Some Useful Ideas for Those Writing Poetry
(This was part of a book I was writing and I enclose the few chapters I have finished. I will post part of it every few days
No publisher took it on. Though a few were interested. So, I will share my knowledge.)
Chapter 1 Important words
Chapter 2 Don’t feel guilty (that you write poems)
Chapter 3 Haiku
Chapter 4 Telling a story from different viewpoints (I do this a lot)
Chapter 5 Concrete Poetry
Chapter 6 Performance Poetry
Chapter 7 Some poets and poetry styles. My ten favourite poems.
Chapter 8 Metre
Chapter 9 Metaphor
Chapter 10 “Found” text
Chapter 11 Multi-voice Poetry
Chapter 12 Different Techniques
Chapter 13 Some new Techniques I have developed.
Chapter 14 Improving your Poetry
Chapter 15 Analysing a Poem.
This book is aimed at both adults and young people who want to know more about how to improve the quality of the poems they write. I am a performance poet who has created a few new forms of poetry myself. I will also deal with some of the many different types of poetry that are featured in many standard poetry books, things like concrete poetry. Being a simple lad myself, I shall keep this account as simple as possible. Hopefully by the end of the book you will be trying out some of these new poetical forms yourself. This book is meant to be practical.
I believe that poems can sometimes be amongst the most beautiful things created by human kind. I am a “fan” of poetry and of poets.
Chapter 1. Important Words
It is probably worth asking ourselves, “What is Poetry?” at the start of this journey together. A hundred different poets will give you a hundred different answers. My own definition is that, “Poetry is text that shows reality in new and useful ways.” So for me the main point of a poem is that it usefully says something about the meaning of life; or nature, or relationships between people. I see poetry as something which in the main deals with the deep and difficult questions that philosophy and religion deal with. Usefully, poetry can sometimes show reality in ways that people find much easier to understand than they would if they read it in a Philosophical treatise. Words in poetry are important and do their “job” in a way that is hopefully interesting and that may stay with us, the reader (or listener), for a long time. However, some of my poems consist mainly of nice rhythms and interesting sounds. Indeed, certain important words and phrases (like parts of certain human rights documents)-merely because of their importance-I see as almost poetry.
Nowadays it is seen as the norm to belittle poetry and poets. Many people say they don’t like poetry. Yet the same people love song lyrics-which may on their own be poetry. Because you don’t like two poems that you got drummed into you at School doesn’t mean that you will dislike all poetry.
There are poems which are ideal for those who like to hear a good story. Other poems deal with human rights. Some poems set puzzles which the reader has to work at over numerous readings. There is a poet and a poem for everyone.
For some poets, the puzzle is the point of a poem. When I write a poem I sometimes allow certain ideas and facts to develop in the curious reader’s mind over several readings. But the puzzle in the poem is not the main point of a poem, to me anyway. Any difficulties in my poems tend to arise from poems that deal with intrinsically difficult human rights topics.
I try to ask questions. Not to answer. Who I am I to give answers?
Some poets like to impress others with their references to obscure historical figures or figures from mythology. I don’t believe that you have to have a Degree in Ancient Greek Literature in order to understand a poem. I feel that many people are turned off poetry by this type of poem and poet
If I am writing about Rwanda, for instance, I will hopefully know a lot about the particular theme of the poem and may deal with things that are little known. But they are things which you will still be able to understand in the poem even if you don’t know about the specifics of the Rwandan genocide of 1994. One of my poems (well, a few of my poems) deals with the killings in Rwanda in 1994. In one poem, I write about someone who conspires to have a neighbour killed because they wanted their Zinc roof. If you learn a little about Rwanda and the events of 1994 you find out that many people died because their neighbour coveted their land, or their cattle, their wife, or their zinc roof. Some of my friends come from Rwanda and I hope that I would never write anything about Rwanda that was gory just for the sake of it. You have to have knowledge of the subject that you write about. Perhaps you may have seen something that few others have noticed. Perhaps you can explain something in a new and useful way.
