Thursday, March 3, 2016

Poetry 101

In today's post, author and MFAC faculty member Ron Koertge* explores the ancient and venerable tradition of courtly love in his own, uniquely poetic way. Read on to find out how those romantic rules apply to today's world.

Chris Heppermann and I recently finished the third book of the Witch trilogy, and I wanted to write something that had another kind of magic: Poetry. Muses can be jealous, so I invited Erato to dinner. She scolded me about Prose but warmed up after a few drinks and we kissed goodnight. Chastely. 

I’d been reading about Andreas Capellanus, the guy who pretty much made up the rules for courtly lovers. I found myself wondering what it would be like to apply those rules to somebody in the 21st century:

Courtly Love 
I prowl the city until a window opens
and a pale arm emerges. Beautiful,
slender fingers. 
I stand there every day, right after my
lute lesson. 
Rain soaks my pointy green-and-gold shoes. Snow gathers on my velvet hat.
I strum and sing, paying no attention to the couples all around me, their arms

I don’t sleep well, so I’d lie in bed and wonder about things like what’s my soul doing out of my body at 3:00 a.m., do enough people even know what courtly love is to make that little poem attractive and could that title be more maladroit?

Since I’m a fan of the prose poem and of a writer named Lydia Davis, I tried another version (title pending):

All our friends are getting divorced: infidelity at the Hilton, assignations in the Corn Maze. My wife and I keep busy: she with Cooking & Wine classes. I thrive in Lute II, practicing every day. My longer and more flexible plectrum is a godsend. Nevertheless, Saturday nights can bring turmoil and disquiet. Also Friday nights. Sometimes Thursday. At those moments, we dress and leave the house separately. My custom leatherwork boots are comfortable as are my doublet and jerkin. I go directly to the Tudor Inn on Main Street. A window on the second floor opens to reveal my good wife, fetching in a fine twill bodice. I begin to strum and sing, even if passersby jeer at my velvet hat, even if my song is almost drowned out by the bickering of couples on their way home from the therapist.
Hmmm. There are a couple of giddy things in here that I like – the flexible plectrum for sure. And the modern-leaning last line. On the other hand, the much shorter version has some visual punch and some general concentration that appeals to me.

Like a lot of life, this one is a work-in-progress. Looks like I’ll keep mulling things over in the night and hoping my soul gets back before the alarm goes off!

*Ron Koertge is a faculty member at Hamline's MFAC program.  He writes poetry for everyone, fiction for young adults, and recently co-authored a young reader series. You can discover Ron's literary work by visiting his author's website or visit his faculty page to learn about him as a professor at Hamline University.

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