A new villanelle and the end of NaPoWriMo

Well, it’s official – on the last morning of April I have finished NaPoWriMo – I have written 30 poems in 30 days (in reality in about 15 days but anyway), and so I can now tick off both writing challenges for the month (the other being Camp NaNoWriMo which I talked about here).

I find I learn a lot about myself writing poetry this way. I’m not the sort of person who spends hours on each and every poem. Some poems come to me in minutes. Some of my poems also suck, but some are kind of okay and sometimes the okay ones can be the quick ones too. I definitely think being in Sweden has affected my poetry this time around, with many of them revolving around the seasons (and hence being haiku), in particular Winter and Spring. But some of the themes I have touched upon in my poems have come from who knows where.

Anyway, I only wrote one villanelle this month, but they are my favourite kind of poem so I figured I’d share it. If you want to read about how villanelles work (and some better examples of the form), I wrote about it a couple of years ago in this post here, otherwise read on to see my latest villanelle:

Strong coffeeYou take your coffee extra strong tonight
It’s been a long and lonely day
But you’re going to come through alright

You look exhausted, a terrible sight
You’re unsure how long you’ll stay
So you take your coffee extra strong tonight

Because you don’t want to sleep this night
You have only just run away
But you’re going to come through alright

It took so long for you to see the light
To realise you shouldn’t exist that way
That’s why you take strong coffee tonight

You never tried to put up a fight
But you couldn’t hide from his violent display
You never thought you’d come through this alright

But never again will he give you such a fright
You’ve reclaimed your life, come what may
You take your coffee extra strong tonight
Because from now on everything will be alright

I won’t explain it much, because I feel it’s fairly self-explanatory what it’s about. I often find myself drawn to sad themes when I write villanelles, often of people trying to escape from some kind of pain or suffering, or sometimes about them not managing to escape but simply hoping to one day. I just find the circular nature of the poem forces me to really think about what I’m writing more, to really hone in on a singular moment and dig as deep as I can.

Anyway, with two writing challenges out of the way, it’s time for me to go rest, read, and think of all the blogging I’m going to do in May – I’m going to aim for three posts a week minimum, so stay tuned!

A couple of poems from my NaPoWriMo collection

Now that I’ve caught up on Camp NaNoWriMo, I’ve been focusing more energy on the poetic front to catch up on NaPoWriMo (somebody tell me why I thought it was a good idea to take on two writing challenges at the same time?).

Strangely enough, the haiku I’ve been writing are among some of the better poems, so I thought I’d share two more I’ve written that I only shared on my Instagram yesterday. I’ll transcribe them below, and explain them more afterwards.

It reads: Endless oceans sway Blue on blue, no cloud up high. Dark desert below.

It reads:
Endless oceans sway
Blue on blue, no cloud up high.
Dark desert below.

It reads: Grey day, grey dad, why did you have to take the sun away? We were warm.

It reads:
Grey day, grey day, why
did you have to take the sun
away? We were warm.

The first poem was my attempt at writing about the deceptiveness of the ocean – the way it can be like nothingness going on forever, like a desert, yet can and does hold all these stories, some of which are beautiful and some of which are dark or tragic.

The second poem was quite simply about that day – we have had surprisingly warm weather here in this part of Sweden, and this day was a grey day and a lot cooler (but still really warm, to be honest), so I thought I’d write something silly and sweet about it.

Anyway, back to writing I go. Only a few days left of the month…

A poem: my attempt at a pantoum!

Before we get to my pantoum that I wrote today as part of the poetry writing challenge I am attempting, I should probably explain the form itself.

A pantoum is made of an indeterminate amount of stanzas (as in, you can write as few or many as you like) all made up of four lines. The second and fourth lines of each stanza also become the first and third line of the next stanza, and so on through the poem, and the final stanza repeats the unrepeated first and third lines from the first stanza. As a result, each line is repeated twice, and the poem attains a sort of cyclical feel to it, always coming back to the same ideas. While some people now believe it is not important to have a rhyme scheme, I like to rhyme each couplet, so that the rhyme scheme ends up something like abab bcbc cdcd and so on.

If none of that made much sense, just read my poem and the structure at least might come across more clearly.

This form is really quite challenging and I definitely don’t feel I have mastered it, but this is the first pantoum I have written in some time so I thought I would share it (even though I’m actually quite nervous). Enjoy!

The Cold Ground – A Pantoum

The crowd has gathered round
Unsheltered from the icy rain
As he’s placed into the cold ground
Gazed upon with pity and pain

Unsheltered from the icy rain
This bitterness has a sharp sting
Gazed upon with pity and pain
A big fall for one who was once king

This bitterness has a sharp sting
They watched him slide off the rails
A big fall for one who was once king
And who never found his own grail

They watched him slide off the rails
Now the crowd has gathered round
He never found his own grail
It’s too late, he’s deep in the cold ground

And there we have it, my first and last attempt at a pantoum for this poetry challenge. It was fun, and the last two lines I had to come up with (in other words, the first and third of the last stanza) were particularly challenging as I had to wrap it all up somehow and bring it back to where it started, but I am glad I wrote it.

What are your thoughts on this form, and on my attempt at it?

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 – 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.