Recently by Kelly Cherry:

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Levine continues:

By the time I was twenty-one years old I’d begun to think of myself as something of an accomplished poet; what I lacked — among other things — was a recognizable, consistent voice for my poems. For the most part, American poets make this search for a voice automatically — it’s part of our native Yankee gift for marketing, this straining after a voice that will make one’s poetry sound utterly unlike the work of other poets and hence a unique commodity. It is something like the equivalent — to cite another Detroit effort in the same direction — of adding gigantic tail fins to our cars to make them distinctive. And like the tail fins, it’s a mistake. When I read my work loudly enough to myself, it was clear it wasn’t prose; that it was not poetry was clear to most everyone else. Fortunately, the voice of my poems was in a constant state of change. Years later I realized that developing a voice before you knew what you needed to say was pointless at best, self-defeating at worst. You could spend years trying to sound as lyrical as Edna St. Vincent Millay or Hart Crane only to discover you wanted to write poetry incendiary enough to burn down General Motors or the Pentagon.

More… “Voice Is Vision”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is now available.

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Literary critics and regular readers often have things to say about a writer’s voice. Many think that the most-read writers are those whose voice is so clear that it can be singled out from all the other authorial voices. Hemingway, with his hard-edged nouns and verbs, is often said to have a powerful voice. Katherine Anne Porter’s authorial voice might be described as precise, incisive, and aware. Joy Williams’s voice is somewhat quirky, but — as we say — in a serious way. Peter Balakian’s voice is strong and exhilarating. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s voice carries a certain wistfulness and a sense of regret. Thomas Hardy’s novels project compassion and sorrow; yes, a sorrowful voice. Jane Austen’s voice is crisp and witty. The voice of George Eliot, née Mary Anne Evans, the author of Middlemarch, often said to be the most intelligent book ever written, is psychologically acute and hard-nosed and definitive. More… “Voice Is Vision”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is now available.

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Just as the novel has an affinity for the political but is not required to encompass the political, the poem has an affinity for philosophy but is not required to appeal to or include the philosophical. The writer has choices.

In fact, you are free to ignore me on the subject of the poetical/philosophical. One of the strongest passages to writing a good — or, as Harold Bloom likes to say, strong — poem is to name objects. Naming is not exactly the same as description: I’m speaking of solid names for solid things. Read Seamus Heaney, especially his famous poem “Digging,” and you will see how this works, how it plugs us into reality and astounds us as we make that connection with wood, water, fire, and air. We believe we are aware of the world but, stand on it though we do, we find ourselves separated from it and wanting to draw closer. This is why explorers head off for far parts, or climb Mount Everest, or search the sea for previously unseen underwater phenomena. It’s not simply curiosity, although curiosity is a mighty mobilizer, urging us to learn as much as possible. There is another component, and it is love. We love our planet (well, Donald Trump doesn’t, but most of us do). We have a planet that offers us a lot of what we need, and most of us know it is urgent that we save our planet from influence that corrodes the careful conservations scientists have sought to keep in place. More… “Poetry’s Affinity for Philosophy”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is now available.

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I do not say that the novel must be, or more often than not is, political. But where there are characters, the political may be found. A writer chooses to accent, plunge into, or ignore the political, but characters insist upon liking or disliking something that is happening or has happened or may happen. In short, every character has an opinion, whether he cares about it or not.
More… “Novel Politics”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is now available.

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Well then, a poet writes a line, or a fiction writer writes a sentence, but how do we judge the order of the words? This is not an easy question to answer. Let’s look at some well-known sentences. Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy includes this famous imperative: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!”

Suppose it were “Ye who enter here, abandon all hope!” If it were, we’d lose the iambic pentameter. It would also not be as shocking or as scary as it is in The Divine Comedy.

Another wonderful sentence comes from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “What light from yonder window breaks?” If the sentence were changed to “What light breaks from yonder window?” we would once again lose the iambic meter. In addition, we’d lose the suspense that the sentence creates and the lyricism of the line as a whole.

