Thursday, 12 April 2018

I'm NOT a poet...

We're lucky enough to have some poets in NIBS, our writing group. I'm always in awe of people who can write poetry - especially the stuff that doesn't rhyme!

Personally, I have a strange relationship with poetry. I can do it if I rhyme, but the non-rhyming stuff just ends up like prose to me, and I've always struggled to see what makes poetry, poetry.

We decided to challenge ourselves last night, and write poetry. Due to circumstances beyond their control, our two poets couldn't attend, so I spent a couple of hours on the computer, looking up poetry activities for the session.

Bear in mind that my own previous experience of poetry consists of;

1. A £50 prize winning limerick:
    A young lady who felt fashion keenly
    tried on a new-fangled bikini. 
    With two bits of string, 
    some cloth and a ring, 
    the thing would've baffled Houdini!

2. Putting new words to hymn music for Christmas carols
    (to the tune of 'All things bright and beautiful')
    Once upon a starry night
    Two thousand years ago
    Shone a star especially bright
    To show the way to go...

3. Silly rhymes for the children when they were much, much younger.

So I'm not exactly qualified to teach anyone, but I was prepared to muddle through and have a go.

Who knew there were so many forms of poem? One site listed 86 - 86! - different forms, so I spent a while rooting through them to find fairly simple ones we could have a go at.

I also discovered is that poetry emphasizes language's musical quality, uses condensed language (some forms are so concise, every word has to count) and often portrays intense feelings, which, interestingly, is a dead giveaway about robot-written poetry, because robots can't put emotion into poems. There are also lots of techniques used in poetry - rhyming words, alliteration, repetitiveness, metaphors, imagery, rhythm...

I put together an outline for the evening, based on some fab poetry prompts and a few forms.

First, are songs actually poems if you take the music out? We tried it, using 'Twinkle, twinkle little star' as our base. For most, it seemed to work well - and nobody was forced to sing their poem to prove it fitted the music. Here's what I wrote, and I bet you can't read it without singing it in your head!

Flippin' heck! It's ten to eight!
Get up quick, we'll all be late.
Alarm not set - whose fault was that?
Never mind, we'll blame the cat.
Eight o'clock - get up, I say!

Why Mum, when it's Saturday?

Having warmed up, we tried a tricube form after that. These poems have three stanzas, each consisting of three lines, with each line consisting of three syllables. Sounds easy, but it's harder than it looks. Every word had to count - there were some very good end results, even after some misunderstandings about what the form consisted of (down to my poor explanation, I'm afraid.) We took the weather as our theme, and most of the group took the horrible damp fog that had fallen and thickened, the closer you got to our meeting place...

I didn't. I had a go at 'Storm' and 'Snow'. Not sure which I prefer...

Storm.                                                    Snow

Dark clouds build                                  First one flake
and fill up                                              which melts fast
the wide sky                                           on the grass.

after days                                               Then more fall
of hot sun                                               and settle
and clear blue                                       on the ground 

lightning flash                                         until all
thunder loud                                          is soft white
world washed clean.                             and blurred edges.

The final exercise was to write something freeform. Now, I'm still not sure whether free form poetry should rhyme or not. I found myself slipping into rhyme almost straight away, so I might have to take some time to rewrite it, challenging myself to step away from rhyme. The poem could either start with an instruction, or had to include the same or similar phrase, repeated at least three times throughout the poem.

I finished mine this morning:

Will World War 3 start today?

An orange-faced man sits in a white house
With intolerance, ignorance, greed.
A tweeter impressive
Stirring the hate.
Will World War 3 start today?

'We're going to hell in a handcart!'
That's what they used to say,
and the wheels the politicians are turning
are sending us well on the way.
Will World War 3 start today?

Once it was only the soldiers who fought
And others would stay home and pray.
But modern day battles are not so distinct
and the bombs kill more,
day after day.
Will World War 3 start today?

Now chemicals ravage the lungs and the nerves among children just wanting to play.
Politicians deny;
"It's untrue!" they lie
while in basements the bodies remain.
Will World War 3 start today?

Reprisals are sought,
and red buttons are primed for more death to be sent on its way
"It's justified!"
Mortified, we watch the news
and helpless, we all look away.
Will World War 3 start today...?

Where is compassion? 
Where is the peace that survivors and onlookers crave?
Where is humanity?
Oh, I forgot.
It's right there. 
Look - deep in the graves.
World War 3 is in Syria today.

I think we saw glimpses of what we might achieve through poetry, but we're going to need some more practise before most of us are truly comfortable with it. I can certainly see why I'm a novellist, not a poet!

For now, I'll keep a lookout for the poems of Brian Bilston which pop up on my facebook feed every now and again, and try to learn from those who wrote poetry far, far better than me...

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