Li-Young Lee and the Architecture of Poetry

March 15, 2009

By Stephanie Lovegrove

I look forward to the second Tuesday of each month, as it brings the meetings of the Poetry Bookclub I run at the Boulder Book Store.  We've chosen to read living poets only, as there is a great wealth of them and they tend to be excluded in bookclubs and classes (which generally focus on the classic poets).  We read a wide range of authors with a variety of styles, and have had excellent conversations about them.  As a poetry reader for Ruminate, I find these meetings endlessly helpful in learning what to look for in a poem (pacing, imagery, tone), and how to articulate it in the phone meetings we have with the other poetry readers.

This month, the bookclub read Book of My Nights, by Li-Young Lee. The most interesting part of the discussion, for me, was about Lee's articulate and enlightening interviews regarding craft.  His most stunning metaphor was comparing poetry to architecture.  Just like in architecture, he said, poetry is not so much about the materials you use (bricks/mortar, or language), but about space.  You can use the same physical materials to create a number of different structures, but it's the use of space and silence that make the creations unique.  In many ways, space and silence are what distinguish poetry from prose.  It was a great meeting, a wonderful poet, and a wellspring of things to consider as I approach the next batch of Ruminate poems.



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