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chuqiao yang

Language at Its Most Distilled

Language at Its Most Distilled

One of the first emails I received from Sylvia contained the following advice:

Let the work, the challenge of the work, the desire to become a better poet, the hunger to do whatever it takes to become a better poet, drive you. Not the desire to publish, or win prizes, or receive attention, or to meet well-known writers—this is ambition of the worst sort and will blind you to what needs to happen with the writing. 

Be ruthless: that is, ruthless in terms of making the poem as strong as it can be. If something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to get rid of; if a poem is bad, take whatever is strong within it—that might only be a phrase, an image, a single word, or absolutely nothing!—and throw the rest away. If the whole poems seems like a failure, start again. 

Upset the expectations of your reader.

With Pneumatic Antiphonal, Sylvia takes her own advice and runs with it. On its face, Pneumatic Antiphonal is a study of birds. And yet, in reading the poems aloud, it is also a study of how words can, in the right hands, mirror nature. The poems in Pneumatic Antiphonal echo with the movement of birds in flight, in all their tittering, aeriality, and fluidity. Sylvia captures the airiness of a bird’s small wingspan, or a song through the weighted language of ornithologists. The result is a collection of poems that masterfully illustrate not only the weightless musicality of birds in their flight, their anatomy and song, but the potential for language to celebrate itself through itself. . .

To read this piece in its entirety, purchase your copy of Music & Literature no. 9.