Poetry has been a bit of a revelation to me. Before this course I had never written any poetry, nor did I want to. I’d read bits and pieces over the years and enjoyed some of it but had never really considered it relevant to me. If you’re considering taking A215 and you’re like me you’ll probably find the poetry section the most demanding and, at times, frustrating – but do bear with it because I think a lot of people surprised themselves.
What I enjoyed most about it was how therapeutic I found it – and writing poetry encourages you to play with language and think about the words you choose in a way that writing prose doesn’t. Where I haven’t yet found a real use for carrying a writer’s notebook for prose I found it invaluable for poetry, for jotting down words, phrases and ideas, for trying out a couple of lines and for clustering.
(I found a slim Paperblanks notebook worked best for me, you can find them to order online here – absolutely beautiful, mine is a deep red French ornate)
This is all about the work that takes place before a poem becomes recognisable as a poem. It’s about ideas and inspiration and finding the subject. It seems that subject is key here – it has to be specific and the poem will grow around it. Sometimes the idea will come first but you should also develop a list of possible titles, which can work as another ‘way in’. Epigraphs (a short quote at the beginning of the title), glosses (an explanation of a word or term within the poem itself) and footnotes (explanation at the end of the poem) should also be considered (are they necessary and do they add to the poem). For the second poem I wrote for the assignment the title came first and I included an epigraph which set the tone, although I didn’t directly refer to it within the piece.
Basically, where to ‘break’ lines and stanzas. You can only really get an idea of what this means by reading poetry and considering the effects yourself but the most useful bit of advice from the course in this area was to make sure each line contained it’s own idea or effect and that each stanza contained it’s own development. This seemed very logical to me and helped me organise my poems. You also need to consider the use of alliteration and assonance to help with the flow of the poem and syllabics to help with the rhythm. There are many traditional forms of poetry that specify the number of lines and syllables required, providing a ready-made framework which can be fun (and challenging!) to work with but it’s important to remember that free verse should also follow rules, even if they’re of your own making.
This means the language used in a poem which is particular to you. It can be a confusing concept and I don’t think it’s something you can necessarily control, especially for beginners, but it means the unique way in which you express yourself so that your work becomes identifiable as yours. Voice can also mean, literally, who is speaking in the poem. Who (or what) is the ‘I’ in your poem and who (or what) are they talking to? I used the technique of personae in my first poem by giving the voice of the poem to the wind, so that the wind was speaking to the reader. I think it worked but it can be a tricky area so approach with caution. Also think about the use of local dialect as a means of highlighting the voice of the poem, if it’s appropriate.
My weakest area. I’ve discovered I’m not very good with similes and metaphors but it’s worth searching for them because they add another dimension to poetry and prose – they create visuals for the reader, they make your chosen form reach out to the reader and come alive, rather than lying flat on the page. Discovering your own and stringently avoiding cliches (unless using ironically, maybe) will make your poem a truly unique, imaginative creation. Try clustering to spark some off.
Rhyme is not absolutely necessary in it’s predictable end of line form, especially in free verse, but most people find it cohesive and satisfying so it’s worth working it into your poem in some way. Rhyme doesn’t have to mean matching whole words and it doesn’t have to come at the end of a line – half rhymes and rhyme within a line can be just as effective if not more so. Traditional forms often do demand a pattern of rhyming at the end of certain lines but otherwise you are free to experiment. Always think about the effect of any language technique like this and what you are trying to achieve. You should always be able to explain why you have used alliteration here or half-rhyme there. There is no room for waste in poetry, it’s an extremely economical form!
Form can mean traditional or free verse and both are worth trying. You will need to have a firm grasp of metre, particularly for traditional forms – this just means counting the beats and stresses of a line and arranging them to fit the pattern you have chosen. As I mentioned above, it’s important for your poetry to follow rules, even free verse, or there is a danger that you will lose control of the sense of your poem.
Probably not something beginners need to worry too much about but if you consider yourself a poet already you might like to consider whether or not there is a theme linking your poems and how you can develop this further and create more poems along the same lines. This can lead to a pamphlet of connected pieces and eventually to a collection. The more poetry you write the more it’s worth exploring and you can even submit ‘mini collections’ to competitions.
I especially recommend reading outside of the course book for this section as I think it assumes more knowledge than a non-poet might have. I came across this simple but illuminating guide to poetry on a creative writing website and people swear by Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled, which I personally used as a quick reference guide rather than reading it all the way through. I also bought a Bloodaxe Poetry Handbook called Writing Poems by Peter Samson which is probably for people who take their poetry a bit more seriously but includes some useful exercises.
My tutor recommended Identity Parade, a fairly recent collection of modern poetry from Bloodaxe and this was a good source of inspiration.
Unexpectedly I think I’m going to keep hold of my poetry notebook…