April Creativity – It’s Decided (kind of), or, NaPoWriMo 2013

NaPoWriMo2013After much consideration, I’ve decided to again tackle NaPoWriMo this April, in which I will have to write 30 poems in 30 days. Last year I didn’t quite make it, which is part of the reason why I’d like to try my hand one more time (I hate to lose a challenge), but also I simply find myself in the mood for writing poetry lately.

Like last time, I will probably post about poetry a tad more over the month than I normally would, although I covered a lot of things last year and don’t particularly want to go repeating myself. But I’ll think of something – I might even post a few of my poems up (very maybe).

The reason I’ve said my decision is “kind of” made is that I am also considering writing a script at the same time. I know this is complete lunacy, but a part of me feels like doing that too. But I also have to take into account things such as time restrictions, being quite a busy person already, and only being human. So the script is probably a no, but I’ll see how I feel on Monday (or maybe later in the month – last time I did the whole script-in-a-month thing I actually wrote it all in a week).

Anyway, I’m quite excited now that I’ve decided that I will be acting the poet in April once more, and I’m curious to see what kind of poetry I come up with (considering the fact that emotionally I’m in a very different place to the same time last year).

Are any of you attempting NaPoWriMo? If you want to know more information, click on the link at the start of this post!

On Poetry – Part 5: Comic Verse – The Limerick, The Cento, and The Clerihew

We’re nearly at the halfway point for April, and thus the halfway point for the many poets participating in NaPoWriMo. I suspect many are feeling the same as I am – exhausted and deflated. Writing poetry daily under this kind of pressure can quickly turn this hobby into a chore, and I find the best thing to do in such a situation is to change the tune, to break it up a little. So, we move from the villanelles and sestinas I have discussed in previous blogs to comic forms that will remind us that poetry can be fun and simple, too.

I am going to look at three forms of comic verse – the limerick, the cento, and the clerihew – and briefly discuss what they entail, along with some fun examples, to show that these forms can be just as much fun for adults as for children.

The Limerick

The limerick has been popular for the last two centuries, and is a five line poem normally of a silly, funny or sometimes even lewd nature. Despite its simplicity, it does in fact stick to a strict rhyming pattern, where the first, second and fifth lines rhyme with each other, and the third and fourth lines rhyme with one another. What really gives the limerick its power, however, is the rhythm, which has a bouncy feel to it using double weakly stressed syllables, and this type of rhythm is known as an anapestic rhythm. The rhythm can be demonstrated by the following pattern, where dashes are weakly stressed syllables, and the back-slashes represent emphasised syllables.

1) – / – – / – – /
2) – / – – / – – /
3) – / – – /
4) – / – – /
5) – / – – / – – /

Of course, not every limerick adheres strictly to this pattern, but you’ll find if you do it gives the poem a lot more power and buoyancy, which often adds to the comic feel you are wanting to achieve. I’m going to provide two examples for this, one by Edward Lear, and one by Spike Milligan (which is slightly off in terms of rhythm, but which still works). Particularly in the case of the Lear limerick, read it aloud to hear the rhythm we just discussed.

From Edward Lear’s Book Of Nonsense

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, “It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!”

There was a young soldier called Edser from Spike Milligan’s Silly Verse For Kids

There was a young soldier called Edser
When wanted was always in bed sir:
One morning at one
They fired the gun,
And Edser, in bed sir, was dead sir.

The Cento

The cento is remarkably easy to explain, and a surprisingly good way to come to terms with a particular poet and their way of writing. Why? Because the cento is made up of individual lines taken from fragments of other poetry, often all from the same poet (although you can mix them up). The result is a parody of that poet, particularly if using well-known and much loved lines, and yet, despite the parody, it can also be a form of tribute to the poet, especially if it still works well together. The example I am going to give is by Ian Patterson, and is a cento made up of lines from some of Shakespeare’s sonnets. I have taken this poem from Stephen Fry’s marvellous book on poetry, The Ode Less Travelled.

Ian Patterson’s Shakespeare Cento

When in the chronicles of wasted time
That thy unkindness lays upon my heart,
Bearing the wanton burthen of the prime
To guard the lawful reasons on they part,
My heart doth plead that thou in him dost lie
The perfect ceremony of love’s rite,
And scarcely greet me with that sun thine eye
To change your day of youth to sullen night,
Then in the number let me pass untold
So that myself bring water for my stain,
That poor retention could not so much hold
Knowing thy heart torment me in disdain:
        O cunning love, with tears thou keep’st me blind,
                Since I left you my eye is in my mind.

