Albergotti is the author of The Boatloads (BOA Editions, 2008) and The
Use of the World (Unicorn Press, 2013). His poems have appeared in The
Cincinnati Review, Five Points, The Southern Review, The Virginia Quarterly
Review, and Pushcart Prize XXXIII: Best of the Small Presses. A
graduate of the MFA program at UNC Greensboro and former poetry editor of The
Greensboro Review, Albergotti currently teaches creative writing and
literature courses and edits the online journal
Waccamaw at Coastal Carolina
University in Conway, SC.
Statement of Poetics
I’ve been asked to make a “statement of poetics.” I don’t want to sound glib or seem to disrespect the request, but I’m tempted to say, “I have none.” That would be ridiculous, of course. We all have our aesthetic beliefs, prejudices, and practices. But I have a strong inclination to avoid formulating and articulating “a poetics.” One reason is that my ideas about poetry are in a state of constant revision, and I hate the thought of asserting something that I’ll likely disagree with in two weeks, two months, or two years. Another reason: I worry that articulating a coherent poetics in the abstract will lead me to doctrinaire practice.
So, with apologies in advance, instead of a fully thought-out poetics I present here a small, fairly incoherent, disorganized set of “statements of belief,” some my own, some from others:
• Poetry is equal parts mystery and mechanics. In practice, you must respect this balance.
• “The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet, and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.” (William Blake)
• “If Poetry comes not as naturally as Leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.” (John Keats) [Note: This quote is often misunderstood by people who equate “naturally” with “easily.” Nothing could be further from the truth.]
• All great art embraces ambiguity. But ambiguity is not the same as deliberate obscurity.
• Technique is always a concern for artists, but it is the central concern only for artisans.
• This is Jack Gilbert, loosely quoted from memory: “Poetry is urgently important. It is one of the few ways we have of making what’s important visible.”
• James Dickey, also loosely from memory: “We’re all just amateurs at this [poetry]. We don’t live long enough to be anything else.”
• “What one wants in art, in experiencing it, is the same thing that is necessary for its creation, a self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration.” (Elizabeth Bishop)
• Alan Shapiro, again from memory, perhaps not precise: “Poetry is an art that requires of its practitioners a knowledge of its history.”
If your art is completely within your realm of articulation, you have likely not begun to tap your potential.
“We peer into the new poem with the old hope: that we might find there a few words to illumine more widely our passage through the dark woods and brightly lit cities of the fleeting, time-bound world.” (Jane Hirshfield)
“There is nothing as mysterious as something clearly seen.” (Robert Frost)
“It is more difficult to see than to express.” (Robert Henri)Writing a poem is, by definition, an empathetic act. The reader should feel as if a human hand has been extended across space and time. This is not to say that a poem cannot be angry, cynical, even to some degree misanthropic. But there are moments of tenderness even in Larkin’s “This Be the Verse” and Hardy’s “The Convergence of the Twain”—poems that may seem on the surface completely bitter. Too often these days I will read a newly published poem and feel that the human hand reaching up from the page comes with a rigid, extended middle finger. Those don’t seem like poems to me at all.
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