Poetry essay: Poetic twists

One poetic effect, is the idea of a twist.

Here is one example:

After struggling,
and sweat,
and endless hours,

he lost,

 

 

    fifteen pounds.

 

In this case, the first part makes the loosing seem like a bad thing.  There was a great deal of effort and then the person lost?  The twist though, was that the loosing was actually good.  He lost weight, which presumably, was a goal.

Here is another example:

they roamed the street
with eyes and teeth aglow

they approached the home
seeking to consume
that which was within

and at the door
as those within came forth
they shrieked their horrible call,
“Trick or treat!”

This poem is about Halloween.  The poem at first sounds like some monsters are about and they are going to eat people in a home.  In reality, they are trick or treaters dressed up for Halloween hoping to get candy.

Here is a third example:

the sun was shining
and the flowers,
just blooming,
filled the air with fragrance

everyone gathered
dressed in their best
as music played

nearby
doves cooed
waiting to be released

and
as a hush came over the crowd
someone gave
the slightest of signals
and the funeral began

 

This poem seems to start off happy.  It sounds like it is describing an outdoor wedding.  It’s a sunny day, there are fragrance filled flowers, there are lots of people who are dressed up, music is playing, and doves are going to be released.  In the twist though, this happy scene is really sad.  The scene is of a funeral.  All the bright things are in some way a cover for sadness.  The sadness of the scene is revealed at the end.

 

Here are some tips for using twists in your poems:

  • Have a lead in. For a twist to work there needs to be an appropriate lead in.  It needs to be long enough and effective enough that the reader forms an image and emotion in their mind.
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  • Consider offsetting the twist. One way to create a pause for a twist, is to have it indented, after some number of line breaks, or both.  The idea is to have a dramatic pause to emphasize the twist.
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  • Consider your title. The title can be part of the lead in or it can be a twist as well.  You can have a title that alludes to the reality of the poem while seeming to fit with the lead in.  If done correctly, this can amplify the effect of the twist.
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  • Don’t go too far with a twist. Be careful not to turn off your audience with a twist.  Turning something happy to something sad is all right.  Turning something happy to something disturbing, might not be.
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  • Know the twist before you start. This can make setting it up easier.  If you just write a scene with some emotion, but aren’t sure what the cause of the emotional change will be, it can make the lead in difficult to write and less effective.
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  • Consider multiple kinds of twists. You can twist from happy to sad, from serious to silly, from large to small, from calm to excitement, and many other things.  Also, you can twist the other way, for example sad to happy or silly to serious.
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  • Make sure the twist makes sense. The twist should be an opposite.  You can twist from happy to sad, but happy to serious might not work as well.  In the third poem above, the happy scene of a wedding was twisted to the sad scene of a funeral.  If this happy scene though had twisted to something like the opening of an office building, it might not have worked as well.

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Poetry essay: Is it okay for a poet to write poetry about things they aren’t connected to?

Today’s poetry essay tries to give an answer to the question: is it okay for a poet to write poetry about things they aren’t connected to?  This idea was mentioned in the post from Friday, Poetry essay: The experiences of a poet aren’t seen.

Many circumstances and experiences can be written about in poetry.  Some things include: diseases, war, plights of certain groups, marriage, having children, being unemployed, natural disasters, and other things.  Some things are bad and others are good.

This idea raises a question: is it okay for a poet to write about something they aren’t connected to?  In other words, is okay for a poet to write about homelessness if they’ve never been homeless?  Is it okay for a poet to write about marriage if they’ve never been married?  Is it okay for a poet to write about a flood if they have never been through one?

This idea of being “okay” is a perception of the audience and those who might criticize a poet’s work.  It is the notion of questioning if the poet has the authority, legitimacy, or connection to something to be able to be perceived as permitted to write about it.

Think of a poet writing about being homeless.  They might write about what it is like to be homeless.  Is it okay for a poet to do this if they themselves have never been homeless and don’t know anyone who is?  Do they have any “right” to write about it?

A poet who writes about something they aren’t connected to might come across badly.  They might seem disingenuous.  They might seem like an outsider.  One could imagine a critic commenting, “What right do have to write about this?  You’ve never gone through it.”  They could be viewed as talking about something illegitimately.

In this essay, the answer to the question, is it okay, will be supported as being yes.

First, people comment on things they aren’t connected to all the time.  Think of any innumerable political discussions.  People often take very ardent positions and argue passionately about things they aren’t directly connected to.

