NaPoWriMo completed with moments to spare

NaPoWriMo 2013Well, a bit over an hour to spare, but it feels like moments. Yes indeed, I have completed the challenge this year (making up for falling apart last April) and have written 30 poems in 30 days, so I can now add NaPoWriMo to the list of writing challenges I have conquered.

Except, 30 poems in 30 days is kind of lying. Not because I didn’t write 30 poems, but because I wrote all 30 of them in 6 days. April 1, 7, 19, 21, 28 and 30, to be precise. I updated you all about a week and a half ago on my huge catch up on this challenge, but then promptly failed to keep writing a poem a day again, and so have had to do a huge catch up on 7 poems tonight, and I already had plenty to do this evening.

Anyway, the point is, I have done it! And though I’ve written a lot of pretty bad poetry, there are a few okay(ish) poems in this lot. I might share some of them, I might not – I haven’t quite decided and I need to look back over it all with a fresh mind anyway, as it is late at night and I desperately need sleep.

Anyway, how has everybody else completing writing challenges this month gone? Are you on track to finish? If so, good luck!

Oops I did it again…, or, The Procrastinator returneth (another NaPoWriMo update)

NaPoWriMo2013As you may recall from my last NaPoWriMo post, I started off this month of writing a poem a day by writing one on the first day of the month, then writing the next six all on the same day, on April 7.

Well, things kind of went downhill after this. And by downhill I mean that when I woke up this morning, on April 19, my grand total of poems written this month was…still only seven. Yeah, oops, I know.

I think one of the things that keeps allowing me to fall so far behind with the poetry writing is the fact that, in comparison with other writing challenges (most notably NaNoWriMo in November when I write a 50 000 word novel along with hundreds of thousands of people all around the world), there isn’t much of a sense of urgency. You can’t rush poems. Sometimes you happen to write them quickly, because the images and words just happen to flow through your head perfectly, or at least good enough to scribble down, but most of the time you need to at least sit and ponder a while, think about how you are going to shape your poem, and relax yourself as you slowly piece it together. It shouldn’t be a stressful process, basically.

Oh, also, I’m a terrific procrastinator. That definitely has a lot to do with how I fell twelve poems/days behind schedule. Here are some of the things I like to do to waste time instead of writing poetry:

  • Baking unnecessarily large amounts of, well, baked goods. Even when you only live with one other person who often isn’t home.
  • Staring out of the window, not actually thinking about anything at all. Just staring at the clouds or something like that.
  • Driving to the same place several times because I keep forgetting the thing I went there for in the first place.
  • Playing stupid pointless games on Facebook (whoever got me addicted to Bejewelled again…you will pay!).
  • Making another coffee, as I’ve only had two this hour all day (honest).
  • Checking my phone even though it’s not on silent so I would know if I had anything to check.
  • Watching cartoons because I’M A GROWN UP AND I CAN DO WHAT I WANT!

I also have been doing many things worthy of my time, like cleaning my house, helping my sister move some of her stuff from one house to another, getting my brain scanned (no, really), and of course reading. But I am awfully good at procrastinating – seven years of university will do that to you.

Anyway, after that somewhat spectacular digression…back to my poetry writing problem.

So I’ve clawed back today and am now only four days behind, so I’m pretty happy with that on the whole. I will finish this challenge this month, no matter what it takes (which is mostly just procrastinating a little less). What is interesting me is the topics of some of my poems, which are flittering between aspects of my personal life, and some of the things going on in the world this last week or two. Sometimes the poetry I write is much more general and not time-specific, but I suspect these poems will evoke memories in me when I look back on them one day.

How are you all going with your various writing endeavours?

NaPoWriMo 2013: Week One Round-up

NaPoWriMo 2013I was off to a smashing start for this year’s NaPoWriMo, in which I write 30 poems in 30 days. The 1st of April was a public holiday for us in Australia, and so I had the whole day to run around getting various things done and still have time to write my first poem for the month. I wrote it quickly and with ease, a series of haiku ending in a senryu, and while I’m not overly keen on sharing it on here, I was fairly happy with it for the first poem I had written in some time.

