Poetry is first and always a love affair with words: love of words and words of love.
Poetry is the distillation from experience and sense of those essential elements: flavorful, volatile, powerful, that inform otherwise insipid existence with the illusions of significance and meaning. There is a reduction and a refinement and an intensification of the essence to its irreducible nature. It becomes piquant and startling. Without this alchemical reduction it is not poetry.
Poetry is that collection of words, textured by rhythm and sound, designed to evoke in the reader a simulacrum of the experience or sensation which led to the creation of the poem in the first place. Or it is that creative product which was the result of an experience or sensation had by the poet and it is the synthesis of that antecedent (experience or sensation) which the poet, through the poem, seeks to share.
Poetry is a tonic we have invented to tolerate and ameliorate, for a time, the cruel toxicity of existence. We invented it, as we did god in his heaven, to make life mythic and to keep us from madness and suicide in this pitiless abattoir. For a pleasant air of disaster attends us all.
My short stories are an excuse for my failure to have the stamina and steadfastness to write a novel. To the extent I am guided by any principle in writing short stories, perhaps I am guided by Poe’s Philosophy of Composition. The broad outlines of this piece of literary criticism are that the story should be short (“There is,” he wrote, “a distinct limit . . . to all works of literary art - the limit of a single sitting.”); that it be the product of methodical and analytical method as distinct from the fallacy of “spontaneous” composition; and that it have a “unity of effect,” which is to say that all elements of the story must be solely for supporting and strengthening a single purpose. My stories suffer from a failure to conform to any of Poe’s criteria, but they are as you find them and what I intended, more or less.
Thomas Phalen is an Irish/American dual national, raised in the American West. He is a criminal defense attorney and his practice is devoted mostly to the defense of capital (death penalty) cases. He has been writing poetry very nearly all his life, but with a degree of diligent consistency for the last 30 years. He has five “self-published” collections of poetry that he has assembled over the past two decades. They are: Beatific Visions, Ravaged Angel, Love to Ashes, Mountain Wizard and Achill Sounds. Some of these poems were published in The Lune, Vol. II No. I, Winter 2017. He is working on and will complete a sixth volume this year, entitled Alembic. The things he does well are few indeed, but he is a fly-fisher, a poet, a gardener, a marathoner, a student of the French language, an ardent international traveler, and a woodworker. He lives with his beautiful and talented artist wife, Stacie, and their genius Border Collie, Finnbar. They have a house in Phoenix and a cabin in the woods of Flagstaff, Arizona.
Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont, August 15-25, 2018, Contributor in Poetry.