Poem Spark June 19-26 – Ars Poetica

Salutations fellow poets!

This week I wanted to talk a little about our new Poet Laureate: Donald Hall. So I pulled down a few books from my collection and began randomly searching for poems by Hall and/or conversations with him. I came across his intriguing interpretation of his poem, “Ox Cart Man,” in the book “What Will Suffice – Contemporary American Poets on the Art of Poetry,” edited by Christopher Buckley and Christopher Merrill:

Donald Hall wrote:
Every poem suggests an Ars Poetica. In the 1960s I wrote something called “The Poem,” then late in the 1980s another called “This Poem.” In between, I wrote “Ox Cart Man” in which (as I worked on it) I had no notice that I addressed the poet’s purpose or task. I wrote an ars poetica anyhow. The ox-cart man’s endless labor makes a cycle like a perennial plant’s; writing the poem, I exulted in his annual rite of accumulation and dispersal. Not until I finished it, published it aloud and in print, did I become aware of a response that astonished me: Some people found it depressing: all that work, and then he has to start over again. . . . Later, a friend compared the ox-cart man’s story to a poet making a poem—and when I heard the notion, it rang true. For decades I have known that you must bring everything to a poem that you can possibly bring: Never hold anything back; spend everything at once—or you will never write a poem. . .

This is interesting, I thought, because on my search for the text of the “Ox Cart Man” I ran across this wonderful page that shows us the nineteen revisions his poem went through and three different published versions. The art of poetry is work that is endless: just when you think you’ve got it perfectly written, you come back to it months and even years later to find a revision lurking between the lines.

So what is an ars poetica? Simply put, it is a poem about writing a poem. Of course, nothing is ever as simple as it first appears and the same is true when trying to define the idea of ars poetica. Poets have been speaking about poetry for thousands of years: from Horace to the present. As always, I feel the best way to learn is through example. So here are a few “ars poetica” for your perusal:

Donald Hall Ox Cart Man

Archibald MacLeish Ars Poetica

Czeslaw Milosz Ars Poetica?

Dana Levin Ars Poetica (cocoons)

This week’s spark: write an ars poetica. Use any style, any form, any words you like. Be creative and have fun!

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