Skip to main content


Showing posts from August, 2009

Poetry Dances

As one who writes mostly "free verse". I like to describe poetry as "words that dance'. Being free of rigid meter does not mean that one can get along without rhythm, but rather that one finds the rhythm in the cadences of ordinary speech rather than in prescribed formats. English is a marvelous language in which an interplay of the stresses of syllables, the timing of utterance, and the sounds of syllables all work together to produce a tapestry of sound to bring life to the thoughts and imagery. Poetry is not merely cerebral, but intensely physical as well. As a performance poet, I have found that, when I am reading, if I have caught the dance of the poem, my hand wants to bounce, or my feet to tap, or my body to sway. If this does not occur, and if it is my own work I'm doing, I know there is something wrong with the piece; or, if I am reading another's work, the lack of such motion shows me that I have not caught what the poet intended to be there. Howev…

End Rhyme

Beginning poetry students often assume that their poems should have rhyme. If this is done poorly the resulting poem has a sing-song, nursery rhyme quality. Contemporary poets generally avoid rhyme, especially end rhyme, for this reason. To the modern ear it sounds rather old fashioned. That is not to say end ryhme is bad. It can be done well, as in this sentimental poem by Joyce Kilmer.

A House with Nobody in It
Joyce Kilmer

Whenever I walk to Suffern along the Erie track
I go by a poor old farmhouse with its shingles broken and black.
I suppose I've passed it a hundred times, but I always stop for a minute
And look at the house, the tragic house, the house with nobody in it.

I never have seen a haunted house, but I hear there are such things;
That they hold the talk of spirits, their mirth and sorrowings.
I know this house isn't haunted, and I wish it were, I do;
For it wouldn't be so lonely if it had a ghost or two.

This house on the road to Suffern needs a dozen panes of glass,

Meter and English-Language Poetry

Since poets are now free to irregularly change the rhythms and sounds throughout a poem, they have many more choices to make with every word put on the page. T. S. Eliot said in his essay "The Music of Poetry" in 1942 that "no verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job", and, although written 60 years ago, it still holds true. The early 20th century changed forever the way we look at poetic form, but the traditions of sound and meter still hold a firm place in the poetic arts.

The words sound and meter are difficult to define and have many different aspects. Because of these difficulties, perhaps it is useful to think of these terms in the language of metaphor. If you think of the aural elements of a poem in terms of musical notation, you could think of meter as the rhythm created by the words (the horizontal movement of a piece of music, cutting up time into bigger or smaller increments) and sound as the notes of the piece of music (or the vertical moveme…

Writer's Block? No Problem!

Even if they manage their time and follow writing guidelines, many writers will still experience a time when the words just won't come together, when they are simply "stuck" and can't think of anything to write. This is writer's block. Fortunately, a few helpful techniques make it possible to overcome the challenge of writer's block.

Experiment -- Try to write in different places, at different times, and with different writing instruments.

Freewrite - Choose one sentence in a paragraph and write a paragraph about it. Then choose one sentence from that paragraph and do it again.

Cluster - Choose key words and ideas; then write associated ideas and words in clusters around them. This process often forms new ideas.

Be flexible -- Be willing to throw out sections of text that are causing problems or just don't work.

Follow a routine -- Follow a routine to get into the writing mood. Try activities like wearing comfortable clothing, using a certain pen, or listening…

John Scalzi Speaks to Young Writers

I’m going to talk to you about writing as straight as I can; there’s a possibility that some of what I say to you might come off as abrupt and condescending. I apologize in advance for that, but you should know that I sometimes come off as abrupt and condescending toward everyone, i.e., it’s not just you. Also, I hope you don’t mind if I don’t go out of my way to use current slang and such; there’s very little more pathetic than a 36-year-old man dropping slang to prove he’s hip to the kids. I own a minivan and the complete works of Journey; honestly, from the point of view of being cool, I might as well be dead. You might find what I have to say useful anyway. Here we go.

1. The Bad News: Right Now, Your Writing Sucks.
It’s nothing personal. When I was a teenager, my writing sucked, too. If you don’t believe me, check these out: A short story I wrote in high school, and (God help us all) the lyrics to a prog-rock concept album I wrote in my first year of college. Yeah, they suck pretty…

Dorothy Sayers' Last Morning in Oxford

Dorothy L. Sayers

The great poets . . . . are not at the pains of devising careful endings. Thus, Homer ends with lines that might as well be in the middle of a passage." -- H. Belloc.

I do not think that very much was said
Of solemn requiem for the good years dead.

Like Homer, with no thunderous rhapsody,
I closed the volume of my Odyssey.

The thing that I remember most of all
Is the white hemlock by the garden wall.

June 23rd, 1915.

From here.

Related reading: Dorothy Sayers' The Lost Tools of Learning; Response to Sayer's Lost Tools of Learning; More on Sayers and Classical Education

Dante's Creed

Here is Dante's beautiful and powerful credal statement in Paradiso, Canto 24 (lines 130-147).

And I respond: In one God I believe,
Sole and eterne, who moveth all the heavens
With love and with desire, himself unmoved;

And of such faith not only have I proofs
Physical and metaphysical, but gives them
Likewise the truth that from this place rains down

Through Moses, through the Prophets and the Psalms,
Through the Evangel, and through you, who wrote
After the fiery Spirit sanctified you;

In Persons three eterne believe, and these
One essence I believe, so one and trine
They bear conjunction both with sunt and est.

With the profound condition and divine
Which now I touch upon, doth stamp my mind
Ofttimes the doctrine evangelical.

This the beginning is, this is the spark
Which afterwards dilates to vivid flame,
And, like a star in heaven, is sparkling in me.