Then the 2nd of April came along. The 3rd and 4th quickly followed, the 5th whooshed by, and the 6th snuck past me while my eyes were closed mid-sneeze (I’m a violent sneezer – I once sneezed so hard while standing up that I fell back into a chair. And by ‘once’ I mean it happens all the time).

But today, on the 7th of April, I woke up…feeling pretty awful actually. But anyway, fast forward to this afternoon, and I decided now was the time to catch up on this poetry, before it really is too late. And so I picked up the little writing pad I’m using for NaPoWriMo this year, and a pen, and I started scribbling down some poems, until a couple of hours later I was suddenly caught up (much to my own surprise).

The poem for day 2 was just a simple, quick haiku about a wintry day by the sea. Day 3 was a longer, free form poem about how life can feel like it is speeding away at its own pace and there’s nothing you can do but run along with it and see what happens (a feeling that I’m sure we all get from time to time). Day 4 was a silly limerick about a drunkard. Day 5 was inspired by a wedding I went to on that day. Day 6 was a villanelle for and about my girlfriend (and she will be the only one who will ever see/hear it), and today’s poem was a series of six haiku that were all vaguely based on some record breaking hot days from this summer that has just ended here in Australia.

So I’m all caught up, and ready to fall behind by a week again. But luckily I have one more week of teaching and then the kidlets (well…teenagers, they’re hardly kidlets) go on holidays for a couple of weeks, so I’ll have plenty of time for poetry writing later in the month.

For my fellow NaPoWriMoers, how are you going? What about those of you doing other writing endeavours such as Camp NaNo? I would love to hear from you all!

I can’t believe it’s not a haiku…

HaikuI’ve addressed this issue before, but quite a long time ago now, and I figured that considering it’s National Poetry Month and NaPoWriMo, and as I found myself just recently explaining this to both friends and some of my students, that it would be a good time to mention this again.

You see, a lot of people write what they think is a haiku, except what they are writing is not in fact a haiku. This in itself is a bit of a contentious issue – some believe that they it is not a true haiku unless in Japanese, as that language has features that help the haiku to be appreciated on a greater level than in English. Others also argue about how many syllables are supposed to be in each line, while others again argue that none of this is that important.

But there is one aspect that, to me at least, is quite important – the content. Many people write in the haiku form about people or feelings, and automatically this makes whatever they are writing not a haiku but a senryu – kind of like a sister form, one could say. A haiku needs to reference the season somehow, or at the very least the weather, the atmosphere, and nature – this reference word is called a kigo word. The haiku should contain little to no verbs at all, focusing instead on engaging the senses with a quick snapshot of nature. The senryu instead focuses on human nature, rather than geographical nature, with a lack of kigo word.

Aside from this, the generally accepted rules are much the same – 3 lines, the first line with 5 syllables, the second with 7, and the last with 5 again. Both forms are quite fun, and while the haiku is more popular, a lot of beat poets (such as Ginsberg and Corso) enjoyed the senryu, and more importantly what most people think is a haiku is quite often a senryu.

I’m sure some people will think I have too much time on my hands to worry about such silly, tiny details with these forms, but I can’t help but think that if you’re going to write specific poetic forms, you should take the time to learn about them and write them properly. They are much more enjoyable that way, and you’ll grow more as a poet by making yourself stick to the at times rigid rules that come with some types of poetry. And besides, we only keep these forms alive by practising them, and doing so in the correct manner.

What are your thoughts on these rules of writing a haiku – do you think they are necessary? Were you aware of them previously?

NaPoWriMo: I failed, but it’s a good thing. No, really.

It’s true. For about the first twenty days of this month, despite deteriorating health (don’t worry, I’ll be fine, it’s just making life difficult for a month or two it seems), I managed to hammer out a poem a day. I remember thinking around the 20th of the month that I should post up some more poetry, but found nothing that I liked enough to post. Then, over the last week, my health threw a few more curveballs at me, and it all just fell apart.