As an example, think of a situation where people are arguing for or against an increase in the minimum wage.  People who argue this might not be earning minimum wage.  They might not directly know anyone who is.  They might only be connected to the minimum wage in a broad economic sense.  Does this mean they can’t have an opinion on it?  Does this mean they can’t argue one side or the other concerning it?  Are they illegitimate when they talk about it?  Do people question their right to speak on it?

The answer to this is no.  People often speak about issues they have no direct connection to and others don’t criticize them for speaking about them (although they might criticize the positions they take).  This happens all the time in political discussions.  If people only talked about things they were directly connected to, there would be very few political discussions.

This same idea applies to poetry.  People can have opinions about things they aren’t directly connected to, and they can express them.  Just as not being connected to an issue doesn’t mean a person can’t talk about it, it also doesn’t mean they can’t write poetry about it.

Second, think about people trying to support a group that is suffering in some way.  Think about refugees or the oppressed.  These people might protest, give speeches, and try to raise awareness, even though they aren’t part of the groups.

Are these people seen as not having the connection to do this?  Are they seen as disingenuous?  Are they criticized with comments like, “You aren’t part of these groups, so you can’t talk about them?”

The answer is generally no.  People support groups that are suffering all the time, without being part of those groups.  They might feel a general empathy and connection to humanity that motivates them to take action.  The fact that they aren’t part of the groups doesn’t delegitimize them.

This same idea applies to poetry.  If a poet wants to write about a group that is suffering in some way, their lack of direct connection to the group doesn’t preclude them from doing so.  A person can care about people even if they aren’t in the same group as those people.

Third, people can learn about things they have never experienced.  Although the learning might not be as complete as it would be had the person also gone through a situation, it can still be sufficient for a person to speak about something.

Imagine a poet who has never had cancer wanting to write about it.  Maybe they wanted to help people with the various diseases feel emotionally better.  They could learn a great deal about cancer by reading about.  They could learn about the different kinds of cancer, the different stages, the different treatments, and so forth.  Although they won’t ever know what it is really like, they can learn enough to be able to write about it.  The fact that they have never been through it, doesn’t mean they can’t know at least enough to be able to write something about it that impacts people.

Fourth, sometimes when a person is criticized for writing about something they aren’t connected to, what they are really being criticized for is the position they are taking.

Think about any polarized social issue.  If a poet writes about something like this, without having a connection, and a reader agrees with the position the poet takes, the reader might not criticize the poet for their lack of connection.  Because the poet is supporting what the reader believes, the reader might not question the poet’s right to express the support.

On the other hand, if a poet writes about something they aren’t connected to, and a reader disagrees with the position the poet takes, one way to argue against the poet would be to claim the poet doesn’t have the right to speak on the subject.  It can be a way to dismiss the person, without having to show why their argument is incorrect.

This notion can in particular be the case if the reader is directly connected to an issue.  If the reader reads a poem by a poet not connected to the issue, and the poet expresses a point of view the reader disagrees with, they can take offense at it.  They can question the poet’s right to speak on the subject.  They might consider the poet an outsider to the issue and therefore not qualified to write about it.

This though, might not be the case if the poet expressed a point of view the connected reader agreed with.  In that case, the reader might appreciate the poet writing about the issue and commend them for taking a position despite their lack of connection.  If a reader agrees with what a poet says, they might not criticize them for saying it.

Fifth, poetry is supposed to be open.  It is supposed to be about expression.  It isn’t supposed to have boundaries and limits imposed by perception.

Think of the countless things a poet might write about.  If every poem was subject to a test of connection – poets could only write about something if they were directly connected to it – there would be little poetry out there.

Think of the countless things a poet might write about.  It could be anything from the very serious to the very silly.  Imagine if every poem was subjected to a test of connection.  Would there be any poetry?

When writing poetry about things they aren’t connected to, poets might worry how they come across.  They might worry if people will see the poet as bad in some way.  They might wonder if they will be seen as a fraud, a usurper, or an outsider.  They might wonder if they will be seen as illegitimate or not having the right to speak about something.

Although a poet will be viewed negatively by some readers for writing about something they aren’t connected to, this doesn’t mean the poet shouldn’t write about it.  A poet should feel free to write about the issues they want, regardless of their connection to them.  Poetry is about expressing ideas, and a poet should feel free to do so.