The Clerihew

The Clerihew, named after Edmund Clerihew Bentley, is a four line poem non-metrically written in rhyming couplets, where the first line is a proper name with nothing added. They tend to be clumsy in feel, and are supposed to tell a biographical truth about their subject. Other than that, there’s not much to them really. I’ll include two examples, both of which are taken from Stephen Fry’s book again, and the first of which is actually his own attempt at one.

Oscar Wilde
Had his reputation defiled. 
When he was led from the dock in tears
He said “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at two years.”

Sir Humphrey Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.

So there we have it – three forms of poetry that are a bit more fun, and a nice way to give yourself a break, particularly if you happen to be writing thirty poems in thirty days!

I would absolutely love to see people’s attempts at these forms, too, so please feel free to share (I will be sharing some more comic verse of my own soon).

Lastly, you can find Part 1 of this series, which included some of my thoughts on poetry, here, Part 2 which looked at some great poetry books here, Part 3 which looked at the villanelle here, and Part 4, focusing on the sestina, here – please do click on these links and check out these pages if you haven’t already, as there may be something that grabs your poetic interest on those posts too.

Happy reading and writing, poets, authors, readers and friends!

NaPoWriMo – 5 Poems From The First Week (And A Bit)

As many of you know, I am writing 30 poems in 30 days this month for NaPoWriMo. I chose not to post every single poem for a number of reasons, one reason in particular being that I usually prefer to handwrite my poetry (at least in its initial stages). I did promise that I would post some poems, roughly once a week, and so here we are with my first batch of dodgy poetry (I never said I was a good poet).

The first poem is without form and rhyme, then I have included some shorter poems I have written – 2 haikus, and a limerick for a bit of fun – before ending with a villanelle. In all cases they are pretty much as they were when I first wrote them, and so they are all in need of some work, but I have decided to leave them for now.

Calluses 

A drop
runs down the outside
of an icy glass bottle,
running down over hands
scorched red, brown and black
from the sun,
where wrinkles blend with
scars.

The hand
pulls away to be
examined, fingers outstretched,
lines and scars and
leathery texture
abound.
The thumb runs over the
tips of the other fingers
where calluses
once were.

The fingers
twitch upon the imaginary
feel of steel against
skin.

The bottle
draws the hand back.
Fingers clench tightly
as another drop
glides along
a weathered, scarred finger.

Inside

Wind whistling past
these walls, a prison hiding
this suffocation.

Tide

Below the ocean
roars, the swirling void where life
and death will soon meet.

The Quitter

There once was a bit of a quitter,
who quit so much he was bitter.
But then he quit work,
was no more a jerk,
until the twit signed up for Twitter.

Villanelle: A Sound

Found
the small
permeating sound.

It hung around
in the hall,
waiting to be found. 

A small hidden mound
found in the wall
emanated that lingering sound.

Gazing at the bump I frowned.
Uncertainty caused me to stall 
As I wondered what was to be found.

I felt myself tightly wound, 
no longer so mighty and so tall,
but scared stiff from that shrieking sound. 

Suddenly I screamed and fell through the ground,
realising I’d been tricked, I felt defeat’s gall.
Curiosity had cost me but at least I had found
the reason behind that malevolent sound. 

So there we have it. Feel free to provide feedback but keep in mind these poems are very much in their infancy.

How is everybody else going with NaPoWriMo?

On Poetry – Part 4: The Sestina, and my love/hate relationship with this form

When it comes to reading poetry, sestinas are among some of the best poems I have ever read. But I must confess, when it comes to writing them, they really challenge me. I don’t think I have ever written a sestina I’ve been truly happy with, and I am hoping that will change some time during this month, with NaPoWriMo. But only time will tell.

In the meantime, however, I will attempt to explain how a sestina works, and show you one of my favourite sestinas, a rather clever and unusual one which actually shrinks (more on that later).

A sestina consists of 39 lines, including 6 stanzas of 6 lines each, followed by an envoi of 3 lines. All of these are unrhymed, but, and this is a big but, the same 6 words must be used to end each of the lines in the 6 stanzas, only in a changing pattern throughout the poem. This pattern is known as lexical repetition, and this is where it gets tricky. The first line of the second stanza must have the same end-word as the last line of the first stanza. The second line of the second stanza then has the same end-word as the first line of the first stanza. The third line of the second stanza ends on the same end-word as the second last line of the first stanza, the fourth line matches up with the second line of the first stanza, the fifth line with the third last line of the previous stanza, and the sixth line with the third line of the previous stanza. Make any sense? Have a look at this diagram to help clear it up a little:

This diagram above shows what lines from the previous stanza the current stanza should be taking its end-words from. The same goes for each stanza, taking from the previous stanza in the same manner, until you get to the envoi at the end which uses all six words again. If this still isn’t quite clicking into place, just stay with me – seeing it in action with the poem I’m going to use as an example might help clear this one up.

