the poetry knook, the poetry of stephen m. james

My poetics / aesthetics


Overview of my poetics

First, let me state that poetics guide a poet in what he or she wants to do in one’s work. I am not polemically saying that my poetics are the only reason to write for–I am providing an author analysis for those that would benefit from one.

Poetry synthesizes instead of analyzes and deconstructs: creating (hopefully) new relationships. I believe in a synthesized theory of art. For instance, art should convey intellectual insights into reality (Plato). It also should imitate (Aristotle) the human experience. Art conveys depth, nuance, mystery, relationship, and conflict within the soul and is difficult to define.

Poetry is constructed from words, but an outlook or vision always extrudes from those words. Art sharpens our experience–making our experience significant. Just as a religious believer enlarges the meaning of an event beyond the mechanistic material world, a poem extends the meaning of an event. Such “awareness of experience” is real to believers, and I hope that my poems bring you similar awareness.


Poetic devices utilized and meaning

In my work, economy of language, enjambment, the juxtaposition of concrete instances to express an abstraction, and the theme of a work (that is the work’s relation to an external idea) is emphasized more than form or sound aesthetics such as word-sounds, articulation and rhythm. Form, however, is not entirely discarded for every line break is functional or an alternate “slant meaning” can be derived by a varied pronunciation. It is due to devices such as enjambment that my work tends to not always communicate its full potential orally and can often be best enjoyed by being read.

The majority of my work is not metered (open form, organic, free verse, etc). Some formalists may state that un-metered verse is not poetry. This is a valid argument, but does not negate the power of free verse which absent of meter should have some other technical complexity. The inclusive distinction between poetry and prose is the subtle, sustained, elaborate attention given to its parts. In prose, a reader can derive a meaning from a sentence without analyzing each and every part of that sentence. Therefore, there is not a strict division between prose and poetry.

Although, I believe the purpose of a poem can be to give the reader only aesthetic pleasure, I do not believe that “art for art’s sake” is a noble idea nor that poetry is entirely pure expression, a dialog with self, creating its own justification. Yes, there is a place for therapeutic private poetry. And, yes, poetry is language (with its semiotics) and therefore the reader brings his or her meaning to every word and phrase, but the author’s original meaning and purpose remains sacred and paramount to me in my work and others’ work–if they allow. Although a meaning and subsequent aesthetic truth can be given to my work without context, it is my view that my work is not autonomous, and therefore the best meaning is not obtainable without context. I appeal to the universal human experience, but the reader should be free to critique my work in its relation to me–and thus my relation to anything. Therefore, I have provided extended notes and a web of linking to other poems. If I cannot understand another’s poem from two brief reads, the footnotes at the end of a book are as important to me as a work itself. For this reason, extended notes accompany the majority of my work to point the reader at least in a cardinal direction of context.

My living poems

As with the majority of online content, my work does appear printed on paper, and therefore with the exception of cached copies by other websites, my work can be changed as I read and edit a poem. The version you reading today may not be the final version. Due to author sentimentality and nostalgia, this is less likely to occur the older a piece of poetry is.

Biographical influences on my poetics

The beginnings: I am the child of a stable nuclear family with two parents. Christianity is central to my up bringing, and Christology is amply alluded to throughout my work. Members of the Trinity are often addressed in much the same terms as an earthly lover. Any work written before 1997 is most likely a school assignment, as I began writing regularly in eighth grade to dispel teenage angst of marginalization and to cope with the Problem of Evil. At the end of my sophomore year of high school, I stopped writing a novel and turned to poetry as my sole creative writing. The primary subject of poems written between 1998-2000 are my three high school girlfriends. I am ashamed (syntactically and semantically) of many of my pre-collegiate work, but continue to make it available online empathetically for those that continue to find themselves as teenagers.

The collegiate years: My closest friend in college, said that the first time I spoke to him–before I ever knew him, I was talking about poetry. In the fall of 2002, my sophomore year, I became involved the campus literary magazine. The current editor of the Asbury Review and I organized a bi-weekly writing workshop. About ten students would meet on Saturday morning and critique each other’s work. This was a significant transitional time for my poetry. I began hating “love is a dove from above” poems and valuing the editing process more and more. Ten lines of verse began requiring 2 hours of editing. I attended my first poetry readings at this time and began reading my poetry out loud. I found out that often my work is better read than spoken. Near the end of the Saturday morning poetry group, I developed my current voice and its use of enjambment and concise ambiguous meanings.

The present: I am currently living in the Indianapolis area and am looking for other poets to critique my work and I their work in an informal workshop setting. My angst and rage has subsided as I met a visual artist (oil painter) in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. We married two years later. My work has not been as forthcoming as my formative college years. My thoughts lead to poetry when outraged or making sense of the world, so I sometimes say that my wife has “stopped up my pen.” However, I have not completely stopped and still immensely enjoy writing.

About The Poetry Knook

The Poetry Knook began in the summer of 1997 as an off-shoot of my online links page. This was just before my freshman year of high school. I received feedback from friends, family, and visitors to my poetry site (99% percent of respondents were teenage girls), and I recognized other people empathized with many of my struggles and passions. Since then, sixth distinct versions have organized and re-organized The Poetry Knook. At one point, former iterations of the poetry knook linked to mental health and spiritual help websites, included quotes, published short stories, had a black background, paired verse with photography, and included popular well-known poetry. I am excited about the future and look forward to improving the poetry knook.

If you have any suggestions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me.


© 1993-2024 by Stephen M. James.