Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Weights and Balances

Kerry-Lee Powell discusses how the extraordinary story behind her poetry debut, Inheritance, shaped her formal decisions:
The collection centres around a shipwreck endured by my father in the second world war, his subsequent struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide. I wanted the collection to function as both an elegy and a love letter to the world that made and destroyed him. The subject matter imposed a number of constraints and meant that I was working with a subdued palette. Much of the rhetorical flamboyance that I admire in my fellow Canadian poets would have felt out of place. As the book approached publication, I became anxious about the emotional intensity of many of the poems. But it struck me that the forms needed the emotional intensity, would have been just so much dead wood without that heft.

I am a sound-oriented writer, and tend towards rhyme and slant rhyme and hard Anglo-Saxon stresses even in my fiction. I felt that working with older forms suited the outward theme of the collection. But there were other qualities, the doomed logic of the sonnet, the obsessive-compulsive repetitions of the villanelle that seemed ideally suited to the subject of mental trauma.

I don’t necessarily see myself as a formalist. Part of the pleasure of poetry for me, whether it’s free verse or conceptual or formal, is to find the patterns and constraints in any given piece. Are they conceptual, tonal, emotional? Where are the weights and balances? I find it hard to appreciate poetry that is shapeless or has too many false notes.

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