Let's Learn the Craft by Anthony Esolen

Illuminations

Let's Learn the Craft

by Anthony Esolen

One of my students tells me that the other day in his poetry-writing class, the instructor wrote on the blackboard columns of abstract nouns, concrete nouns, and verbs. The students were to pick an item from each column and then make up a metaphor, mixing and matching things. Call it playing Mr. Poetry Head.

That's something like what the last fifty years of authors of hymns have been doing. You take an idea you picked up in your night-school social theology class, match it with six or seven piety-words taken at random, and paste it onto a Jesus-moment or a Yahweh-moment. The result will be bad enough if you remain on the level of the blandly abstract, and you don't strain too hard. It will be downright ridiculous if you allow yourself the illusion that you are a poet. God spare us the creativity of the pious and incompetent.

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Anthony Esolen is the author of over thirty books, including Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan, with a CD), Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Regnery), and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord (Ignatius). He has also translated Dante’s Divine Comedy (Random House). He and his wife Debra publish a web magazine, Word and Song (anthonyesolen.substack.com), on poetry, hymnody, language, classic films, and music. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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