Publishing ‘An Act of Courage’

An Act of Courage
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I have just published my seventh book of poetry entitled An Act of Courage. It is a collection of poems I wrote during 2016 and it marks a change of pace for me, since I experimented with different styles and subjects. The book contains a selection of 53 poems chosen from the output of a rather prolific year when I produced more poetry than in any other previous year.

I tend to start off a poem with a certain phrase that seems good to me and then follow a line of images that come to my mind by describing them using metaphor and simile until the poem is finished. Whenever I reread one of my own poems those images come back into my mind like a little movie playing in my head. One of the things I have to watch out for, though, is making sure I seize a subject from the start and run with it, rather than rambling on without really saying anything tangible. Hopefully, I have achieved substance over miasma in this book.

I used to think that poetry was the result of articulating some strong emotion and the stronger the emotion the better the poetry. Unfortunately, the tendency to work up strong emotions can kick in and ruin a poem rather than enhance it. On the other hand, when I actually start a poem with something specific in mind that I want to say, usually the result is something that is usable. I’m not saying that there is no emotion that goes into poetry. All I’m saying is that, for me at least, that is not enough. When you can achieve both in a poem then you have a chance of producing something decent, or even great.

Aristotle’s rules for writing

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Aristotle was a philosopher from ancient Greece who was born about 384 BC in Stagira on the northern border of Greece. At the age of 17, he enrolled in Plato’s Academy where he studied a wide variety of different subjects. His writings include treatises on physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theater, music, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, and writing. In 343 BC, shortly after the death of Plato, Aristotle went off to tutor Alexander the Great. He went on to found his own school, the Lyceum, where he taught on many subjects, studied widely and wrote. Aristotle died in 322 BC. He had quite a bit to say about the theory of writing. Here are some of his quotes:

To write well, express yourself like the common people, but think like a wise man.

It is amazing how many times this tenet is broken by modern novelists. Literary novels can sometimes be guilty of flouting this rule and, I guess, that’s part of their mystique – but it’s also why they usually have a much smaller readership than the blockbusters and bestsellers that are read by millions. Often, literary novelists express themselves like the wise men, as well as thinking like wise men. Obviously, a good number of readers relish the challenge of keeping up with the intellectual gymnastics of the literary novelist or none of their books would never be sold. So perhaps there is room to bend or break this rule if you are writing in that particular genre.