Poetry essay: The experiences of a poet aren’t seen

Yesterday’s essay was about what goes into a poem that isn’t seen by readers.  It focused on the work of writing and changes to a poem that happen before it’s finished.

This essay focuses on something else that goes into a poem that isn’t necessarily seen by readers – the personal experiences of a poet.

Sometimes poets write poetry that express ideas and emotions and are about situations to which they aren’t connected.  For example, a poet might write a poem about having a heart attack, even though neither they nor anyone they know has had one.

This idea isn’t bad.  A lot of knowledge of experiences can be gained without direct experience.  A poet can successfully express things even if they haven’t been through them.  Also, the emotion and ideas a poet gets across aren’t somehow less just because the poet hasn’t been through something.

In other cases though, a poet has gone through something before they write a poem.  Maybe the poet had a heart attack.  Maybe the poet went through something else.

Sometimes readers can tell that a poet has personal knowledge of something.  The poet might include details and ideas that someone who hasn’t been through something might not know nor understand.  This can come across to readers, especially if the reader has been through the thing the poet is writing about.

In other situations, a poet may directly tell readers about their experience in addition to the poetry they write.  For example, a poet may let readers know they had a heart attack before the readers read their poems about them.

In other situations though, readers might not know what a poet has gone through.  Sometimes a poet doesn’t tell readers, and sometimes readers can’t tell when they read a poem.

These types of situations can affect both the poet and the reader.

From the poet’s perspective, it can feel somewhat unfulfilling to have their work seen as just another work, when to them it is very personal.  Imagine a poet went through a traumatic experience.  It might feel bad to them to have people read their poetry about it as if the poet had no connection to what they were writing about.  It might make them feel bad to think that readers might view their work as if it was written with an outside perspective of something.  There is something about going through an experience that makes expressing ideas about it personal.

From the reader’s perspective, a reader might not fully appreciate a poem if they don’t understand the poet’s circumstances.  A poem about homelessness, for example, would be read differently if a reader didn’t know the poet had been homeless, than if they knew they had been.  In these situations, a reader might not get the depth of emotion the poet is trying to express.

For poets writing about something they personally have been through, there are some steps they can take to improve the situation.

First, as mentioned above, a poet can tell readers about their situation.  This telling can take various forms.  It might be many pages of explanations or just a short note before a poem.

This can be a good way to explain things in some situations.  Sometimes what a person has gone through is so significant that readers should overtly know about it before reading the poet’s work.

Second, a poet can try to include details and emotions in their work.  They can focus on those things that only someone connected to an experience might know.  They can write about what particular moments were like and what particular experiences felt like.

If a poet does this well, readers should be able to understand that the poet is at the very least knowledgeable about what they are writing about, as well as potentially connected to it.

For poets, having readers understand the connection to your work can be important.  It can be important for both the poet and for the reader.  If a poet can in some way get this connection across, both will be better for it.

Poetry essay: What goes into a poem isn’t seen

When a poet presents a finished poem, in many cases the poem wasn’t written that way.  As the poet worked on the poem, changes were made.  Lines were changed.  Words were changed.  Form elements were modified.  The poem took shape as the poet worked on it.  How it looked at different stages, might have been quite different than how it looked when finished.

This idea raises some issues for poets as they present their work.

First, a poet should understand that those who read their poetry might not perceive the amount of work that went into it.

When a person reads a wonderful sounding stanza of poetry for example, they don’t know if it was just written that way, or if it went through multiple variations.  This is something a poet should keep in mind when they present their work.

A poet wants their poetry to be appreciated, but they should understand that many readers won’t appreciate the work that goes into it, because they don’t understand the work that goes into it.

Second, sometimes a poet can remember what a poem was like at different stages.  A poet knows what words they changed, what lines were removed, and so forth.  This can sometimes influence the poet’s perception of their own work.  The poet knows what it was, and so they see how it is, differently.

Third, in addition to a poet perceiving their work differently from a reader, a poet might actually remember parts of poem that are no longer there, and understand those parts as part of the work.

For example, if a poet had a poem where a flower dies, and when working on the poem they at first explicitly state this, but then later they remove the statement, the poet might remember this line and understand the poem differently than a reader might.  A reader, not reading the line, might, for example, think the flower only wilted.

Fourth, as a poem develops it might improve.  The first rendition of it might not be as good as the last.  When a poet presents their work, they are presenting a refined product, and not a raw one.

This can have an effect on how people perceive the poet’s poetry.  People might think the poet comes up with the work simply as it is presented.  They might not understand that there were preceding drafts.