More… “Enjoy the Joy of Syntax”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is now available.

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We have all either read or heard about a book titled The Joy of Sex, unless the book is now too old to interest today’s young people, who seem to have preferred to discover the joy of sex firsthand rather than in print. The trouble with relying on sex as a source of joy is that it does not last long. Sex may be fun, but afterwards it can turn cold. Getting out of a bad situation can be a bleak way to start the day — or the middle of the night. Even spectacular sex diminishes in retrospect. The French have a well-known phrase: la petite mort, or the little death. After the climax, the comedown. After the high, the down-low. After love, boredom. Are you ready to do it again? Maybe yes, if you’re 19 or 20. Older than that and you’ll be getting up to wash the dishes.

But.

But there is another kind of joy that will stay with you through all your days and nights, through marriage, separation, and divorce. It never turns cold. It is the joy of syntax, and you definitely want to enjoy it.

More… “The Joy of Syntax”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is now available.

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The thingies can make the difference between a wonderful poem and one that’s not quite there. We want to write books that expand our view of the world, that dare to examine the relation between thought and action, that want to explore new worlds. How are thingies relevant to these goals?

You may as well ask how fingers are relevant to hands.

And perhaps you now point out that your brain has something to do with moving your fingers.

And now you point out that your heart has something to do with what your brain decides.

More… “Always Sweat the Small Stuff”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is now available.

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You have no choice. There is no way around it. “It” being the small stuff. And if you can learn to love it, you will be happier. Face it: the big stuff is surrounded by the small stuff, to all of which you must attend. You cannot back out. You cannot trust someone else to do it for you. It comes with the job. It is your job. Sad to say, copy editors make mistakes. Even sadder to say, almost no one now knows the difference between “lie” and “lay.” Television reporters have destroyed it. Even English professors get “lie” and “lay” wrong regularly. Moreover, if you want somebody to understand what you have written, you must employ commas. Saddest of all, a complete sentence is not an incomplete sentence. (Though I sometimes write is if it were.) Oh, it goes on and on, this ravaged language of ours, the discarded punctuation — “Hello John” is not an address because it lacks the comma of address, to wit, “Hello, John” — the misspelling, the objects of preposition, the elegance sacrificed, the logic washed away and languishing beside a rope of weed next to a dying pond. How have we arrived at this woebegone place, this place where nobody knows grammar, this wasteland, this last, best place before we drive off the map? STOP RIGHT HERE. GET OUT OF THE CAR. GET READY TO TAKE NOTES. Without grammar, you are lost. With it, and only with it, you will be able to continue. To get where you want to go.

More… “Absolutely Sweat the Small Stuff”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is now available.

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Until we learn what sentences can do, we tend to underrate them. We treat sentences as if they were floors, a kind of planking, something we have to walk on in order to get to the next room. We are oblivious to the reality, which is that the planking is alive and walking all over it creates a kind of hurt. Our steps harm the delicate surface and whatever lies beneath it — mystery, beauty, a soul.

Even as children, we instantly recognize a line of poetry that carries music. In time we learn that sentences, too, carry music. Some writers may go overboard and try to turn each sentence into a line of poetry, but that does a disservice to the sentence, which has its own qualities and purposes. Nobody expects a young or new writer to master all these matters at once. That’s why we call the process of writing it writing and not written. Writing takes time. It also takes us, as I’ve said before, out of time, which is a great and joyous experience.

More… “What You Make, Make to Last”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is now available.

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To structure is to survive. If you want your work to have even the tiniest chance of lasting — this is a dream hope; a stage of adolescence; your writing will not last, but it may hang around for a year or two — it must be well structured. If your ideas are flimsy, your characters boring, your scenes flat, your sentences dull, face it: your work is on the way out; however, even worse is the story or novel that is stillborn. It needs backbone and oxygen. It needs clarity. It needs everything you can do to save it. In other words, it needs structure.

More… “What You Make, Make To Last”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is now available.

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