In 1930, Conrad Aiken won his Pulitzer for poetry. I am familiar with the work of Aiken and I am inspired by some of his work. Yesterday, a friend shared with me an interview with Aiken that was published by The Paris Review. This is a quote, which reminds me of my self-appointed poem-a-day challenge for this month. It is a reminder that the drudgery of trying to push it out every day, no matter what it is that you do, can be useful. Don't give up!
Yes. I compelled myself all through to write an exercise in verse, in a different form, every day of the year. I turned out my page every day, of some sort—I mean I didn’t give a damn about the meaning, I just wanted to master the form—all the way from free verse, Walt Whitman, to the most elaborate of villanelles and ballad forms. Very good training. I’ve always told everybody who has ever come to me that I thought that was the first thing to do. And to study all the vowel effects and all the consonant effects and the variation in vowel sounds. For example, I gave Malcolm Lowry an exercise to do at Cuernavaca, of writing ten lines of blank verse with the caesura changing one step in each line. Going forward, you see, and then reversing on itself.
How did Lowry take to these exercises
Superbly. I still have a group of them sent to me at his rented house in Cuernavaca, sent to me by hand from the bar with a request for money, and in the form of a letter—and unfortunately not used in his collected letters; very fine, and very funny. As an example of his attention to vowel sounds, one line still haunts me: “Airplane or aeroplane, or just plain plane.” Couldn’t be better.