Recently I attended my annual family reunion. I always look forward to this event, not only because my family is awesome, but because they are really awesome. My family is full of intelligent, creative, and fierce people: writers, lawyers, union organizers, psychologists, teachers, rocket scientists, blue-collar workers, and more. I love them all. Living, as I do, in the dark hole of my apartment where I sit and tap at a computer all day, events such as these are glorious, mostly because I get to go outside where there are interesting people to talk to.
There, over paper plates and red party cups, I had an excellent conversation with my cousin’s husband, Paul. He is an all around good guy. He is a the director of a local university health center and a psychologist. He is also a fisherman, a super dad, and a writer. I’ve read his stuff, and it’s very good. He told me he just had a piece published in an anthology of spiritual writing. Oh, and he’s dabbling in poetry.
What a wonderful thing to dabble in. Of course, I have a bias as I am, first and foremost, a poet. I have been writing poetry since I was ten. I started writing passable poetry late in high school, and good poetry in college. I’ve been published a couple of places, and taught a lot of it over my fifteen years as a teacher. I love poetry. I read it, I collect it, I write it. Sometimes I leave it, but like a free-range, half-feral cat, I always come back. It feeds me.
So, talking to Paul, I must admit, I began to go off on a bit of a rant. I have always thought it a crime that teachers push complex poetic forms on kids first thing. For one thing, they are hard to write. For a beginner, they are almost impossible to write well. Meter and rhyme are advanced skills, and when a kid can’t master it right away the resulting opinion is pretty universal: “Poetry sucks. It’s stupid, I can’t write it, and you can’t make me.”
I wrote my Master’s thesis on writing across the curriculum, and in my research, I discovered teachers who approached poetry in a different way, through imagery, metaphor, and other poetic devices, such as personification or alliteration. This method encourages imagination and creativity without restriction.
On one hand, poetry is all about the expansion of imagery, explosions of ideas, color, and the senses. Expansion is an important skill for writers to learn. Fiction and non-fiction both become more interesting when the writer has cinematic vision. Free verse poetry can draw images in broad strokes without any of the constrictions of plot, scene or character, or the expectations of length/brevity, linear story-telling, or clarity of meaning.
Of course, once a writer learns how to express their feelings on paper, it’s time to move on. Poetry is a lot more than just inspiration. Like any form of writing, it is a craft. Most amateur poetry, like art, fiction, photography, whatever, is left woefully underdone (or under-edited). Unfinished. Consider the writing of thousands of teenagers; rain, pain, fandom, angst, lust, heartbreak, often with a dose of cute. (I am not saying there are not phenomenal teen poets, quite the contrary. I have met several. I was not one of them.) Some adults never grow out of this phase, mistakenly thinking that inspiration and feelings are all there is to a good poem.
This is where form comes in. Through the mastery of poetic forms, including meter and rhyme, one learns the craft of poetry, how to mould words, to revise and edit a lump of verbal clay into a completed work.
Personally, I have come to love the various forms of poetry. Poetry and I are having a torrid love affair, in which we are playing with every position and permutation of words possible (including, it seems, alliteration.) By doing a little research, I have discovered forms I have never known before. I like practicing them; it keeps me flexible.
I love to challenge myself. One of my favorite challenges is to choose twelve random words: four nouns, four verbs, and four adjectives, and use them in a poem. The last time I tried this, however, I knew I would not be able to choose the words randomly, as my psyche always has ulterior motives. Instead, I had my wickedly intelligent (and, as you will see, rather cruel) friends choose them for me.
Because I am also a literary masochist, I decided to add one more dimension to the challenge: form. I chose a poetic form at random out of a figurative hat (I believe it was actually a Ziploc bag) and went to work creating a poem. Sometimes it proved difficult. Some of the results were downright silly.
Still, as I am also a literary exhibitionist, I will share some of the results with you.
