users: Rotatebot and Ziel.

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  1. July 16, 2013 at 3:43 am

    “Unless your heart, your soul and your whole being are behind every decision you make, the words from your mouth will be empty and each action meaningless. Truth and confidence are the roots of happiness.” -Pietro Aretino

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