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Some of my favorite passages from books about creating art. 

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How Verses are Made?
(from chapter 1)

Vladimir Mayakovsky (1883-1930)
Written in 1926

In poetical work there are only a few general rules about how to begin. And these rules are a pure convention. Like in chess. The first moves are almost always the same. But already from the next move you begin to think up a new attack. The most inspired move can’t be repeated in any given situation in your next game. Only its unexpectedness defeats the opponent.

Just like the unexpected rhymes in poetry.

What basic propositions are indispensable, when one begins poetical work?

First thing. The presence of a problem in society, the solution of which is conceivable only in poetical terms. A social command. (An interesting theme for special study would be the disparity between the social command and actual commissions.)

Second thing. An exact knowledge, or rather intui­tion, of the desires of your class (or the group you represent) on the question, i.e. a standpoint from which to take aim.

Third thing. Materials. Words. Fill your storehouse constantly, fill the granaries of your skull with all kinds of words, necessary, expressive, rare, invented, renovated and manufactured.

Fourth thing. Equipment for the plant and tools for the assembly line. A pen, a pencil, a typewriter, a telephone, an outfit for your visits to the doss-house, a bicycle for your trips to the publishers, a table in good order, an umbrella for writing in the rain, a room measuring the exact number of paces you have to take when you’re working, connection with a press agency to send you information on questions of con­cern to the provinces and so on and so forth, and even a pipe and cigarettes.

Fifth thing. Skills and techniques of handling words, extremely personal things, which come only with years of daily work: rhymes, metres, alliteration, images, lowering of style, pathos, closure, find­ing a title, layout, and so on and so forth.

For example: the social task may be to provide the words for a song for the Red Army men oh their way to the Petersburg front. The purpose is to defeat Yudenich. The material is words from the vocabulary of soldiers. The tools of production — a pencil stub. The device — the rhymed chastushka.

The result:

My darling gave me a long felt cloak

And a pair of woolly socks.

Yudenich scurries from Petersburg

Fast as a smoked-out fox.

 

The originality of the quatrain, warranting the pro­duction of this chastushka, lies in the rhyming of ‘woolly socks’ and ‘smoked-out fox’. It’s this

novelty that makes the thing relevant, poetical, and typical.

The effect of the chastushka depends on the device of unexpected rhymes where there is disharmony between the first pair of lines and the second. Thus the first two lines can be called subsidiary, or auxiliary.

Even these general and basic rules of poetic prac­tice offer greater possibilities than we now have for labeling and classifying poetic works.

Aspects of the material used, the means of production and the technical skills can simply be regarded as quantifiable on a points system.

Did society demand this? It did. Two points. Is there an aim or purpose? Two points. Is it rhymed? Another point. Is there alliteration? Another half point. And another point for the rhythm — since the strange measure necessitated bus journeys.

Let the critics smile, but I would rate the poetry of any Alaskan poet (other things being equal of course) higher than, let’s say, the work of a poet from Yalta.

Well of course! The Alaskan must freeze, and buy a fur coat, and his ink solidifies in his fountain-pen. Whereas the Yalta poet writes against a background of palm trees, in surroundings which are nice even without poems.

Clear-sightedness about such matters is a component of a writer’s qualifications.

 

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