notes on poetry in the non-fiction

After a long week of grading and commenting on student writing I’m beat. And reflecting on the creative work I’ve been commenting on I have to say I kept returning to the idea that perhaps as writers we should always push our work to be more expressive and less communicative. I know this distinction may be academic. But as I read my students’ work I kept making that comment. Asking the question what separates our work from our models of Joan Didion, Chuck Palahniuk and Tobias Wolff’s creative non-fiction. I kept commenting in the margins how our work should always try and be more like poetry than the usual essays or simple narratives or descriptive pieces.

I return to Richard Hugo’s Triggering Town and I return to Robert Bly’s Leaping Poetry. The idea that form or metaphor should drive our work in more subtle ways. Our work should communicate or signal less and perhaps create more artistic machinery utilizing structure and language. More focus on disposition and arrangement—persona and form—in our writing rather than the content.

And in class I find myself using quotes from Hugo. His words from my mouth: There is no reader and Do not communicate. Reminding my students to create image and sensory details rather than create the abstract. Painting with words. Creating refined wordplay. As Hugo says to make word creations that means more to you than to the reader.

Another concept from poets is the idea of weight or passion—the idea of duende as described in Bly’s Leaping Poetry. The idea that our writing—no matter the content we give or relate—should create interest. But also display depth and passion of thought.

Sometimes I think people read or pass on poetry because it is pretty or cute but as Hugo states our work is not cute—it is pressing and immediate. Our work must take on that do or die mentality. The idea as in the Johnny Cash and audition scene from Walk the Line. What can I say I like movies. Making folks believe in your work:

This is duende–this is finding poetry and immediacy in our essays.

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john paul jaramillo

John Paul Jaramillo’s debut story collection The House of Order was named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and his most recent work Little Mocos is now available from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read. He is currently a professor of composition and literature at Lincoln Land College-Springfield, Illinois.

One thought on “notes on poetry in the non-fiction”

  1. Just read this and when I read something that inspires me to write, I always feel as though the “reading” has succeeded: not just to be passively consumed, read, but to be the jumping off point for the reader. Thanks!

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