Must Poetry Hook Quickly?
While most of us agree that a poem should draw the reader’s interest in quickly, choices on how quickly and how to do so vary. We might also agree that there are successful poems that take their time in the seemingly mundane, but that reward lovingly by the end. Yet ending a piece leaving the reader with what Mary Carroll-Hackett (author of several poetry collections, including: Death for Beginners, A Little Blood, A Little Rain, and Trailer Park Oracle, among others) calls that sighing response, an indication you’ve startled the senses, is just as important and challenging.
Firstly, let’s talk about entering a poem.
While I’m the last to overly corporatize our craft (one of the reasons it was nice to get away from the deadly realm of higher ed bureaucracy), I was nevertheless recently drawn to a marketing article I thought might switch up our thinking on the topic of early lines in poetry: “How To Grab Your Target’s Attention in 8 Seconds” (Conran, Inc.com).
That eight seconds isn’t referring to riding a bull – though reading poetry might feel that way sometimes – but to our apparent average attention spans when surfing the net and other internet activities (from 2015). Really? Eight whole seconds. And, they say, it’s down from a whole twelve from back in 2000. Of course, our attention when deliberately reading poetry versus randomly falling down the black hole of information that is the Internet, are two different things.
Still, something tells me we might learn a thing or two from those desperate marketers that so need our attention.
They offer four hints at maintaining meaningful interaction: Making it personal, letting photos speak, encouraging social media interaction, and keeping it simple. These obviously don’t fit perfectly into writing poetry, but we can easily adapt them to our needs, can’t we?
Even if the content / narrative of a poem strikes no early chord of familiarity, perhaps we can personalize a piece by drawing on the reader’s curiosity. Most lovers of poetry are curious people. Help them understand that whatever drew you, the poet, into the curiosity of this moment you’ve preserved / created is a universal enjoyment they can tap as well.
Replace the word photo in this advice with image and we have more sound advice. Let imagery speak to the reader. When reading poetry, we don’t think in words, but in images driven by word interpretation as filtered by memory and personal experience. That’s a long distance to travel for a simple line of poetry toward enjoyment. No wonder we can grow bored, or confused, by a poem so quickly. Imagery helps us speak a language the reader probably better understands. The old saying, Show, don’t tell, should ring a bell here.
Let’s skip social media interaction for now and talk about promoting our work at a later date.
Keeping things simple isn’t a cure-all for writing. I don’t claim this. But I do believe too much early complication / difficulty in a poem can be a turn-off. We have to remember that not everyone who reads / tries reading our work are every-day readers of poetry. We writers have a higher tolerance (sometimes) for what’s going on with an author’s intent. We must empathize with readers’ past experiences with the word and why they’re in front of our work in the first place. A somewhat simple door into a room, rather than an intimidating door covered in locks, or a door that doesn’t even look like a door at all, might be a better “hook” into some work.
Visit Mary Carroll-Hackett’s website here: https://marycarrollhackett.com/
Visit today’s referenced article here: https://www.inc.com/joshua-conran/how-to-grab-your-target-s-attention-in-8-seconds-or-less.html