Seamus Heaney on Technique vs. Craft

September 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

In honor of the recent passing of Seamus Heaney, a bit of his musing on his own poetic vocation, and the crucial difference between technique and craft:

I think technique is different from craft.  Craft is what you can learn from other verse.  Craft is the skill of making … Learning the craft is learning to turn the windlass at the well of poetry.  Usually you begin by dropping the bucket halfway down the shaft and winding up a taking of air.  You are miming the real thing until one day the chain draws unexpectedly tight and you have dipped into waters that will continue to entice you back.  You’ll have broken the skin on the pool of yourself.  Your praties will be ‘fit for digging.’

At that point it becomes appropriate to speak of technique rather than craft.  Technique, as I would define it, involves not only a poet’s way with words, his management of metre, rhythm, and verbal texture; it involves also a definition of his stance towards life, a definition of his own reality.  It involves the discovery of ways to go out of his normal cognitive bounds and raid the inarticulate: a dynamic alertness that mediates between the origins of feeling in memory and experience and the formal ploys that express these in a work of art.  Technique entails the watermarking of your essential patterns of perception, voice, and thought into the touch and texture of your lines; it is that whole creative effort of the mind’s and body’s resources to bring the meaning of experience within the jurisdiction of form.  Technique is what turns, in Yeats’s phrase, ‘the bundle of accident and incoherence that sits down to breakfast’ into ‘an idea, something intended, complete.’

 — from “Feeling into Words” (47) in Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978



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