January 11, 2022

Here Is Something To Contemplate

Sara Robinson

Your Signature Style of Writing

Here is something to contemplate: Can you recognize a poet by his/her style before you actually know who it is? Does a poet need one or does it seem to naturally evolve into a type of recognition? Is it necessary for a writer to have recognition in this way?

I only bring this up because as we continue to improve our writing, sometimes certain attributes emerge over time and practice. If we go on to publish, then common threads within our writing give signals of our style. What the reader can expect from our words and lines. We will get to topics later.

Let’s start with what we define as style in our writing: I submit, using the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics, that style is a way that something is written; not especially what, but how. Also, the manner in which a work is written. Some critics would say that style is the “distinctive” voice of an individual. I say it is much more than that. I say an individual style is composed of grammar selection, poetry type (formalism, free verse, sonnet) used consistently, and presentation on the page that is commonly seen. An example of the last is the work of e.e. cummings. This is a typical pattern of his writing:

[the bigness of cannon]


the bigness of cannon / is [skillful], //

but i have seen / death’s clever enormous voice / which hides in a fragility

of poppies. . . . // i say that sometimes

on these long talkative animals /

are laid fists of huger silence. // I have seen all the silence

filled with vivid noiseless boys // at Roupy / i have seen /between barrages,//

the night utter ripe unspeaking girls.

As you can see one significant aspect of his style is his use of lower-case letters.

Emily Dickinson had a “signature style” as well. Hers, mostly of lines primarily organized in

Four-line stanzas. Within these stanzas there is a strict metrical pattern, mostly iambic

pentameter. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that most people recognize her poetry. Another

admired poet is Gwendolyn Brooks who novel “ballet” style is well known.

The free verse writers have more of a challenge in signature style. So, ones like me, look for words and topics to define us. Frankly, I cannot tell many of the contemporary writers contributing today and I think that is just fine. I am of the “camp” that believes in writing as an evolutionary process within one’s own skill set. While I might be recognized in some of my poetry, I don’t want a style to ultimately make me that predictable. I hope you will consider that as you grow with your writing.

Keep evolving. Keep guessing yourself. Only you should recognize you.

Until next time…

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, was poetry columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and inagural poetry editor for Virginia Literary Journal. She has served as guest lecturer at UVA’s College at Wise, Wise, VA. Her poetry has appeared in various anthologies, including We Grew Wings and Flew (2014), Scratching Against the Fabric (2015), Virginia Writer’s Club Centennial Anthology (2017), Blue Ridge Anthologies and Mizmor Anthology (2018). Journals include: 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 Stones for Words (2014), Sometimes the Little Town (2016), a finalist for the Poetry Society of Virginia’s 2017 Book Award. In 2019, Needville, her poetry about effects of coal mining on SW Virginia was released and in 2020 debuted as play in Charlottesville. Her most recent publication is Simple River (2020, Cyberwit).

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