“Telling It Slant” draws inspiration from Emily Dickinson’s “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” It’s written by 4 writers — and they all have something to say about writing poetry “with a slant” (I’ve got to add that this chapter is the last one from the book).
What the heck is a slant?
I first heard this expression after reading Emily Dickinson’s poem in elementary school, then again in high school. This poem somehow reminds me of one of my all-time favorite quotes about language by non-other than Edgar Allan Poe: “Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.” Rereading Emily Dickinson’s poem makes me think that she was grappling with the reality of words and of what they impose on us, as writers and readers.
The 4 writers approach slant in varying ways, each talking about what poetry writing requires.
“Obliqueness allows the mind to think of something else, something unguessed, or not suggested or expected.” — Jill Bialosky
MARY JO BANG
Mary Jo Bang, author of The Last Two Seconds (published by Greywolf), tells us that poetry shouldn’t be predictable, or “too easy to parse.” With this view in mind, poetry shouldn’t be over-obvious; it shouldn’t allow the reader to know what is going to happen or how it’s going to end.
“[Y]ou must avoid reducing your ideas/words/feelings to the over-obvious. Or, if you feel compelled to use the over-obvious, it helps to create a suggestion of subtext, ideally one both digressive and subversive.” — Mary Jo Bang
Daniel Ladinsky, author of Darling, I Love You says to “make the pen dance.” His advice is to tap into the an inner creativity, one that emanates from our understanding of our world and our place in it. He tells us that our voices are valued and that we should partake in sharing it with the world. His advice is a metaphysical call for oneness with creativity and with the supernatural — it’s a call for connecting with what works for you.
“The creation of art is a salvation in itself. When you make the pen dance, play an instrument with your soul, or excitedly talk about a project, the universe applauds.” — Daniel Ladinsky
Billy Merrell, author of Vanilla, tells us to “aim for the unsayable.” He urges us to look at language as a tool to explore and freely create with. For him, practice is key to any art, just like it is for artists and musicians. Practice brings confidence and assurance of your own ability to perform.
“As with any art, practice and patience are key. […] Reading the great works of the past, reverse engineering rhetorical devices, understanding each of the many tools available to writers — these are all crucial. But none of them matter if a poet is unable to write freely from the mind on the fortunate day when inspiration strikes.” — Billy Merrell
Slanting Your Perspective
I can only surmise as best as possible what each writer attempted to say — they all varied on their advice, as limiting as it was. This chapter is not a thorough how-to on writing poetry with a slant. Nor do I think that was the intention. Each writer gave vague, writerly advice because, ultimately, all that one can offer are the keys to the door. Truly, the best way to learn is through experimentation. There isn’t a right or wrong way to write — and if someone says there is, then don’t listen to them. Writing is a craft and a form of communication. Whether that communication be symbolic or literal, poetry (and writing in general) offers artists the choice on how they want to approach their writing.
The best overall summation of this chapter is to #ShiftYourPerspective on life and to begin thinking about how you fit in the world. Examining your worldview with an observant mind will show you how to “slant” your perceptions; and ultimately, how to “slant” your reality.
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Header image and “Too easy to parse”are screenshots from the book; Edgar Allan Poe quote from Pinterest; Vanilla book cover image from author website.