This idea can sometimes create a sense of disillusionment for readers if they ever watch a poet create a poem.  They may have thought that the work was created effortlessly and be disappointed when they find out it isn’t.  It would almost be like a person watching a great artist draw and the person seeing the artist erase.  They may have never considered that the artist made changes or mistakes.

 

When a poet creates a poem, work goes into it that isn’t normally seen.  A poet should be aware of this idea and how it impacts the perception of their work.

As an interesting exercise, a poet might record their work on a poem, for example be using a computer program that records what is on their screen.  It might interesting for a poet to present the development of a poem, in addition to its final form.  This would give readers a better insight into the poet’s work.

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Poetry essay: Poetry – write what you want

If you start reading poetry, you may notice a certain style in some poetry you read.  For example, you may read poetry in literary magazines, in published books, from famous poets, poetry that has critical acclaim, or poetry that has won awards.

As you look at this poetry, you may notice that the style might differ from your own.  You may be wondering if, given the fact that this poetry is in magazines, books, seems important, and so forth, if your poetry should be like what you read.  You may wonder if you should change your style to match what seems like “important” poetry.

The short answer to this is no.  You shouldn’t change your poetry to match a perceived style.  You should write what you want.  Still, there is more to it.

First, this idea of some disconnected group deciding something, is familiar in society.

Think about fashion.  Who decides fashion and what is fashionable?  Who decides what people should wear or shouldn’t?

As another example, think about movies.  Some movies get talked about in the media, win awards, and have critics talking about them.  Does this mean they are good?  Does it mean you should watch them?

There is sometimes this notion in society of “people who know” deciding what is good.  There’s nothing really wrong with the idea taking in the views of people involved in an industry or activity, but you shouldn’t let it influence you too much.

When it comes to fashion, movies, poetry, or anything else, you should do what makes you happy, even if it differs from what you perceive to be the way things “should” be.  You shouldn’t change your poetry just because you think others think poetry should be a certain way.

Second, poetry is meant for you and your audience.  There is no one out there judging your poetry (unless, of course, you send it in for a contest or something).  While you may sometimes feel that your poetry isn’t serious or important or literary or something else, don’t feel like there is someone out there looking down on your work.  There isn’t.  Of course, not everyone will like what you write, but it’s not like there’s some poetry establishment shaking their heads at your work.

When you write poetry it should appeal to you and the audience for your work.  You shouldn’t write it to appeal to some idea or some perception.

Third, don’t get into feeling that there is some intellectual standard for poetry.  Don’t think, for example, that a free verse, obscure poem about war is somehow more important than your rhyming sonnet about puppies.  While some may view your poem as less serious, there is no objective measure of importance.  Your poem that makes people smile, can be just as important as a poem that makes people think.

Fourth, when you write poetry, there will always be someone who doesn’t like it.  Don’t let that bother you though.  No poetry is liked by everyone.  If you and your audience like what you write, that’s what’s important.

Generally, when you write poetry, write what you want.  If you like inspirational poetry, silly poetry, poetry about unicorns, rhyming poetry, sonnets, poems about dating, sad poetry, or whatever, go ahead and write it.  Don’t worry that you work doesn’t match some outside perspective that you perceive.

Now, there are some times though, when you might want your poetry to conform to an outside perception.  While this might seem bad, given the ideas above, it isn’t necessarily.

First, if you send poetry submissions to publications, you will probably have to meet some sort of guidelines.  These could be things like the length of the poems, the number of poems you send, the topics of the poems, and so forth.  If you want your poems to be considered by publications, you’ll have to meet the guidelines they set.

Second, different publishers of poetry have different poetry styles.  Although they might say they accept all types of work, if you read over some of what they publish, you should start to see trends.  Editors can be consistent in what they like and what they don’t even if they don’t realize it.

If you want to get published in these publications, it could help if you poetry matched the style they published.  If they publish short, free verse poems, about social issues, then your long, rhyming, iambic pentameter poem about the death of your cat, might not get accepted.

If getting published in certain publications is important to you, you might find that you have to match their style, even if it is different from your own, if you want the possibility of being published.

Third, you might have an audience for your poetry.  This could range from your best friend, to a poetry group you are part of, to readers of your blog, to readers of a book you publish.  In each of the cases, you want your audience to like your work.  Part of this can be giving your audience what they like.

