On Personal Style

No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.

P. T. Barnum

You are a poet if you say you are. A work is good if it meets your expectation, regardless of what your reader(s) think.

So many writers, in particular, poets, want to be themselves in their work. But what does that mean? Write the way they talk? But most people don’t speak in poetry. More likely, those people want to be “liked,” gathering positive comments, gathering “friends” ala Facebook, getting their daily fix of dopamine?

William Zinzer remarked in On Writing Well

Writing is hard work

Edmond Brown, the publisher of William Carlos Williams’ first book – Al Que Quiere! (To him who wants it)- wrote on the dust cover:

To Whom It May Concern!
This book is a collection of poems by William Carlos Williams. You, gentle reader, will probably not like it, because it is brutally powerful and scornfully crude. Fortunately, neither the author nor the publishers care much, whether you like it or not. The author has done his work, and if you do read the book, you will agree that he doesn’t give a damn for your opinion. His opinion of you is more important than your opinion of him. And we, the publishers, don’t much care whether you buy the book or not…

If you care about what others think of your work to the extent that you write to please their taste, I suggest you stop reading now. Developing a personal style is hard work. You may need years of writing, rewriting, and re-rewriting as well as many hours of studying the work of other poets.

Hello, you are still reading. Thank you.

One of the main problems when creating a personal style is if you studied literature or writing in college or some other formal class. Prof. James Longenback at the Uni Rochester (NY) speaks about this in The Virtues of Poetry:

… over the past fifty years, accomplishment in our poetry has been signaled most often by manner – as if it were the job of an artist not to engage the most potent aspects of Dickinson or Eliot but to sequester themselves in one or another schoolroom, buoyed by the camaraderie with other students sitting obediently, if stylishly, in rows. Schoolroom for formalist, schoolroom for experimentalists – the degeneration of these terms, hijacked by the renegade engines of taste …

Imagine that was the case a hundred years or so ago! Imagine that Gertrude Stein or E. E. Cummings or T. S. Eliot or any of the greats of the early 20th century had not ventured to develop each their own personal style. What a catastrophe that would be!

By embarking on your journey toward a personal style, you can help revitalize poetry.

I wish you success!

Works Cited

BRWTD    Russell, Bertrand. The Will to Doubt.

Welcome Rain Publishers, 2014. p57.

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