I should have seen it coming really. I like to think I’m invincible, that I can take on more and more challenges in my life and that I won’t ever burn out. However at the start of April I burned out with work, and even now I’m in the slow process of easing myself back into my job, so I should have really known my creativity was going to slump as well. I thought at one point that if I have beaten NaNoWriMo three times in a row (last year knocking out 75 000 words in a month), that surely I could handle a poem a day? But it turned out I couldn’t, at least not right now.

And this is why it’s a good thing I failed – I needed to remind myself that I do have my limits, and that sometimes I have to say “no more” and just stop and let myself recover, without beating myself up over my failure. It’s okay to fail once in a while, so long as you stand back up afterwards, dust yourself off, and try again, which is exactly what I’ll do. And all things considered, I gave it my best shot and did pretty well under the circumstances, I think (not to mention that I have never been as comfortable with poetry as I have been with writing stories).

To all of you who attempted and actually managed to knock out thirty poems this month, I salute you! You people are amazing and inspiring, and have the resolve that will get you through so many other challenges in life. And for those of you who, like me, attempted, but didn’t quite get there in the end for whatever reason – I still salute you, because you tried, and because we’re all human and we can never predict where our lives are going to take us, even in the small space of a month.

Next year I’ll beat this challenge. For now, it’s time to get my health back on track, get my 12 novellas back on track (yes, I still plan to finish writing 12 novellas this year, despite how behind I am), and brace myself for my fourth NaNoWriMo coming up in November.

How did you all go with NaPoWriMo? For those who didn’t participate, are there any writing challenges or goals you have missed lately, and have you learned to forgive yourself for it and move on?

On Poetry – Part 6: Exotic forms – the Haiku, Luc Bat and Tanaga

In this post, we are going to look at forms of poetry that originated in languages other than English. In many cases, there is the argument that a lot of the power of the poetry has been lost, or at least changed, through the language differences, but many will also argue that these forms are still lovely in any language, and I certainly believe this to be true.

We’re going to look at the haiku, as well as two similar forms, the senryu and the tanka, before moving on to the luc bat and tanaga. All are relatively short and quite simple to understand, but as always if you have any questions, feel free to ask.

The haiku, senryu and tanka

All three of these forms are of Japanese origin, and all have very similar rules. We’ll start with the haiku, a form that many people know to be a three line poem, with five syllables, then seven syllables, then five syllables for the lines. What less people seem to be aware of is that there are more rules than this to the haiku – the haiku needs to have some sort of reference to the season, or at the very least the weather or atmosphere (often known as a kigo word), and it should include little if no verbs, instead engaging the senses with an image of nature, a single moment. As a quick example, I’m going to make something up on the spot (uh oh):

The sun shimmers on
the icy cold winter waves,
no life to be seen.  

The senryu follows the same syllabic rules of that haiku, but instead focuses more on the human nature (without that kigo word) than the physical or geographical nature. English-speakers and writers tend not to follow the syllabic conventions so strongly for this form, and overall it hasn’t been as popular as the haiku (though often the content of the two has been mixed up anyway, and the rules appropriated for different purposes). Despite this, this form was popular with the American beat poets like Ginsberg, Corso and Kerouac.

The tanka is similar to both these forms, only with five lines and a syllable count of 5,7,5,7,7. It is becoming more popular, and there is a growing amount of websites dedicated to the tanka online, for those interested in this odd form. The other rules for this one are rather vague and lost in translation, so again it is best just to enjoy it for what it is.

Luc Bat

The luc bat is a Vietnamese poem, in which lines of six syllables alternate with lines of eight syllables (‘luc bat’ translates as ‘six eight’). The length is not fixed, but the rhyming pattern makes this a form that is easier to do than to try and explain. The sixth syllable of the first line rhymes with the sixth syllable of the next line, but the eighth syllable of that second line then rhymes with the sixth syllable of lines three and four, and the eight syllable of the fourth line rhymes with the sixth syllable of the fifth and sixth, so that each rhyme appears three times (though not always at the end of the line), until the end of the poem, where it will finish rhyming with the first line again. If this doesn’t quite make sense, look at this example below, taken from http://lonestar.texas.net/~robison/luc_bat.html :

The luc bat shows two trends.
The poem’s rhyme scheme tends to climb;
Lines alternate in time.
A six-beat line is prime; an eight-
Beat one succeeds its mate.
The form is not ornate, and yet
Does its job… Don’t forget,
To conclude this vignette, it bends.