It can be hard sometimes when you write poetry and you feel it doesn’t meet the standard of “important” or “real” poetry.  Don’t let that bother you.  Write what you like.  Write what makes you happy.  Write what your audience wants.  Write what you want to express.

At times, you might have to conform your poetry for specific reasons, but don’t let that overwhelm your work.  Write what you want.

Poetry essay: Some tips for writing better poetry

Below are some tips for writing better poetry.  Of course, “better” is a subjective idea.  Some may agree with the tips below, others may not.  They are just “tips” though.  Even though things are written in absolute terms (i.e. Poetry should …).  It doesn’t mean that is necessarily the case.  Poetry can be whatever a poet wants it to be.  In fact, many poems on this blog don’t stick to all of these tips.  That being said, hopefully these tips can help you improve your poetry.  You might not apply them all of the time, but hopefully, if you do apply them sometimes, you may find that your work is better received by readers.

Keep it short

Poetry should be short.  If you write anything over a page, it is possible the reader could get lost.  They might not remember ideas and they might not have the interest to keep reading.  People might be more likely to read a poem that is half a page than they would one that is five pages long.

Having short poetry also encourages the idea of conciseness.  It’s the idea of saying what you want to say with as few words as possible.  Sometimes, with poetry, wordiness can be a bad thing.  It can detract from an idea when you over explain it.  Having short poetry can help with this issue.

Keep it clear

Readers should understand your poetry.  They should get the broad idea and not get lost in any lines.  If your poetry is too obscure, readers could lose interest.  They might not want to read something they don’t understand.

Part of poetry is expressing an idea.  If the idea is obscured with language though, it might not get through.

Use metaphor and symbolism

Although poetry should be clear, it can still have metaphor and symbolism.  Metaphor and symbolism are a significant part of poetry and they make poetry better.  The idea though is to have metaphor and symbolism that readers understand.  It needs to make a point.  It needs to express an idea.  If readers don’t understand the meaning, then the effectiveness of the metaphor or symbolism was lost.

Line endings that matter

There was a previous essay on the blog about this.  In short, where you end the lines of your poetry should work with the wording and ideas of the poem.

If you have form, have it matter and stick to it

In some sense, all poetry has form.  Even free verse is a form.  That being said, not all poetry has specific form elements or uses a predetermined form.

If you have specific form elements (e.g. rhyming, syllable count, or meter) or you use a predetermined form, there are two important things you should keep in mind.

First, the form should matter.  If you indent a line, there should be a reason for it.  If there is a line break, it should have a reason.  If you fit your form to a haiku or a sonnet or something else, that form should work with the ideas you are presenting.  Form should not be arbitrary and a poem should not be made to arbitrarily fit a form.

Second, if you use a form or form elements, stick to it.  In other words, if you decide that each line of a poem should have ten syllables, don’t have some lines have nine or eleven.  They could sound “off” to readers and seem like mistakes.  Try to work with your poem so that it works with the form you are using.

Poems should hit

Poems should hit.  They should have impact.  They should make a point.  There should be a significance.  Readers should feel something.  They should walk away with something.  The poem should matter.

Not first person

When you use first person in a poem, it can come across as too personal.  A reader may have a hard time relating.  It can seem to them to be something related to the poet, but not something related to them or to others.

It can be easy to reword first person poems to talk in second or third person.  This can make the poem broader in its application and readers may relate to it better.

Broad ideas

When writing poems, stick to broad ideas.  There is a difference between a poem about a specific event in your life and that type of event.  There is a difference between a poem about you losing your job, and a person losing their job.  The first poem is specific.  The second is broad.  The first poem might not be as relatable to readers as the second.  Readers might be better able to relate to the situation, rather than your situation.

Experience things

Where legally and safely and otherwise appropriate, experiencing something can help you improve your poetry.  If you have gone through something you will have a better understanding of it, and have more information about details and what the experience is like, than if you hadn’t.  Experiencing something can help you to add depth to your work.

No outside references

You should avoid outside references in your poetry.  Outside references can be things like books, book characters, historical events, specific locations, brands, terms related to an industry or activity, people, song lyrics, and other things.

Outside references are things that you know about, but that your reader might not.  Just because you know a character from a book, a line from a movie, or a specific bar, on a specific street, in a specific town, doesn’t mean your reader will.  If your readers don’t understand your reference from context, it can detract from your work.  If your readers have to stop and look something up to add meaning to your words, you may lose them.

