|The author, Dane F. Baylis|
WHY IS FREE VERSE A LOT LIKE BONSAI?
No, Not Because, Like Everything I Try To Grow, The Poems Eventually Commit Suicide, Too.
I have a number of hobbies, some of which are a bit esoteric. Raising Bonsai is one of them. I was working on re-potting a number of my trees when it occurred to me that what I did with these plants was a lot like what I do when writing free verse poetry. As a matter of fact, the similarities were a bit surprising.
First of all, lets get an understanding of Bonsai or the art of growing miniature plants in small containers. The first thing to understand is that these are miniature trees and shrubs. They are not starved or stunted. A plant capable of attaining all the height and presence of its companions in nature is the starting point. Through judicious exercise of gardening technique, craft, and artistic judgement, these plants are maintained in a healthy and vigorous state for many decades. (Sometimes longer than a normal sized specimen might survive in the wild.)
The presentation of the subject is done in one of several styles and is expected to be as natural and aesthetically pleasing as the artist is capable of attaining. He or she carefully decides what direction they wish to go. Then, slowly and with intent, the branches and trunk are pruned and trimmed to achieve a basic structure. This accomplished, the plant is further shaped by bending with wire, raffia, weights or grafting to refine its potential appearance. Frequently a plant at this stage is left alone, with only careful watering and fertilization to stimulate growth into a more finished product.
When all of this has been done (and it may take years of patient contemplation and waiting) the plant is deemed ready for display. Now a pot is chosen and prepared. With a new base ready, the roots are trimmed once more to accommodate the plants final transition. The plant is provided the correct soil and nutrients and is ready, at last, to be viewed.
Free verse poetry goes through many of the same stages. Quite frequently a writer will begin with an idea that has the possibility of becoming something quite large and commanding. Certain decisions are made as to what form would be most conducive to what is to be said. Then a first draft is executed. Quite often this is far more wordy then is necessary. After all, a poem (especially one to be rendered in free verse) should concise and compact, with little adornment or uncomplimentary 'foliage'.
Sometimes it is wise to put aside the work at this point and allow the idea we're dealing with to mature into a form more representative of the presentation we have in mind. As with the plant in the first part of this piece, a poem may offer hints to its structure as it comes to fruition that the writer wasn't first aware of. When you are judging your progress remember, you are trying for as natural a final subject in as altered and controlled a form as possible. To much injudicious trimming and the vision disappears, or worse, the trunk dies and all is lost. Too little and the desired result is lost in the undergrowth.
Eventually it is time to put the piece into its final presentation form. The unneeded verbiage is pruned away and the essentials of the symbol and sentiment are retained. The piece should contain as much impact, if not more, as could be accomplished in a prose work. Enough should be left to the reader's perception so as to create the illusion of grandeur and verisimilitude. The character of a one hundred foot tall bald cypress in an eighteen inch reality. There you have my thoughts at a potting bench on bonsai and poetry.
As always...live, love, write.
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Dane F. Baylis. Author.