The effect of this is that the poem revolves around these six words or ideas, again moving in a circular motion as compared to the linear progression of other forms and free verse. Despite being invented in the twelfth century by a troubadour, the sestina remains popular today with poets because it accommodates conversational discourse within it so well. Everyday speech often repeats certain words, and so the sestina can seize upon this to create a poem that repeatedly questions and examines a thought or theme, in a way that the reader can relate to and understand with ease.

Now, onto the example. If you were struggling to understand how the sestina works before, read the poem below, then go back and re-read how it works, and see if you can match the way the end-words are moving around in the poem. This example is innovatively modern, cleverly shrinking the size of the lines as the poem goes on until, in the final stanza, there is only the 6 key words left.

The Shrinking Lonesome Sestina by Miller Williams

Somewhere in everyone’s head something points toward home,
a dashboard’s floating compass, turning all the time 
to keep from turning. It doesn’t matter how we come
to be wherever we are, someplace where nothing goes
the way it went once, where nothing holds fast
to where it belongs, or what you’ve risen or fallen to.

What the bubble always points to,
whether we notice it or not, is home.
It may be true that if you move fast
everything fades away, that given time
and noise enough, every memory goes
into the blackness, and if new ones come-

small, mole-like memories that come
to live in the furry dark – they, too,
curl up and die. But Carol goes
to high school now. John works at home
what days he can to spend some time
with Sue and the kids. He drives too fast.

Ellen won’t eat her breakfast.
Your sister was going to come
but didn’t have the time.
Some mornings at one or two
or three I want you home
a lot, but then it goes.

It all goes.
Hold on fast
to thoughts of home
when they comes.
They’re going to
less with time.

Time
goes
too
fast.
Come
home.

Forgive me that. One time it wasn’t fast.
A myth goes that when the quick years come
then you will, too.  Me, I’ll still be home.

So there we have it, my dodgy explanation of a form which I love and hate, and an example of a very clever way to use this form in poetry, both of which again come from the Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms by Strand and Boland that I so often refer to in these posts. When trying to write your own, there is a multitude of places to start. Some poets prefer to think of the six words, or themes, first, while others just prefer to dive in, write the first stanza, and then figure out what trouble they have found themselves in. Like with a lot of writing, it ultimately depends on what works for you.

I will most certainly be trying to write a sestina again during NaPoWriMo, so the question is, will any of my fellow participants (or even just other writers and poets) be willing to try their hand at this daunting but potentially rewarding form?

Poetry Writing Month begins! Oh fine, I’ll show you my first poem too…

As we begin the month of April, many writing challenges around the world are beginning. Most notably, Script Frenzy, the script writing sister event to NaNoWriMo, has begun, an event in which I partook last year, and ended up completing in the space of a week, instead of a month, because I am both a lunatic and a severe procrastinator.

But this year, I am giving Script Frenzy a miss to try my hand at NaPoWriMo, which I recently blogged about here, and in which I am to write 30 poems in 30 days. I plan to post a weekly blog about my progress, rather than write about it every single day, and in each of these weekly blogs I will perhaps include my best and worst poems of the week. On top of this I will also try and continue my On Poetry blogs, looking at different blog forms to provide ideas for those of you taking on this challenge with me. I will also write my usual blogs about books here and there, and, believe me or not, despite how behind I am on my 12 Novellas in 12 Months writing challenge (1 finished, 2 half finished), I intend on having the first 4 novellas completely finished by the end of April, and if I can achieve this, I will blog about this as well.

Phew. I am going to pass out from writing, aren’t I?

Anyway, I don’t plan on showing all my poems, as I have said, but as I have just written my first poem, for today, I might as well show you this one. I haven’t written as much poetry these last few months, and so I wanted to ease myself into this challenge. With that in mind, I decided to write a chain of haikus, just four of them together, capturing four moments of a particular event. I also decided to start off with a simple and more upbeat theme. This poem is silly really, and I wrote it almost spontaneously, without thinking about it, but oh well. Hope you all like it, anyway.

The Frog

A little green frog
sits upon a big, green tree.
Then rain! And he’s gone.

Washed down the river,
bubbles and foamy water
mask the small frog’s fate.

The deluge now ends,
the stillness interrupted
by one final drop.

A splash on a leaf.
The leaf quivers, and out jumps
the little green frog.

So there we have it, the first day is done. In the next few days I am going to dive into some of the harder forms, and of course some free verse, to try and shake myself firmly into this challenge. But for now, I have started, and that’s the main thing.

Good luck to those of you doing this challenge. And for those of you who are not, good luck reading all my awful poems that will no doubt grace the pages of my blog in the coming weeks.

On Poetry – Part 3: The Villanelle – what is it, and what’s so good about it?

