October 2, 2020

I Sure Like Your Style

Sara Robinson

What does it mean when someone reads your poetry and comments, “I like your style.

I understand your poem(s).” That simple comment, actually given as a compliment, is really an acknowledgment of your investment as a writer. The one offering the compliment may not even know the value of that statement.

Let’s give this some attention. If you have committed your writing efforts to creating poetry, there is likely evolving some components of your writing that are unique to your craft. All the practice, all the revisions, all the thoughts, all the research, and all the sweat and frustrations compose the fundamentals of your style. This is your individual mark, like a notary’s stamp, that registers your “ownership.” You created the piece in your unique way and the “stamp” is your style.

With the creation of your style, you essentially have created your own “greatness.” Now all you have to do is convince the reader that he/she is in the presence of this greatness. How to do that? By using language that impresses the reader so much that they are compelled to keep reading. And keep reading your poetry. By writing verse that is so “poetical,” as to move the reader to think deeply and enjoyably, you have established yourself as writer of purpose. I have coined what I think is a new term. “Hysterical poeticism.” I define this as poetic language that becomes more gossipy as it loses it purpose. You don’t want to write something and call it poetry simply because you want it to be poetry. You want to embrace narratives that contribute to the great understanding (see an earlier column) and bring imaginative wealth. Your readers become “rich in spirit” as a result of your writing.

William Wordsworth, who we all read in high school, believed that writing poetry should be “man speaking to man.” Sure, we may want to write in the language of Wordsworth today, but you have to admit that “A Humming Bee—a little tinkling rill— / A pair of falcons wheeling on the wing,/ In clamorous agitation,/… is simply beautiful..

A contemporary poet, Maxine Kumin, was inspired by Wordsworth, and in her poem, Poem for My Son, she started the first stanza: “Where water laps my hips/ it licks your chin. You stand/ on tiptoe looking up/ and swivel on my hands./… Her style of language is so visual, so human, that we believe that with that first line we are standing in the
water with her and cannot wait to see what the little boy does next.

As you construct your style, keep in mind the humanness of your writing. Let this fill with the “colors” that are your signature. What is the first color for you that comes to mind? 

Sara M. Robinson, founder of the Lonesome Mountain Pro(s)e Writers’ Workshop, and former Instructor of a course on Contemporary American Poets at UVA-OLLI, is poetry columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and poetry editor for Virginia Literary Journal. In addition to publication in various anthologies, including We Grew Wings and Flew (2014), Scratching Against the Fabric (2015), and Virginia Writer’s Club Centennial Anthology (2017); journals: Loch Raven Review, The Virginia Literary Journal, vox poetica, Jimson Weed, Whisky Advocate, and Poetica, she is poet and author of Love Always, Hobby and Jessie (2009), Two Little Girls in a Wading Pool (2012), A Cruise in Rare Waters (2013), and Stones for Words (2014). Her latest poetry book, Sometimes the Little Town, released in February 2016, was a finalist for the Poetry Society of Virginia’s 2017 Book Award.


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