Sonnet on the Story of Creation
Challenge words: brouhaha, complot, Gallium, cunning, eloquent, caustic, transient, perpetuated, bamboozled, circumvented, astonished
The cunning complot caused a brouhaha
Perpetuated over time and space
The Gods united in ones and twos , “Aha!”
They claimed, each cunning in their grace
Both eloquent and caustic, they comported
In the transient evolution of the world
While all the elements, it is purported,
(Helium, gallium, iron) now unfurled.
Bamboozled and astonished; circumvented,
Mere humans can’t conceive what gods invented.
Partial Epigrams for Political Figures
Challenge words: languid, bicameral, rapacious, luminescent, loquacious, stalwart, perspicacity, thimble, curmudgeon, angiogram, Ignite, shear, spider / spidered, jettison, foil, decant, reacquaint.
The sincere dedication of Senator Stalwart
Revealed by angiogram: a bicameral heart.
On matters of morals, He most loquacious,
In the practice of vice was the most rapacious.
A spy with such perspicacity,
Foiled by a mole’s audacity.
The First Lady was luminescent,
She glowed with a radiant light
No one realized her evening gown
Would so easily ignite.
Betsy Ross, with fingers so spry and nimble:
Killed by tetanus, for want of a thimble.
The late great President, languid sat
While his advisors raved and ranted
Some thought that he was made that way,
But his serenity was decanted.
The Governor was in his plane
When out of the sky it fell
The Governor was jettisoned,
And his rising career, as well.
The Prime Minister was smitten
By a widow on the Web
Perhaps he wouldn’t have been bitten
Had he “spidered” her instead.
He could shear a budget of useless pork,
He did as the people willed
But from lack of control when lifting his fork
By obesity he was killed.
With the corruption of His Honor I will you reacquaint:
Though his judgments were miraculous, he wasn’t a saint.
Aubade on the Steps of Angkor Wat
Challenge words: apocalypse, sangria, AngKor Wat, hominid, voluminous, triangulated, wistful, baroque, evaporate, splinter, investigate, pontificate
I will steal away to the West, my love, down the front steps
Away from the breaking sun which now casts long
baroque shadows on the ancient reflecting pool.
It feels like a coming apocalypse.
Past the quincunx of towers, the monks in voluminous
saffron, with quiet faces, wistful eyes, drift in solemn lines
Time will evaporate them, my love; the ghosts of Vishnu
Can never completely be erased.
My throbbing consciousness triangulated: my love for you,
my duty, and my terror splinter my mind, my will. My heart
pontificates, yet my fear of death overcomes me, at dawn
I die, unless I leave you here.
No. Let the trees that grow here devour me as they will,
As they devour stone. Let them investigate my flesh, this
Lowly hominid, my bones. They will pierce me, my blood
become sangria. Drink deep, my love, drink deep.
The Haberdasher’s Tale — After Chaucer (a Rhyme Royale)
Challenge words: eustachian tube, emu, haberdasher, nimbustruculent, willowy, punctual, sizzling, oscillate, glimmer, prattle, bound
O let this haberdasher oscillate
Your fair yet truculent Eustachian tube
Which like the feisty emu’s sizzling hate
Casts its prickling nimbus to ruin your mood.
One punctual willowy cotton round
Can cure the torture to which you are bound
At this prattle, a glimmer. The act ensued.
As you can see, the results were mixed, and rather wordy; this is very unlike my usual, plainspoken style of writing poems. There is also the fact that I was somehow deftly maneuvered into writing a poem about a hat maker cleaning his ears with a Q-tip. (You can thank my BFF Sabrina for that one. She’s incorrigible.)
Still, poetry is an art form that is sadly underrated. It is an exercise that can bring a writer outside her comfort zone, even when it is her comfort zone. Every writer should challenge himself, as it makes for better writing. If you’re a poet, write short stories. If you’re a crime writer, try romance. If you’re a scriptwriter, try poetry. In fact, everyone should try poetry. It doesn’t suck. It’s not too hard. You can write it, although I still can’t make you.
Next on the Daily Dilettante: Bad Romance