When I am preparing myself to write poems, firstly I read a lot about the subject that I want to write about. Then I may go somewhere that gets my creative juices working, for example hillwalking on Arran. A few of my poems are inspired by the hills of Lochranza in Arran. Also, I find that working my way up a difficult hill makes my brain jump into areas it normally doesn’t consider.
Sometimes I write down observations and facts as a story. Later, I see if this works being put into poetic form. Quite often, I use rhyming couplets. Other times I just use free verse-text that does not belong to a set repeatable structure. Usually I write a couple of lines and then look for another couple of lines. This gets built up into a poem. My main point in writing the poem is to get across an idea in a way that will make the reader look again and again at the poem and find out perhaps a bit more with each reading. Most of the time I ask questions in my poems: questions that are useful. Rather than just telling someone what I think is right or wrong. People don’t like being preached at. Also, the reader will pay more attention to something that they find out by themselves, with the poem as a catalyst. As I build up the poem couplet by couplet I will again and again reread lines aloud in order to get a sense of the internal rhythms and any end of line rhymes.
People like to hear alliteration. Alliteration is when you have the sound of a constanant repeated one or more times e.g. “slimy snakes are often slipping”. Verse in ancient and mediaeval times was often very heavily alliterated. I like to use a bit of alliteration.
Alliteration was used more often than end rhyme in the verse of the great Anglo-Saxon books like, Beowulf. A few years ago, I wrote an alliterative poem which used a similar (but not identical) line structure. In my poem I reversed the usual subject of the poem and had the hunted creature as the hero of the poem (and not the hunter). The Beast was the hunter. The Beast was the title of the poem.
Assonance is a harder technique to use properly. It is when you have words used as line endings (or even internally in lines) where the vowel sound is repeated but none of the consonants are e.g. “hate and bare”.
Pararhyme is not quite a full rhyme. Often it is when the sound of the consonants at the start and at the end of the two “nearly rhyming words are the same, but the vowel is different one example would be “blade” and “blood”. It is hard to use properly and can be picked up as a bit unsettling. Wilfred Owen deliberately used the unsettling effect of pararhyme in some of his war poetry.
It may be useful to you if I give some details of how I wrote one of my favourite poems. I was out walking on a lovely sunny day enjoying the countryside and hoping for inspiration. At one point I passed by an old shed with a rusty iron roof on top. Initially, my mind had this image of the rust being beaten by torrential rain. At the same time I started to try to nudge my mind towards images and text relating to this picture of a roof. After a few seconds I remembered that in Rwanda people had killed their neighbours to possess their very desirable zinc roofs. I had read a lot about Rwanda and had friends from Rwanda. Genuine empathy is essential in poetry.
As I wrote the poem I tried to see it through the eyes of one of the killers. I tried to make him seem ordinary and a “nice” guy. At the end of the poem-which at that stage was just a story without rhyme or alliteration, I had the teller of the story betray his friend so he could get his zinc roof. I thought that was an OK ending. But then a better ending came to mind and I imagined the teller of the story angrily asking the audience, or the reader, “You would have done the same wouldn’t you?” This makes the audience part of the story and makes them think about whether they themselves in such a situation could betray a friend in order to get their valuable zinc roof. And zinc roofs were a life saver in Rwanda. Some audiences do (rightly or wrongly) get insulted at this. After that I then put in some rhyming couplets. Then, added some alliteration to make the poem sound pleasant. I tried to give the poem a very strong rhythm.
I never think of trying to make poems into sonnets or set out to use Iambic Pentameter. My focus in a poem is mainly to get across some important statement or question. This poem was written down in a little notebook in about half an hour. I then worked on it over the next two weeks: I would think about the poem a lot while out walking and at lunchtime in work would go away somewhere quiet to try and get the poem as perfect as possible.