On Poetry – Part 3: The Villanelle – what is it, and what’s so good about it?

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, in just under three days time, I will be partaking in the Poetry Writing Month challenge, in which I write 30 poems in 30 days. Some awesome people have already agreed to participate in this as well, which is quite exciting, and I am looking forward to the challenge immensely.

As part of this challenge, I am going to write a few blogs about different poetic forms, trying to focus on some of the lesser known, but perhaps more enjoyable, forms. I will outline the rules for each one, show examples, and explain what it is I personally like about it, as well.

Perhaps my favourite form is the villanelle. This form includes a lot of repetition to enforce a somewhat circular structure, not allowing any linear progression of narrative, but instead bringing the focus back around to the same thoughts and emotions, and really honing in on these, adding to their power and poignancy. It is relatively easy to get the hang of, and despite being a four hundred year old form, it has seen a great rebirth in the last century, due to its almost song-like qualities (indeed, when it first appear centuries ago, it was likely to have been sung like a song).

The basics of it are as follows. A villanelle consists of 19 lines, broken into five stanzas of 3 lines each, and ending on a final stanza of four lines. The first line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the second and fourth stanzas, while the last line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the third and fifth stanzas, and these two repeated lines then both reappear to make the last two lines of the final stanza. As a result, the whole poem falls into an aba rhyme scheme, with one sound being repeated thirteen times and the other six times. More importantly, once you’ve written the first stanza, you’ve also written the last lines of every other stanza, and so you just have to go back and fill in the blanks, so to speak – the circular structure has already been created.

Before going into any more detail, I think now is a good time for a couple of examples. In the first poem, some of the repeated lines are tweaked a little – this is alright as long as it is roughly the same as the line it should be repeating. In the other poem the lines are repeated with precision.

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practise losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

-Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight,
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Hopefully by reading through these two poems, you can see how this form works, how the repetition of the lines and the tight rhyming pattern keep a circular, musical feel to the villanelle. Hopefully you can see that this form isn’t restrictive – rather it is like a guide, to help steer thoughts and feelings in a particular way, while putting them down on the page. Hopefully these two poems, both from the twentieth century I might add, can demonstrate the different ways you can follow the rules of this form too – one follows it loosely, the other much more rigidly, yet both are powerful in their individual ways.

Since discovering this form, thanks to the book The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland, I have written maybe a dozen villanelles myself, and have utterly enjoyed writing them. No doubt I’ll write a few more over April, as well.

If you have never tried writing a villanelle before, have a go at writing one. You’ll be surprised how enjoyable it is, even if you’re not overly keen on writing or reading poetry. And if you do write one, I would love to read it, or even just hear about your experiences of attempting to write a villanelle, which can be as exciting as the final product itself.

Happy writing!

Poetry Writing Month – because what I needed was another writing challenge…

In 1996, the Academy of American Poets nominated the month of April every year as National Poetry Month, a month in which poets, booksellers, schools, and various other literary organisations come together to celebrate poetry and its importance to American culture.

Since 2003, in this very same month, a challenge known as National Poetry Writing Month (or NaPoWriMo for short…yes, it’s based roughly on the structure of National Novel Writing Month) has been held, in which participants are to write a poem every day for the full 30 days of the month. You don’t have to put these poems online, by any means, although you most certainly can post them online if you want to, and the whole thing is free and highly flexible. For those looking for more information, the website can be found here: http://www.napowrimo.net/

Like NaNoWriMo, NaPoWriMo of course extends beyond its national borders, as anybody around the world can do it. And so, despite my relative isolation down here on this giant, funny shaped and generally dangerous island called Australia, and also despite the other writing challenges currently eating away my time, such as my 12 Novellas challenge, I will be entering NaPoWriMo next month, and writing a poem a day. Will I be publishing them online? I haven’t decided yet (but with less than 4 days left of March I’d better hurry up). But I will be most certainly posting a few poetry related blogs up, including continuing my On Poetry series of blogs which will now delve into specific poetic forms (if you missed them, Part 1 can be found here, and dealt with a few general thoughts about poetry, and Part 2 can be found here, and looked at some great books of poetry to help inspire you). I will also still be posting my usual book reviews and general bookish ramblings, as well.

It's not that scary once you give it a go, I promise...

Whether you love poetry and read and write it regularly, or you loathe it, or are simply too unsure of how to even approach it, let alone write it, I urge you all to consider giving this a go. It should be quite a lot of fun, and once you’ve written the first few poems you’ll find them coming to you quicker and quicker. Poetry is an often misunderstood form of expression, but like with many things, the best way to learn is to plunge straight into the deep end.

So, will you be joining me in this lunacy? (Please say yes…)