Poetry essay: You should read poetry

Although it may sound illogical, sometimes people who write poetry, don’t read poetry.  There are a number of reasons this might be.

First, it could be that a person is interested in expressing their own ideas, but isn’t necessarily interested in reading the ideas of others.  Although it might seem slightly bad, it could be that the person simply is more focused on getting something out, than in taking something in.

Second, it could be, that although a person likes writing poetry, they find that they don’t enjoy reading it.  It could be because the person likes a particular style of poetry and finds that the poetry they encounter doesn’t fit this style.

Third, it could be that a person has read some poetry and found that they didn’t like what they read.  It could be that they generalized poetry from this, and decided not to read anymore.

Whatever the reason for not reading poetry, if you write poetry, you really should read poetry.  There are a number of reasons for this.

First, if you want people to read your poetry, you should read the poetry of others.  While there isn’t really a direct connection (just because you read the poetry of others doesn’t mean people will read your work) it can give you a feeling that there should be.  You read the work of others, and therefore you can feel that others should read your work.  This idea works best if many people buy into it.  Although there isn’t a direct logic here, if does sort of make sense that if you want people to do something, you should do it first.

(As a note to this, if you tell people about the poetry you read, and let them know about this idea and why you are reading it, it might inspire them to read your own work.)

Second, reading poetry can give you ideas for your own poetry.  Although you shouldn’t use people’s words, can get ideas from other poems.  You might read poems about topics you haven’t considered or showing perspectives you hadn’t thought of and this can help you get ideas for your own work.

Third, reading poetry can help you improve your own poetry.  Again, although you shouldn’t use other people’s words, you can get ideas for metaphors and symbolism that you may not have thought of.  You may also encounter form elements you find you could use.

Fourth, if you look broadly for poetry, you should be able to find some style of work you like.  Check out published poets, poetry in magazines, poetry on blogs, even poetry on greeting cards.  Don’t worry about what you perceive others think about poetry.  If you look broadly, you should find something that you enjoy.

If you are looking for poetry to read, there are a number of poems on this blog.  You can read both poems and poems with explanations.

You might also check out M. Sakran’s collection of poetry, First Try, or M. Sakran’s self-published collection of poems with explanations, Understanding: poems with explanations.  First Try contains one hundred poems, and Understanding: poems with explanations contains twenty explained poems.

There are also poems that are parts of sets of photography, artwork, poetry, and fiction, on MSakran.com.

Wherever you look for poetry, if you write poetry, you should find poetry to read.  It can be an important idea in having others read your work, it can give you ideas, it can improve your writing, and you can enjoy what you read.

 

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Poetry essay: The importance of ending poetry lines at natural sounding places

Poetry is made up of line breaks.  This is one quality that separates it from prose.

Because poetry is made up of line breaks, there is importance in where those line breaks occur.  The placement of line breaks will affect how a poem is read, how it sounds, and how the message in it is received.

Sometimes poets put line breaks in unnatural sounding places.  This can be done for many reasons.

Sometimes a poet wants to emphasis something.  For example, they might have all but the last word of an idea on one line, with the last word on the next line.  This can serve to cause a pause and emphasis the last word.  This can be a useful technique in poetry.

Sometime though, poets place line breaks in unnatural sounding places for reasons that can detract from the presentation of their work.

For example, sometimes a poet is fitting a poem to a form.  For example, they might decide in advance that each line of a poem would have ten words.

When writing the poem though, they might find that they have some ideas that are contained in less than ten words, and some ideas that are contained in more than ten words.

Rather than changing the ideas or using another form, the poet might decide to simply make each line ten words long.  If an idea has less than ten words in it, it simply gets words added from the next line.  If an idea has more than ten words in it, some of the words get moved to next line.

In other instances, poets might place line breaks in unnatural sounding places, because they perceive that that is what poetry looks like.  They can feel that poetry “should” have line breaks in varying spots.

In both of these cases though, having line breaks in unnatural sounding places can detract from a poem.

If a line does not contain a complete idea, it can confusion for the reader.  The reader can get to the end of a line and not understand the idea.  They get the meaning when they read on to the next line, but the train of thought was broken.

If a line contains more than a complete idea, it can seem long and bulky to a reader.  It’s almost like a comic speaking after the punch line – there are too many words and the effect is lost.

It is better to have poetry lines that contain complete ideas, unless there is a desired effect as mentioned above.  Having complete ideas in poetry lines makes poetry easier to read, easier to understand, and it can help poetry sound better.