In all my poems, I go over every line every phrase every word in a poem again and again. Every poet should make sure that they do not have a single weak line or an unnecessary word. Read the poem aloud and in your head. Try to remember it so you can recite it without looking at the words. Imagine that that poem is going to be the one put on your Gravestone and that you will be remembered for that and that alone. It is that important. If the poem is not important to you then…Well, what can I say?
If I intend using rhyming couplets, then I will not change the meaning of the poem to suit the rhyme structure. I read some poets’ work and it seems that they are setting out to show the reader how clever they are. A poet has to be genuine and if writing about a subject must have sympathy for the subject, or person, or creature, or whatever. Lots of poets just seem to me to be trying to create very complex rhyme structures filled with obscure historical references. Personally, I cannot relate to that type of poem.
If you are trying hard to find an end rhyme to match an obscure word in the second line of a couplet, you can try reversing the order of the lines so that the obscure word comes first. This trick is often used by poets. Listeners and readers find it more acceptable to hear a complicated word first and then a common word. It makes it sound as if the poet has solved a difficult puzzle rather than having to make do with an obscure word for the end rhyme.
In Ancient civilisations important words were often remembered by monks or other holy people chanting them. Sometimes these chants had a repeatable structure. Many people’s Holy Books were first remembered as chants. Often this was for hundreds of years. How accurate this process was is debateable.
Every word in a poem is important. Not only should it be the right word for meaning but it should sound good. A nice rhythm throughout the poem is important to me. And each word should be part of this rhythm. The rhythm can be one that is mostly repeated line by line or it can be one that builds up line by line. I find my rhythms by instinct. I read aloud the lines that I have got and feel for the rhythm already in the poem. I then either build on these or work to a rhythm that I want to use.
It is good practise to read the work of poets who genuinely had lots of rhythm in their work: poets like Dylan Thomas. I write my poems to be performed as well as to be read. And I think this is good. Knowing that your poem is to be performed makes you pay attention to the rhythm in the verse.
To me visual imagery is important. When I read poems by other people I see the images in my mind and they are a way “into” the poem. Dylan Thomas uses a lot of visual images in his poems.
Try to be pleased that you want to read poems. I also think that anyone who reads poems has a desire, no matter how deeply hidden, to write poems themselves. I am not a great fan of creative writing Courses. But I do think that anyone with a desire to write poetry can write poetry.
On and off for ten years of my adult life I would write poems than leave them aside for a week or so. Then give them another read and then put them in the bin. It was a long time before I ever wrote anything worth reading.
When you do write you may want to write about someone you love or about someone in your family who has recently died. These things mean a lot to you and you want to write about them. That process may be useful to you and may be a kind of poetry. However, it will be of a type that is similar to thousands of other sentiment based poems. You need to say something new to get people to read your words, or listen to your voice.
I often write poems influenced by things that are important to me: human rights, Buddhism, animal rights and the countryside.
I used to read in poetry books how important the Metaphor is. I didn’t think I used it a lot. But on re-reading my poetry, I do.
In some of my poems I have messages which the reader or listener is intended to get only subliminally. Most people while listening to poems try to “feel” what is going on in a poem. They use their instincts to tune in to the hidden message. As well as messages that are “hidden” in the normal poetic manner (e.g. using metaphors) I also deliberately lay a trail sometimes. This trail is not meant to be discovered but the listener should “feel” a connection between – for example – different verses. For instance, my poem, While writing a Poem has a thread that links the verses. If someone were to work at it they would easily discover it. However, I like it when there is only this subliminal message. This is not a gimmick and I feel it does work. I think people feel a link that is not mentioned-between the verses. There are different uses of this technique in different poems. Most of these messages are visual. These subliminal messages are never the main “theme” of the poem but are intended as a useful adjunct to the other techniques used in the poem.
I should add that there is nothing naughty about these messages. I am not e.g. trying to get the listener to like chocolate by having “hidden” or “ghost” images for chocolate in the poem (or prose piece). Such a technique could easily be done but would be unethical.