Prose from Poetry Magazine

Tightrope

Weighing Pound and drawing the line.

Writing that is discovering is reaching is tightrope walking.

Insight is not polish: don’t scrub the aleatory, the unresolved, the catch of meter and rhyme out of  your work, yet rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.

Don’t write what you’re sure of, what you want set in stone, write what you are willing to have transform.

Don’t write to please, but do please yourself.

Understand that terror is pleasure.

Between what you most want to say and what you are most afraid to say is your emotional field, but,

not the emotion, the image that triggers the emotion.

Laughter isn’t a crime.

Write not what you know, or how the other kids do, but write who and how you know who you are and will.

You might love a sonnet, so love the sonnet. It doesn’t mean you have to write one.

If  you are out of fashion, be consciously so.

The self, or a self, is always à la mode: gestures come and go.

Poetics is not prêt-à-porter. Create your own aesthetic.

If  the poem is feeling, let it feel all the way.

Emotions are also not a crime.

Nature is not natural and if  it is it is not nature.

Take the library to the street; bring the street to the archive.

Not the prayer, the moment before prayer.

If, on a snowy night, you find yourself feeling like you are inside a Robert Frost poem

and are moved to write, know that you are feeling moved to write
the poem Robert Frost already wrote.

If, on a crowded street you find your thoughts walking ahead of you, at a steady pace,

as if they have never been known by you,

you are probably writing your own poem.

If you are so in the shadow of a poet you love that you can’t see your own hand you should probably pull your head out of their ass and take some air.

Sometimes an idea is just an idea.

Sometimes a poem is just a Tweet.

Originally Published: April 1st, 2013

Sina Queyras grew up on the road in western Canada and she has since lived in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, New York, Philadelphia, and Calgary where she was Markin Flanagan Writer in Residence. She is the author most recently of the poetry collection MxT (2014) and Unleashed (2010), a selection of posts from...

Appeared in Poetry Magazine This Appears In
  1. April 17, 2013
     Carolyn O'Connell

    This poem sums up all that is needed to write. Wish I had
    been able to do it.

  2. April 25, 2013
     Mike M

    "Understand that terror is pleasure."

    Duly noted, poet. Your thoughtful yet earnest cautioning is one that is hard to stomach, piercing as it is to our banal pursuit of glass-half-brimming optimism.

    And yet as quickly as it pierces, it blunts.

    The striking ambiguity of the word "terror" immediately plays out in definitive ways across the imagination, where one is led to ask a series of questions: "but whatever does she mean, exactly, by "terror?" And for that matter, what on earth does she mean by "pleasure?" Indeed. The wide spectrum is intriguing if disturbing.

    My brain sees or pictures the following: Long-bearded gods rationalizing their oh-so typical smiting ways; the bomb (in a good bit of agitprop) is rhetorically asked to be considered as the "new bullet" by scheming politicians testing the waters of popular opinion; lone-wolfs looming large in the worried psyches of soccer moms and sporty, still-got-it dads; the stereotypical and trite misconception which rigidly portrays brown-skinned individuals doing jumping jacks in the middle of the desert with Kalashnikovs strapped to their collective shoulders; fear or respect of the Other as the distance between oneself and said Other begins to narrow, exciting and/or overwhelming the senses with silly but understandable what-if questions; also, lastly, children. All these terrible senses of the word, are pleasurable to different people at different times, if a bit unsettling, even outright nauseating.

    I suppose, in a way, it is an acid-test: which pictures came to your mind? If one is honest enough with oneself, if one is willing to get out of the way of ones proclivity toward conscious amnesia which safeguards the ego lock and key, then maybe this line speaks more about you than the poet.

    This line rings truer than Plath's metaphorical axe. It's riderless horse speaks volumes, echoing many different residual scenarios. And yet, if possible, it is best caught in glancing fashion...

    I've clearly said too too much already.

