The Blog of John Hewitt

Write a poem that includes one or more descriptions of sounds – 31p31d

Day 28 of 31 Poems in 31 Days

Choose Your Words

Some poets write what they feel and spend very little time thinking about which word to use. They rely on instinct. Other poets spend a considerable amount of time trying to choose exactly the right words. They analyze and consider every word. I’m not going to advocate one method over the other. In my opinion, it is up to the poet to determine their approach to word choice. I am certainly in the middle of the road with my approach. I care about word choice, and I will often consider the benefits of one word over another, but I would consider myself completely sidetracked if I spent more than a few minutes deciding on whether or not one word is more perfect over another.

There are six general ways to influence and analyze your choice of words. The type of poem you write can make a difference in your choices. A poem with a metered form is going to involve choices about rhythm. A visually structured poem will entail a greater emphasis on appearance. A persona poem will require an increased focus on style. Beyond form, there is the individual style of the poet, which leads to subconscious word choices. Below are the six methods that you can use to determine word choice.

Meaning: The meaning of a word can be important in several ways. Obviously you want a word with the correct definition, but there are other considerations. Sometimes you want to reflect on the alternate meanings of a word in addition to the contextual meaning of a word. For example, you can say “we were filming the movie” or “we were shooting the movie”. Both phrases are correct in context, but the word shooting brings in other images because it has alternate meanings. Filming is the more precise word, which may be what the poet wants, but shooting has connotations of both violence and achievement (shooting a gun, shooting for the stars) that filming does not. These differences can have an overall effect on the poem, especially if reinforced with other word choices elsewhere in the poem.

Style: Another consideration is style and usage. Some words are more formal than others. For example, “cannot” and “can’t” are essentially the same word, but cannot is the accepted formal usage and can’t, like all contractions, is considered informal. Even more informal usages, such as slang or colloquialisms like cain’t, create a much different effect.

Rhythm: The rhythm of a word is essentially its meter, which I have discussed in earlier posts. It is the general pattern of the word, stressed syllables versus unstressed syllables. Even if you aren’t attempting to write a poem with a formal meter, you may find that you want a particular rhythm, especially for words on the same line.

Sound: The way a word sounds is always a consideration in poetry. The following words all mean essentially (though not exactly) the same thing: apron, bib, smock, pinafore. Each of these words has a different sound. Apron and pinafore have softer and longer sounds compared with bib and smock. If the exact meaning of the word isn’t your primary concern, then you might choose one of the four because it fits your sound requirements. It may rhyme, be alliterative, be assonant or add any of a number of other qualities to your poem.

Length: The length of a word can have very definite effects on a poem. The eye and even the voice tend to move more quickly over short words than long, even if the total number of syllables per line is the same. Short words tend to present as more active than long words. Long words tend to present as more formal and intellectual than short words.

Appearance: The final consideration in word choice is how the word looks on the page. For some poets, especially those who work with visual structures, this can be important. The words “little” and “modest” have similar meanings, the same number of letters and the same stresses, but the letters of the word little are (overall) taller and narrower than the letters in modest. For a visually-oriented poet, this can determine which word gets used.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Write a poem that includes one or more descriptions of sounds.

Use an inspiration tool

The Search for Inspiration

 

Sometimes I get stuck for ideas to write about. It is easy to get stuck in a rut as a poet. Staring at a blank page or a blank screen can be intimidating. Here are a few ways, presented in the tried and true list style, which can help you get started.

Call a friend and talk about old times
Collaborate with another poet
Exercise
Give yourself a deadline
Give yourself permission to write badly
Go someplace new
Interview yourself
Just start writing anything that comes to mind as fast as you can
Listen to your favorite music
Look at old photographs
Meditate
Read a magazine or a newspaper
Read someone else’s poetry
Read your own poetry
Review your old work
Start with a title
Take a swim, bath or a shower
Take a walk
Try another medium such as drawing or painting
Try something new

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Use one of the methods from the list above as inspiration for your poem. If you post your poem, be sure to write down which method you chose.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

If you truly want to get the poetry world all riled up, write a book of prose poems. If you don’t believe me, just read some of the reviews of Karen Volkman’s work. Better yet, go read the work yourself and see if YOU get riled up. What do you do to follow up your prose poems… sonnets!

Interview with Karen Volkman
Karen Volkman: Poetry’s Latest Punchline
Karen Volkman – Vacancy’s Ambassador

Books

 

Write the first draft of your poem in paragraph form and then change it into a free verse poem

Trading Safety for Freedom

I’ve touched on the subject of free verse before, most notably in the article about the pros and cons of meter. Free verse is poetry that does not use a regular meter or rhyme. While poetry without rhyme dates back many centuries, the practice of using neither meter nor rhyme was a poetic movement that began in French and Europe during the 1800s. The first popular American poet to write in free verse was Walt Whitman.

Free verse does not mean that there are no patterns or rhythms at all. Instead, the rhyme is determined, sometimes subconsciously, by the poet. The lines come in the form of thought patterns, breath patterns, visual patterns, and syntactic patterns. More to the point, the form tends to mirror the voice of the poet.

While in some ways, free verse does not require the discipline of metered and rhymed poetry, it creates new requirements. The poet must determine, without the crutch of form, when the line ends and what makes for the best line. They must find a way to make the poem still feel poetic without relying on some of the most accepted tools. With free verse, you cannot defend the use of a word or phrase simply because it fits the meter. You must determine where to end the line because there is no set length to fall back on. Even the length of the poem is now completely up to you. So, while you have less limitations and restrictions, you have more responsibility.