Hopefully you can see the rhyme pattern in this poem – I have underlined one set of rhyming words to illustrate how it works. The best way to get your head around this form, as always, is to try it!

Tanaga

The tanaga consists of four seven-syllable lines, usually with a rhyme scheme of aaaa, although it has lately been changed to abab, abba, and aabb. It is a Filipino form, and is not particularly well known in English as yet – so much so that there aren’t any well known English tanagas (an opportunity for a talented poet, perhaps?), so I will simply move on and show an example, this one coming from the ever trusty Stephen Fry book, The Ode Less Travelled (I am suspecting he wrote this one):

The tanaga owes its genes
to forms from the Philippines.
To count all your words like beans
you may need adding machines. 

So there we have it, five forms from non-English speaking languages, all quite easy to master and quite fun to write.

Do you enjoy any of these forms, and will you try any you haven’t heard of before?

What are your thoughts on the language barriers – do you think these poems still work in English? Do you still enjoy them in English?

Silly Verse for Kids – a book I wish I had read as a child

I briefly mentioned Spike Milligan’s brilliant book of children’s poetry and songs, Silly Verse for Kids, in this post last week, and decided it deserved a little bit more attention, especially as it is Poetry Month still (also, I just love Spike Milligan).

Written almost half a century ago, this small book contains over thirty rhymes, all with Milligan’s own ridiculous drawings (which feature prominently in his other books too, including his war memoirs), which were written either to amuse his children, or as a result of things they had said at home. The poetry and songs aren’t particularly amazing in terms of poetic technique, but they are funny and are quite clever in terms of content, still retaining enough of a musical quality to make them fun for children (and, let’s be honest, fun for adults too – I’m twenty-five but I still enjoy reading this book).

Some of the rhymes in this book became quite famous and are still sung to children today – in particular, Spike Milligan wrote On The Ning Nang Nong, a song I grew up with, but which I only attributed to Milligan recently. There are a few others that I particularly enjoy, that I thought I’d share for a bit of fun. The first is a cute one about a Granny struggling in adverse weather, the second is making fun of the stereotypical English teeth (which as an English born man with imperfect teeth, I can appreciate), and the last is just plain silly (the third line of which goes off the page in the book…you’ll see what I mean).

Granny

Through every nook and every cranny
The wind blew in on poor old Granny;
Around her knees, into each ear
(And up her nose as well, I fear).

All through the night the wind grew worse,
It nearly made the vicar curse.
The top had fallen off the steeple
Just missing him (and other people).

It blew on man; it blew on beast.
It blew on nun; it blew on priest.
It blew the wig off Auntie Fanny –
But most of all, it blew on Granny!

Teeth

English Teeth, English Teeth!
Shining in the sun
A part of British heritage
Aye, each and every one.

English Teeth, Happy Teeth!
Always having fun
Clamping down on bits of fish
And sausages half done.

English Teeth! Heroes’ Teeth!
Hear them click! and clack!
Let’s sing a song of praise to them –
Three Cheers for the Brown Grey and Black.

Failure

I’m trying to write the longest first line that poetry has ever had,
For a start that wasn’t bad,
Now here comes a longer oneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
I know I cheated:
It was the only way I could avoid being defeated. 

I know there are many other great books of children’s poetry and song out there, but this is one book that has certainly grown on me, in all its silliness. It makes me want to write similar rhymes for my children, one day, and any book that inspires one towards writing of any kind has to be worth a mention.

Have you read this book before? Who’s your favourite author of children’s rhymes (if you have one)?

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?

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.