To illustrate these ideas, below is a poem written three ways.  In the first two ways, the lines of the poem end in unnatural places.  In the third way, the lines end in natural places.

In the first presentation, the lines breaks were chosen so that the lines would have approximately equal lengths.  Additionally, the poem was made to be one stanza.

Night in the hospital room

The hospital room was dark, except for
the lights of the machines.  They seemed
to twinkle like city lights, except the
meaning was different.  The meanings were
obscure.  Read and green numbers, mixed
with letters that stood for things.  Levels of
this and rates of that.  As long as they were silent,
and nothing flashed, everything was supposedly
all right.  Sitting in the room though, with the
machine lights glowing, and shallow breaths
coming from the bed, nothing was really all right.
It was strange though.  In the night, in the dark
hospital room, the machine lights almost seemed
pretty, like a city in the distance, like someone had
decorated the place.  At least it gave the mind
something else to think about in the dark hospital room.

 

Reading the poem written this way, it feels like one big idea.  There is no break in thoughts.  The lines don’t mean anything by themselves.  For the poem to make sense, it has to be read as one long piece.  A reader can feel incomplete at the end of each line until they read on to the next.  A reader has to ignore the line breaks for the poem to make sense.  If a reader pauses at each line, the meaning because unclear.

In the second presentation, the line breaks were chosen to be after random numbers of words.  Additionally, indentions and stanza breaks were added for effect.

Night in the hospital room

The hospital room was dark, except for the lights of
  the
   machines.  They seemed
to twinkle like city lights,
  except the meaning was

different.
     The meanings were obscure.
Read and green numbers,
  mixed with letters

that stood for
     things.  Levels of this and rates of that.  As long as

they were silent, and nothing flashed, everything
  was supposedly all right.  Sitting in the room though, with

  the machine lights glowing, and shallow breaths coming
  from the
bed, nothing was
really all
 right.  It was strange though.  In the
 night, in the dark hospital room,
the
        machine lights

almost seemed

pretty, like a city in
  the distance, like someone had decorated
the place.  At least it gave the mind
  something else to think about in
the

dark hospital room.

 

The poem presented this way is hard to read.  It is like reading words that have the middle letters mixed up.  A person might understand what it means, but it is slow to get through.

The line breaks in this poem detract from the idea.  A reader has to put lines together in their mind for things to make sense.

This poem though, might have a “poetic” look to some.  It can be seem to be written like a contemporary poem.  This though, detracts from the presentation.

Lastly, below is the poem written with line breaks in natural sounding places, and stanzas to separate the ideas.

Night in the hospital room

The hospital room was dark,
except for the lights of the machines.

They seemed to twinkle like city lights,
except the meaning was different.

The meanings were obscure.
Read and green numbers,
mixed with letters that stood for things.
Levels of this and rates of that.

As long as they were silent,
and nothing flashed,
everything was supposedly all right.

Sitting in the room though,
with the machine lights glowing,
and shallow breaths coming from the bed,
nothing was really all right.

It was strange though.

In the night,
in the dark hospital room,
the machine lights almost seemed pretty,
like a city in the distance,
like someone had decorated the place.

At least it gave the mind
something else to think about
in the dark hospital room.

 

In this presentation, the poem make sense.  The line breaks and stanzas are natural.  A reader can read one line at a time, and pause at each line break and stanza and get the meaning of the poem.  The line breaks and stanzas help with the presentation of the ideas.

Poetry essay: Poems are like fruit trees

In a metaphorical way, poems are like fruit trees.  If you look at poems like they are fruit trees, you can improve your work.

Purpose

Both fruit trees and poems have a purpose.  Fruit trees produce fruit and poems express ideas and emotions.

When selecting a fruit tree, it is important to get one that grows the fruit you want.  When writing a poem, it is important to write one that expresses things the way you want.

Climate

Different fruit trees grow in different places.  Fruit trees have to be able to make it through the winter where they are.  They also have to be able to deal with the heat and the amount of rainfall.

In a similar way, poetry is affected by the climate around them.  How a poem will be received, can be influenced by what is going on that affects the audience for the poem.  A poem that might be viewed favorably at one time and place, might not be viewed so at another time and place.

Place

In additional to general climate, where you specifically plant a fruit tree matters.  Different trees have different light, moisture, and soil requirements.  A tree might do well in one place on a property, but not in another.