While free verse is ultimately freeing, it is not for the lazy of for those who think it will be easier than writing metered or rhymed poetry. There is no safety net without form. There is no literary excuse for a mistake, because you have all the power. If you choose to write in free verse, you sill have to learn to be confident in your own voice, because that is what you will be relying on.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Write the first draft of your poem in paragraph form and then change it into a free verse poem. Don’t be surprised if you have to change lines, words and phrases. That will probably be a part of the process.

Today’s Recommended Poet

Bruce Bond is a highly respected poet, teacher and the poetry editor for the American Literary Review. In this interview, he explains part of his poetic philosophy. “white space is one way of suggesting a kind of silent listening, an openness to the strange and what the language longs to accommodate, how words are taken to their limits. I like poems with silence in them, both the formal resonance of literal silence, and silence as a metaphor for the unknowable, the erotic, the sublime.”

Poems on the Web

Books of Poetry

Write a poem that begins and ends with the same word

You May Already be a Winner

There is nothing wrong with entering poetry contests. It is one way of taking part in the larger world of poetry. It also gives you the motivation to write well and to keep writing. If you win a legitimate contest, it is a great honor. Unfortunately, many contests are not legitimate.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. There is no quick or easy route to get rich as a poet. Even making a living as a poet is a difficult task. The masses do not buy books of poetry. Exceptions to this rule are rare, and generally involve someone who is famous for something other than poetry. Keep this in mind at all times, because there are people out there looking to take advantage of you.

Poetry contests are one of the methods that unscrupulous people use to take advantage of poets. They offer a substantial prize, $5,000, $10,000, $25,000, $100,000 to the winners of their poetry contests. All you have to do is submit your poems – along with a fee. Even if they don’t ask for an upfront fee, they still have ways of making you pay. In fact, if someone is offering you $100,000 for a contest you pay nothing to enter, you’d better be extra careful about entering.

Be prepared to become a finalist. An unscrupulous contest promoter’s goal will be to get you to attend a convention at which the winner will be named. The convention will probably be at some pretty locale that is easy to get so, such as Las Vegas or Miami. The fee for the convention won’t be too unreasonable, because they want you to come, but make no mistake; you are paying for a trip along with many, many other people they named as finalists. It may be a nice vacation, but you didn’t get there on talent. I don’t mean to say that you aren’t talented, just that talent is irrelevant to the contest promoters.

As a finalist, they will also publish you. Your poem will appear in a nice thick book along with a bunch of other poems. The book will be attractive, possibly leather-bound, but the poems will just be a collection of whoever sent something in. The book will cost you at least twenty dollars, maybe more. They’ll be counting on you to buy several so that your family and friends can see your “accomplishment”. They’ll probably also offer to sell you a nice plaque, perhaps one with your poem engraved on it. Whatever the case, they’ll keep trying to find a way to get your money.

There is nothing wrong with entering contests, but it pays to do a little research before you enter. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t enter contests if the sponsors seem unwilling to share the details of how the contest works. Look for contests that are sponsored by schools, newspapers, magazines, major corporations and reputable publishers. Understand that any fee you pay to enter is going to be used to fund the prizes. If the fee seems excessive, don’t enter. Five dollars is one thing, but as the price grows so do the chances that you are getting ripped off. It is better to make a five dollar mistake than a hundred dollar mistake.

Never pay an additional fee once you have entered a contest. Don’t pay to have the poem published. Don’t pay for a plaque. Don’t pay for a trip. If you are the one paying them, then you are not a winner.

Sorry for this fairly cynical post, but people need to be warned.

Today’s Assignment

Write a poem that begins and ends with the same word.

Today’s Featured Poet

I wanted to take this chance today to formally promote Rosemary Nissen-Wade’s recommended Australian poets. I have already discussed John Kinsella, who I found much to my liking. I haven’t had time to delve as deeply into these three poets, and I would appreciate hearing other people’s opinions about them.

Include a verb in every line of your poem – 31p31d

Day 24 of 31 poems in 31 days

Let the Reader Decide

On October 15th, 1995, when the Internet was first getting noticed, I sat down and wrote a list of tips for poets. This was long before poewar.com, when I had a little spot on a newspaper’s server and dial up access that went out whenever it rained. I don’t quite know what made me think I was qualified to give advice. I was five years out of college with a degree in Creative Writing and I guess I thought I knew a thing or two.

The funny thing was how popular that article got. It was soon after I wrote that little article that my site started getting noticed. When I transferred my pages to poewar.com, the article stayed popular. Since 2005, (a full ten years after it was published and well after its peak popularity) the article has generated 215,000 unique page views.

Twenty years after writing it, I still pretty much stand by my advice. I was young and a little too sure of myself, but I was on target for the most part. I may have been a little too strident about unnamed poems (I still get angry comments about that) but overall I think the tips were helpful and I have reinterpreted a few of them for this project. One of the best pieces of advice that I gave was this:

Say what you want to say and let your readers decide what it means.

The advice was so good that I eventually turned it into a whole article. The essential point though, is that you can’t spend all of your time worrying about what the audience will think of your poem. They may love it or they may hate it. They may understand what you are saying or they may interpret it in an entirely different way. You need to accept that and let it happen.

You also need to respect your audience. Don’t waste precious lines by trying to make things obvious. Don’t be purposely vague, but don’t try to tell people what to think about what you write. If you do, be ready for them to disagree or worse, wonder why you thought they wouldn’t get it. A poem isn’t an essay or a manual. It is an attempt to capture a piece of the universe and save it on paper. That piece of the universe may be beautiful or ugly, amazing or mundane, but chances are it can’t be explained. If that sounds too philosophical, so be it.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Include a verb in every line of your poem.