A conversation, with metaphor

Discussing poetry with Eric Baylin

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 11/10/21

Poetry happens, said Eric Baylin, “when words stop me in my tracks.” It is made of words, but they are words with a rhythm, words that push you to reflect, “to dip below the surface …

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A conversation, with metaphor

Discussing poetry with Eric Baylin

The hillside across from Baylin’s home has inspired many poems, over the past year including the “bakery aloft” haiku.
The hillside across from Baylin’s home has inspired many poems, over the past year including the “bakery aloft” haiku.
Photo contributed by Eric Baylin
Posted

Poetry happens, said Eric Baylin, “when words stop me in my tracks.” It is made of words, but they are words with a rhythm, words that push you to reflect, “to dip below the surface of our language.”

Poetic words are like any words but somehow they are more.

Go on, ask Sullivan County’s poet laureate what poetry is. You’ll get multiple definitions, suiting something multifaceted.

So what is a poem?

It’s in the sound. Words are music.

“It takes you out of the ordinary flow of language and leads you into a different way of hearing things,” Baylin said.

He is a sculptor and a songwriter, and the ebb and flow of clay and music don’t just run through his poetry, they’re in his speech too. (He’s also a retired teacher, from the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn. And that comes through too; just look at the poetry workshops he’s been holding this year. A class on Life’s Big Questions here would be nice. Just saying.)

“Words have rhythm to them,” he said. “The sound, a resonance.”

Slicing a loaf of bread

It was a hefty loaf of multi-grain bread

The hearty, healthy kind

And I had been slicing my way through it

          over the course of the week

A slice or two at a time for breakfast

 and two again for a sandwich at lunch.

 

This morning it occurred to me to start slicing from the

         unsliced side

Breaking a lifelong pattern of following a sacred rule of bread slicing:

Start at one end and finish at the other.

 

But whoever said that slicing bread was like writing a

         sentence,

One end the capital and the other a period,

Or following a map from here to there?

Why couldn’t “here” be at both ends

 and “there” somewhere in the middle?

 

I have been pondering this all day

Wondering what other loaves I might slice anew,

What other worlds I could turn upside down,

What revolutions I could begin.

What is a poem?

It has structure. It has body. Form.

Start with haiku. “I love that structure,” he said. “It condenses words and weeds out the unnecessary.”

Baylin has been writing haiku, with its strict five syllables/seven syllables/five for a while now, and posting the poems on a local forum. One a week. Monday morning poetry.

On the other side of the poetry spectrum lies free verse. It too has structure, although it’s not always readily apparent. “There’s an internal cadence, a rhythm that carries the poem along.”

How do you find it?

“Don’t try too hard to figure it out,” said the poet. “I sometimes read a poem two, three, four or five times. I step out of my thinking mind… sometimes you have to let the words wash over you.”

What is a poem?

It is inside you.

Sometimes, Baylin said, he thinks people are a little afraid of that. But “I think everyone has poetry in them.”

That’s one reason for the workshops, to “draw poetry out of the shy poet.”

Poetry—the kind you find inside you—doesn’t have to be hard, just different. The words you have, tweaked, “so that we hear it in a different way.”

He has written since he was a kid, he said, but for “the last 10 years I devoted myself to it.” What kept him at it? “The lyrical line of the words. The best poems I hear as a melody.”

Someone else might hear them as a blueprint. Or a recipe.

What is a poem?

It is a hat.

Specifically, the Road Not Taken hat that Baylin made for Halloween one year. In that case, an actual poem was made into a hat, but those words inside us can come out in many different ways. The trick is to get them to emerge.

And that is about paying attention. To sit and look at something until the story inside it appears.

“Once I closed my eyes, opened them, and saw a blue towel on a railing,” Baylin said. The blue towel against the railing against the landscape—it had a story to tell too.

When you give something that much attention, you uncover much. “It’s like peeling an onion,” he said. “There are so many layers to us. Associations, stories. You can see a person in a whole new way.”

What is a poem?

The words within, whatever those words look like. Maybe they aren’t even actual words. However they’re shaped, you can find them. Poetry, said Baylin, “is a huge part of who we are as human beings.”

Want more? The next workshop is scheduled for November 23, through the Western Sullivan Public Library. “Unmuted and Thankful for Words,” takes place from 6 to 7 p.m. on Zoom. Contact https://wsplonline.org to sign up.

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