  3. April 25, 2013
     Baltimore Poet

    I also enjoyed this. Some of it makes we wonder what the writer's background references are, such as the third essay movement that recalls Eliot's objective correlative. Also I hear e. e. cumming in "If  the poem is feeling, let it feel all the way." And why not? I do not agree with terror as pleasure, though I can see where that phrase asks the reader to, maybe, wonder about it and inch forward with it.

    Not to get too political, but we live in "belated" times where our technological achievements as a species are not matched by our collective emotional balance or spiritual depth. My comment here derives at least in part by just finishing the essay collection, The Fourth Dimension of a Poem by M.H. Abrams. Maybe this author Ms. Queyras can add this, is it empathy? or introspection? or both?, as a purpose of writing, though in her own fun, wily, and provocative manner. Cheers.

  4. April 26, 2013
     Nathan

    @ Mike M

    "I've clearly said too too much already."

    Correct.

  5. April 26, 2013
     Surazeus Simon Seamount

    Sometimes a poem is a tightrope that bridges
    river teeming with crocodiles of fear
    where Helen Keller ballets to your heart.

  6. April 27, 2013
     Mike M.

    @ Baltimore Poet

    Although an intertextual criticism of the one holding the pen/pixel is an interesting and worthwhile pursuit, I wonder if engaging the text itself and what it's saying on the page, engaging what it wishes to evoke from its audience, fleshes out a bit more meaningful discourse. At the least, wouldn't it seem appropriate to get our ducks in order and take Queyras' poem into account first and foremost; then, if need be, branch out. Actually, this is precisely why the simply stated yet complex line "understand that terror is pleasure" is so evocative (as I attempted to establish above). It veers off the oft taken road of hyper-textuality, where meta-texts serve as triple agents, covertly encoding words/phrases amid past words/phrases, evasively maneuvering around the reader. The above statement -- or quite possibly, one could see it as an "exhortation" -- hedges against our valid though overplayed tendencies in a Postmodern world to look outside the text for meaning. It nudges against the Hamletonian "words, words, words.." The brilliance of it, however, is that, though succinct and unadorned, it naturally makes the reader pause to think of the myriad of ways this treacherous line could flesh out in meaning. It overlays a sepia tone on the overly descriptive or imagistic school of poetry. And, quite frankly, I like that. It shakes things up some, ya know?

    I say, let's take the poets word for it, looking at her text for what it is. At least primarily. Yes, we all know of Eliot's immense laying of classical and neo-classical thought. We know how much he knows. For my part, I think it's inaccurate to think Queyras' poem is making similar moves as The Wasteland.

    @ Nathan

    "Trolls suck" ~ Betty White

  7. April 29, 2013
     Louise

    I took the "terror is pleasure" phrase, entirely in the context of the
    poem, for the poet's intended meaning; ie.: the terror of making
    oneself vulnerable when writing the most core stuff/truths. Of course
    the extremist, sadist/sociopathic sense came up, but I didn't think her
    poem was responsible to that since her topic was clearly something
    else.

  8. April 30, 2013
     Mike M.

    @Louise

    Interesting.. Although the poet must realize that, when deploying such a word, "terror," there is going to be certain connotations which will immediately come to mind. Right? I mean, she could have used "fear" or "anxiety" or whatever, but instead selected the word "terror." Was this not a conscious effort?

    Though, sometimes a couch is just a couch, I suppose...

  9. September 26, 2013
     peter richards

    I find many of the comments here obtuse, long winded, and just annoying. Sina Queyra’s is giving good sound, transparent advice here on how to compose a poem, how be a poet, and how to read and NOT to read Pound’s ABC of Reading. When she writes “Understand that terror is pleasure,” but of course she’s talking about the healthy terror that comes when a poem outgrows its author’s intention. That she artfully offers this while winking at Rilke’s ‘every angel’ should go without saying, but I guess not. C'mon people! Don’t use Queyra’s fun, wise, gorgeous directive here as another occasion for you to spew your disembodied shit.