Definition

One must make a distinction however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry, nor till the autocrats among us can be “literalists of the imagination”—above insolence and triviality and can present for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have it.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Avant-Edge: Innocence and Experience

Happy Poetry Month,

This is my first time writing a Challenge for the Imaginary Garden - I never though I would be so happy to be a Toad. I do tend to go on, and it is a Thursday, so feel free to skip my rambling and go to the last paragraph where the actual challenge is.

My history with poetry goes back to my teen years, however, I drifted away from it for twenty years and just started writing actively again in the last two years. For me poetry is a form of expression that is neither conversation nor prose - it lives deep down inside us where passion dominates over intellect. 

I was 13 years old in 1979 - the year that Disco simultaneously peaked and died. My uncle, who was more of an older brother, confiscated my collection of records which was anchored by the Bee Gees and the Village People and replaced it with The Who, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. It had a significant impact on me. The music and lyrics started a slow rumble inside of me that was to gather strength and speed over the next few years. I embraced the rebelliousness and teenage angst that these artists represented. 



I enrolled in my first year of college in the early 80's amidst a haze of big hair and bong smoke. I was late in choosing my courses and barely made the cut off for registration. As punishment I was forced to take whatever courses that had vacancies. Among them was "Romantic and Victorian Literature". The professor was a shaggy, wild-eyed hippy who would get so excited during his lectures he would spray the front row with spit.  

It was a particular group of Romantics that caught my attention: William Blake, Lord Byron, William Wordsworth and Percy Shelley and Mary Shelley. I imagined them all hanging out in some castle in some sort of decadent literary think tank - producing some of the greatest poetic and literary work in history. 

William Blake: The Ancient of Days, 1794
Source: WebMuseum
I focused my entire semester on this group of iconoclasts. As far as I could tell they were the 19th century equivalent to Keith Richards throwing a television through a penthouse window and Pete Townsend smashing his guitar on stage. That slow rumble that I felt as a young teen was reawakened. It was more than their degenerate behaviour that caught my attention - there was a brilliance to their words that came from an intense and uncensored passion.  They were able to put form and structure to feelings and emotions I had but couldn't articulate. 

The theme for my Challenges is Avant-garde Poetry - poets who pushed the political, social and literary boundaries of their time. Throughout history there have alway been those that break away from the pack and push the boundaries. When we think of Avant-garde poetry, names like Allen Ginsberg, E.E. Cummings, Ezra Pound and Williams Carlos Williams come to mind; however, for the purpose of this challenge I am using it as a generic term that refers to artists the push the boundaries and puts the Romantics, along with countless other innovative and creative minds throughout history, in this class.  (Also I was able to use my name in the title "Avant-Edge"- a true sign of humility)

"The avant-garde pushes the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or the status quo, primarily in the cultural realm. The avant-garde is considered by some to be a hallmark of modernism, as distinct from postmodernism. Many artists have aligned themselves with the avant-garde movement and still continue to do so, tracing a history from Dada through the Situationists to postmodern artists such as the Language poets around 1981." [Wikipedia]

William Blake's "Songs of Innocence and Experience" dives into the opposing forces and rite of passage we all travel. The greatest example of this is the two poems written as thesis and antithesis "The Lamb" and "The Tyger" (what would be the synthesis?)

The Lamb

Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice ...

The Tyger

Tyger Tyger. burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes!
On what wings dare he aspire!
What the hand, dare sieze the fire?


When I started writing poetry again it awakened something in me that I had forgotten about. That feeling so deep and intimate and intense that it lies just on the Edge of expression. That low distant rumble that reminds me why life is worth fighting for.


The Who: Behind Blue Eyes

Heart - Crazy on You

Intense emotion is at the heart of the Romantic Movement - as shown in the stark images and dichotomy of the Lamb and the Tyger. In my opinion this is what poetry does best - although admittedly not exclusively (Red Wheel Barrow anyone??). For today's Challenge I am asking you to find something you are passionate about to inspire you. 

  • Who or what first inspired you to write poetry? 
  • What is the itch that only poetry can scratch? 
  • What was the first poem you read or song you heard that evoked feelings so strong it hurt? 
  • What emotions do you have that conversation and prose cannot express?

Usually we like to see original work in the Garden so let's see whatcha got - and don't be afraid to have fun with this.

Best Sam Edge

15 comments:

Susie Clevenger said...

Sam, I love the challenge. It broke right through my writer's block!!

Kerry O'Connor said...

I so enjoyed reading your story, Sam. It found such resonance in my own experience (minus the bong smoke) of finding poetry spoke to me. First at school and next at university. I have an abiding love of English teachers and professors and may be guilty of the passionate spit shower when I teach it to my own students. Yes, poetry and literature has been my chosen path in this life. It is my day job and my pastime.

Every school of poetry has something to teach us, but none so much as the late Romantics, Symbolists and Moderns. 1800 - 1950 was a great century and a half for poets.

Susie Clevenger said...

Thanks so much for sharing your back story to writing. I feel like I am a kindergarten student here in the garden, but I am willing to jump in the water and swim as hard as I can.

Sam Edge said...

Thanks Susie and Kerry I enjoyed writing this Challenge and look forward to lots of good poetry in April and beyond :)

Sam Edge said...

Kerry - where I grew up in small town British Columbia the whole town was in a constant haze of bong smoke - even the teachers.

Kerry O'Connor said...

Must have been a very laid back town.
:-)

Sumana Roy said...

Thanks Sam for the challenge....I shared a few lines..and of course enjoyed your engrossing story of
being and becoming..

Ella said...

Thank you Sam! I had a cousin who opened the music door for me. Similar to you-a relative showing me beyond the Bee Gees and Kansas.
Fourth grade was when poetry snapped me aside the head. Our teacher read ee Cummings-I also won an art contest that year. The wee goat man and a bowl of fruit changed my world.
It was fun to go back in time, with you-thank you!

Kenia Cris said...

Sam, that's a great prompt, great start! :)

I'm also very happy to read your story.

Ella said...

Thank you Sam-I struggled but am happy with my direction~

jo-hanna said...

I so wanted to join in, but thought about your prompt all day and can't find any passion beyond flowers and...sonnets. I started my poetry journey with Shakespeare's sonnets last year and became hooked on the form. I seem to speak it now :-)
But you want something more personal, which I can't provide.
Enjoyed your story to today's poetry and the stops you made on the way. Thank you for that.

Margaret said...

I had a few things I could have written about, but they are rather "taboo" in polite society - and really not worth the negative feelings, etc.

SO, I wrote about something less controversial … yet near and dear to my heart.

I found your back story intriguing. My 21 year old son is right alone with you in his love for the Ronantic Poets. He also loves Oscar Wilde. Thanks for the challenge and I hope you are a regular host.

Mama Zen said...

I majored in big hair and bong smoke!

Hannah said...

Thank you for sharing your story, Sam and for challenging the garden to write about what inspires them most!

Great fun...I took a trip down memory lane...one of my first poetic memories. :)

Kim Nelson said...

Thrilled with this one!