a series of permissions-givings
i am a schooled poet. schooled by other poets.
in my schooling, i was given a set of plates. they were rules about what one could or could not do in a poem. you could eat off them (for your whole life if you wanted to). please oh please oh please, do not use clichés, was one. please do not start your poem with “i remember,” another. always and forevermore: show, don’t tell, please. please stop ogling the blackbirds. please make astute enjambments. please stop making enjambments. please avoid the words love, heart and—for frost’s sake—the moon. scratch thou and thee. and ye. and malagrugrous… these were helpful rules. i hung them on the walls. i admired them.
once, as a newborn writer, i came across a poet whose work i'd never felt stronger about. at the same time, i had never been at a greater loss as to how to talk or write about poetry before. it seemed this writer had pestled the rules. consequently, i couldn’t tell you the “theme” of the poems. i couldn’t tell you the “meaning.” i couldn’t tell you what a "hundred-tongued perjury poem" or a "noem" was. but somehow these poems deeply moved me in my house of rattly plates. so i wrote a thesis about it. and some plates fell off the wall.
years later in new york, i attended a poetry reading; the poet reading told us she was sad, and had written her latest book of poems during a four-year sadness-bout. this made me sad and reminded me of lots of other poets and their relationships to poetry (including myself, des fois). and i realized i was bored with gloom. so i broke a plate i didn’t realize i had, and decided to try and write happy poems. praise poems. psalms. poems with love and hearts and golden bones in them. and blueberries. (this is where my workshop drew the line).
since then, it’s been a series of permissions-givings. a plate-smashing jamboree. i was careful at first though, and didn’t wreck them all at once. soon, i abandoned syntax, punctuation, line breaks, but not always. in that way, i guess, i’m lying: i didn’t really smash the rules. the rules just transformed. it was like they became cats—the way vegetables become convincingly stately chariots sometimes—that float in and out as they please, depending on how they feel. and of course, like most cats, they like to stay in a lot and i never regret them.
i guess i've started making some of my own rules since, like never be boring. or stop writing poems that are supposed to be interpreted, and write poems that read the reader, instead. i try to keep these in-house, but, like all cat-summonings, it’s often a struggle.
i wasn’t raised in a bar, like many good poets of earlier times. whiskey hasn’t been my only teacher. sadness hasn’t been my only room. toronto has never been my home. i grew up in the suburbs and was told that school was a good place to learn things, so i went to school, and i was lucky enough to learn some things about writing. looking back, no poet ever taught me to stick to the rules. but they named them for me, and i arranged them how i thought best at the time. it just took me a while to learn about shape-shifting. and magic. and winged cats.
Sarah Burgoyne lives and teaches in Montreal. Her latest chapbook Love the Sacred Raisin Cakes was published in November with Baseline Press. She has a forthcoming manuscript with Mansfield Press.