CRAFT OF LITERARY 1.5: Featuring Michael Lauchlan – “Noticing as Key Element in Craft”

I am from Detroit. The history, grime, music, chaos, and kindness of this town have marked me: marked my flat, midwestern accent, and, more subtly, my eyes and ears. As Annie Dillard suggested decades ago, simply learning to see a place, to “notice” its hidden elements is a key element of craft.

Two writers with Detroit roots, Jamaal May (Hum) and Cal Freeman (Brother of Leaving) offer readers visceral and immediate contact with the worlds their poems inhabit. These writers share a powerful commitment to compassionate noticing. In “How to Enter a Bank-Owned Home,” Freeman drops us in front of a ”caved-in/wooden porch” with a moment of disarming simplicity. In “And Even the Living Are Lost,” May places us in a dice game, weighed in a small boy’s troubled, vulnerable eyes:

a bottle shatters, a door slams shut

and the sound ricochets off the pavement, darts off

like some worried pigeon while your son stares at us.

How long has he been staring at us?”

In very different ways, May and Freeman insist on a heightened awareness that leads toward a deepened communion with a “place” populated by rarely heard voices and untold stories.

Perhaps “craft” is too often understood in terms of “the act of verse-making.” Indeed, mentors and friends have helped me understand form, helped me cut abstractions and details not integral to the core of a poem. But a key element of craft might be one that William Carlos Williams sharpened while awaiting births and deaths. Like many of the writers whose work stirs us, Williams understood that receptivity is part of the writer’s “craft.” When I teach “The Sparrow,” I may emphasize his stanzaic form, his stunning choice of a metaphor that captures his father’s fire. I ought first point out that he watched a real sparrow, that attentive “noticing” is an essential moral ingredient in “imagism.” Not surprisingly, Williams saw and valued his poor patients, elevating them above abstraction and stereotype.

From ancient times, one role of the lyric poem has been the conveyance of an essential story, the vital “news” not provided by other means. To become containers for faces, voices, and images we’ve seen and heard, we need a reservoir of compassion and attentive eyes and ears. We need to let go of our laptops and our personal ambitions to enter the world of our communities. We may find among virtually unseen “neighbors” a plethora of surprises. If we treasure these gifts, we might also begin to populate our work with some of the people and places (Baltimore, Compton, Detroit, Cleveland, etc.) our culture pushes to the margins.

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IMG_2128 (1)ABOUT MICHAEL: Michael Lauchlan’s poems have landed in many publications including New England Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, The North American Review, English Journal, The Dark Horse, Nimrod, Tar River Poetry, Harpur Palate, and The Cortland Review.His most recent collection is Trumbull Ave., from WSU Press. Learn more about his book and listen to him read a poem or two by visiting here.

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Craft of Literary features flash essays on craft, CW pedagogy, and publishing by emerging and established writers. For more information, click here.

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