ABC’s of Writing (for Beginners): G for Generalization

Posted by on Sep 22, 2014 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

Devon BohmPoetry is a very peculiar kind of magic. It is built, as so many beautiful things are, out of contradictions. In poems, we make meaning of the seemingly insignificant, time shortens and alternately stretches, the past is alive, and memory crisper and clearer on paper than it could ever be in our own heads. Magic.

But there’s something all beginning (and sometimes not-so-beginning) poets do because of said contradictions, something I would categorize as an understandable error in judgment—they generalize what they’re trying to say in an attempt to write something that their readers can connect with. They take what they want to write about and hammer out the details until they’re left with something flat and featureless. We want to present to the world a universal truth, something that is inarguably correct that everyone can agree on and associate with, so we try to leave all of our personal stuff out of it.

But here’s the big secret all writer-types eventually learn: there’s no such thing as a universal truth. That’s why the poem you found so haunting, the poem that followed you around for days afterward, banging on your skull, the poem that made you want to write poetry, was completely and disappointingly meaningless for someone else. There is no universal truth. There is only your own, personal truth.

When I began writing, I thought that my life could never be interesting enough for anyone to want to read about it. But poetry is not about writing some grandiose, elaborate statement that can sum up the world in a line. Poetry is about taking the way you see the world and writing it down in a way that other people can understand and believe in. But beautiful words and perfect form mean nothing if there is not something imbuing it. Craft can be taught. But the truth? Your truth? The world isn’t going to hand that to you, you must chase it and capture it for yourself. There is only your own, personal truth—but we aren’t alone in the universe. Someone else with share it.

I’m not saying you can’t write aphoristic poems, or persona poems, or poems that are fables or narratives. There are many poems out there that prove to be incredible exceptions to the rule I’m laying out for you. But I would say that even the poems that may seem generalized at first glance, but really touch something deep inside us, still come from the same place of sincerity and personal truth I’m asking you to write from.

From one poet to another, I just want this small shout out into the void that is the internet to remind you: your life is enough to write about. Your life is poetry. The way you see the world is unique and incredible and deserves to be recorded and shared. And once you’re brave enough to believe it, brave enough to put it down on to the page, others will think so too. In that act of bravery, you will be giving them the same gift you were given the first time you read a poem that stuck with you: someone else’s specific truth that you defied all reason and connected with.

Magic.


Devon Bohm graduated cum laude from Smith College with a BA in English Literature and Language and earned her MFA with a dual concentration in Poetry and Fiction from Fairfield University. While an undergraduate, she studied English and Classical Literature at University College London. Her poetry has been published in Labrys and in 2011 she was awarded the Hatfield Prize for Best Short Story. The former Editor in Chief of the Literary Arts Journal Mason’s Road, Devon is currently an Adjunct Professor of English at Fairfield University. ABC’s of writing

1 Comment

  1. How astute! Well put, and well received! And agreed with wholeheartedly!

    And even though your revelation that there is no objective reality or “universal truth” so to speak, is not news. It’s seemingly almost impossible to truly understand as you so eloquently articulated. “Do you see what I see?” ” Do you hear what I hear?” Nope I don’t, never did, never will; not entirely at least. And that is because all human perceptions and experiences are by virtue, utterly and entirely subjective. And of course all of that, and everything else, is subjection to interpretation. But that is also magic on some level is it not?

    Given the above, how we ever even remotely understand each other, is something of a mystery. But the desparate need to be heard and felt and understood, to “connect” as you say, is undeniable. And so we so we reach and bend and twist and shout and plead until our efforts find some form of purchase, or don’t. Human nature is the sound and furry.

    You resonate!

    Thank you for that!

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