Djana’s Poetry & Writing
Two main impulses fuel my urge to write poetry. The first is the wish to capture the fleeting beauty I find in the natural world around me. From childhood I have delighted in flowers, trees, birds, butterflies, and the light and contrasts of light and shade as clouds move over hills, valleys and mountains. Details entrance me: the velvet texture of a viola petal, the prism scales of a butterfly’s wing, the buzz of an emerald bee-fly or song of a white-crowned sparrow, the shimmer of light on water. As both artist and poet, I work to capture these fleeting images while at the same time striving to accurately record the botany of the flowers, biology of the creatures and the geography of the landscapes. In drawing I use pencils and pastel, in poetry I employ language to show forth these evanescent impressions of beauty.
The other major impetus driving my poetry is the desire to tell stories. All my poems are stories, some long, some quite short. Emotion and mood naturally infuse all the poems – or it wouldn’t have any claim to being poetry – but whether the poems are short or long, or the subject is a person, animal or landscape, they all relate a story, and each one takes the observer-protagonist to some other place than where they are at the present moment. This removal of self from its current position is often for only a few brief seconds, but other times lasts for life-altering minutes, hours or days, and it is always brought about by movement in mind or body.
The short poems are lyrical in tone, a few inspired by some object that triggers memories, others by observations of weather, creatures, landscape, possibly a painting, or perhaps by hearing bird song or a particular piece of music. A few are written in a deliberately antique vein in the mode of olden times, and many are elegies for a person or place once loved and lost. In some of the lyric pieces, an activity occurring in a certain place at a certain season is depicted, as grape-picking during autumn harvest, or a ship sailing dangerous winter seas.
The longer poems, more obvious as stories, relate tales concerning their protagonists’ journeys. The protagonist is sometimes a ‘real’ person, at other times a ghost, sometimes both within the same poem, but always this person is in the grip of an emotion so strong it impels her to set off on a quest. These wanderings take place oft-times in the obscure byways of the subconscious or in dreams, at other times along actual physical roads of the earth, and even sometimes across pathways through the stars.
There is always crossover between these two types of poems – the longer story poems contain lyric images and symbols, and the shorter elegiac and romantic lyrics are in themselves extremely condensed short stories.
For centuries, telling stories about the world, its creatures, its landscape, waters, weather, birds, fishes, and plants, its wars and heroes, its peoples and gods has been the raison d’etre of poetry and the themes elaborated by bards and poets. Folk from peasants to nobles gathered to hear bards recite in ancient times, while in later times the noble classes patronized poets and invited them to read their works in castle halls then elegant drawing rooms; still later, as literacy increased and the price of books dropped, the middle classes – and even poorer folk – were well-acquainted with the verses of the major poets of their day.
In the world we now inhabit, however, in a time immeasurably distant from the early ages of myth and legend, in this new place beyond the Industrial Revolution and beyond Freud, after the two great wars of the 20th century and the atom bomb, this world of vast climate change, rockets into space, television, cell phones, and all the manifold distractions and fragmentation brought about by instant communication, the audience for poetry has greatly dwindled. Since late Renaissance times, poetry became one of the more intentionally mannered arts, along with ballet and opera, and while its forms and styles were once accessible to many people, it regrettably now shares, along with aforementioned ballet and opera, the dubious distinction of being perceived as one of the most artificial, inaccessible types of art still being practiced – a complex, opaque construct pursued by a few throw-back devotees, printed in small literary magazines and read and critiqued by a select elite.
Despite this all-too-pervasive point of view, some writers are still compelled to write poetry, never mind today’s small audiences, and for those of us who do so – usually thanks to the support of a significant other and the belief and encouragement of friends – we go on composing poems regardless. Decades ago, as I began hammering out the subjects I wished to write of and the style that would serve them best, I became aware the combination in my poems of dense lyric romanticism with stories – indeed sometimes long stories – had little in common with the types and topics of poems reviewed and approved by critics writing for literary magazines. An honest poet, though, can only write in the style correct for him that tells about subjects that most profoundly move and engage him in a style he’s determined right for the job – otherwise the poems won’t be worth reading.
Through the years, my writing style has considerably evolved. For the last decades I’ve used end rhymes less and less and now seldom make use of it at all – for me, the world we inhabit is too fractured to sustain this convention and I find end rhyme often seems outmoded and even a bit childish. What worked when read aloud in drawing rooms from 1760 to 1860 just doesn’t hold now. But while I don’t often use end rhyme, I play with poetry’s inbuilt artifice and use all kinds of internal rhyming devices and word echoes from line to line, stanza to stanza. In most the syllable line count usually runs longer than the 10 pentameter line so frequently employed by poets writing in English, often falling into counts of 14, 16 or even, more rarely, 18 to 20 syllables. Nevertheless each and every line is firmly based on syntax rhythm and syllable count that holds consistently throughout the poem and only breaks for emphasis or the ending.
My writing, like my art, has a slow trajectory to completion. Many of the poems in the two poetry books on this site have evolved over decades, being written, polished and rewritten for over 40 years. I’ve learned that my poems are all the better for ‘sitting on the shelf’ for a span of time between rewrites. These intervals – whether it is days, weeks, months or even years – allow me to view the work with fresh, sharp eyes when returning to it. I then more quickly spot previously missed fuzzy or inept images and knotty syntax confusions, sharpening the poem with each pass into a more accessible form with more exact imagery and a more comprehensible story line.
Here I will mention my profound gratitude to a friend and mentor whose insight about breaking my knotted and overlong phrases into shorter verses resulted in giving my dense imagery and mannered stylization adequate ‘breathing room’ so the poems could display my particular style more effectively, while at the same time making it easier for readers to grasp the sense of the plot or ‘story line’ developed in each poem. Also, heartfelt thanks must be expressed to Jeff Copeland, editor of both the poetry books. Without his unwavering belief in my work, and his extremely pertinent comments, suggestions – and extremely sharp eyes for each and every unclear sentence, word and wrongfully placed punctuation mark – I’m not at all sure the books would ever have been completed, let alone to the standard he pushed me to achieve.
To readers who view the natural world portrayed in The Scales of Astraea, or who venture onto the byways and pathways that unroll within the Landscapes of the Heart, I wish clear weather for far-seeing and fair skies for their journeying.