The same idea applies to poems.  Poems can do better in some presentations than in others.  Some poems work well for blogs, others do better in magazines, and others do better in social media.  It depends on the context and the audience.  A poem that works well on a greeting card, might not work well in a literary magazine.

Partners

For some fruit trees to produce fruit they need other fruit trees around them for pollination.  Sometimes they need different varieties.

The same idea can apply to poems.  Poems can be affected by the other poems around them.  The poem that a person reads before and after a poem can affect how they view the poem in question.

Watering

Fruit trees need regular watering.  Depending on the tree, they need deep watering at infrequent times, as opposed to shallow watering frequently.

Watering patterns could be viewed as a metaphor for time spent writing poetry.  Some poetry can be improved by setting aside a specific time and writing for an extended period of time.

Pruning

Fruit trees need pruning.  They need pruning to remove dead and diseased wood.  They need to pruning to help maintain their shape.  They need pruning to open up their forms.  They need pruning to help reduce disease and pests in some cases.  They need pruning to improve fruit production.

Pruning can be looked at as editing poems.  Poems benefit from editing.  Editing removes errors and mistakes.  Editing helps a poet see what parts should be removed and what parts should be moved around.  Editing helps a poet improve word choice and form.  Editing helps a poet make a poem more concise.

Fertilizing

Fruit trees need fertilizer.  Fertilizer helps with leaf growth, root formation, and fruit production.  Fruit trees need nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other elements.  Without fertilizer, or some other addition of nutrients, a fruit tree will not reach its full potential.

Fertilizer for poetry could be looked at as a poet learning things that helps them improve their poetry.  It could be working on meter or rhyme.  It could be learning about metaphor and symbolism.  It could be reading other poets’ work to learn about ideas and presentation.  The idea is that a poet needs to learn things so their work can improve, the same way a tree needs fertilizer so it can grow.

Pest and disease control

Pests and disease need to be prevented, and if not, treated on a fruit tree if the fruit tree is to remain healthy.  There many ways this can be done ranging from having clean pruning cuts to using pesticide.

Pests and disease could be viewed as things that hurt a poet in their work.  It could be stress, it could be negative comments about their poetry, or it could be negative feelings about their own work.

A poet needs to prevent and remove themselves from things that hurt their work if they want their work to have a chance to be the best it can be.

Poetry essay: Iambic meter

Today’s poetry essay looks at iambic meter.

Iambic meter consists of units called feet.  Each foot consists of two syllables.  The first syllable is unstressed and the second syllable is stressed.  This combination of an unstressed and a stressed syllable is what makes up an iamb.

Here are some examples of iambic words:

escape account repair complete degree confer dessert subtract reduce amount

In these words, the first syllable is unstressed and the second syllable is stressed.

Iambic meter is a classic meter.  It is the meter you might hear in sonnets, limericks, and blank verse poems.

Iambic meter with five feet is called iambic pentameter.  It has ten syllables per line.

Iambic meter with four feet is called iambic tetrameter.  It has eight syllables per line.

Iambic meter has a number of benefits.

First, iambic meter gives poetry a “poetry” sound.  It gives a beat to poetry that can make poetry sound like “poetry”.

Second, iambic meter imparts predictability of sound.  This can be good for the writer because it can help them think of words and sounds that follow what they have written.  It can be good for readers because it can make a poem easier to read.

Third, iambic meter can be used in traditional poetry forms like the sonnet and limerick noted above.

Fourth, iambic meter can be combined with other poetry elements.  By its nature, it uses syllable count per line.  It can also be combined with rhyming patterns, different numbers of stanzas, different line counts per stanza, and more.

Fifth, iambic meter has a natural quality to it.  People sometimes speak in it without intending to or noticing it.  There are many words and word combinations that fit iambic meter.  It can be a good meter to start with if a person isn’t used to using meter.

Sixth, in some dictionaries syllable stress of words is noted.  This can make it easy for a person to locate words that are naturally iambic.  It can also help when combining words in a line of poetry.

If you’ve never written in poetry meter before, you might start by writing a simple poem in iambic meter.  A good example would a poem with one stanza, four lines in the stanza, iambic pentameter in each of the lines, and the second and fourth lines rhyming.  This is a very traditionally sounding form and can be a good one to start with.  It has a very “poetry” sound to it.

If you are having trouble writing in meter, you might try at first to use only two syllable words that are naturally iambic.  As these can be looked up in a dictionary, it can make it easy to start even if you can’t hear the meter when you start out.