The Blog of John Hewitt

Include the words “formal” and “casual” at some point in your poem

Take your Place

One of the great things about this poetry project so far is that we have started to develop a community. We have regular contributors, occasional contributors and readers. A sense of community is important in poetry. Because the market for poetry is so small compared to the fiction market, it needs constant support to keep going.

There are many benefits to joining or creating a poetry community. You gain the support of your peers. You have the opportunity to compare yourself with and learn from other poets. You encourage each other to keep going. You meet the people who can help you down the road.

The people who publish other people’s poetry do it because they love it. There is no great financial benefit, and it is certainly easier to make money publishing something else. The best way to get noticed by these people is to get out in the poetry community and start introducing yourself. Attend poetry readings. Take poetry classes. Attend open mic nights and poetry slams. Get up on stage if you can. Support other people’s poetry by buying their books and magazines. The more you support poetry the more it will support you.

Today’s Assignment

Include the words “formal” and “casual” at some point in your poem.

Write a poem using a random source – 31p31d

Day 17 of 31 poems in 31 days

Wild Assignments

Towards the end of my undergraduate education, I stumbled into Peter Wild’s poetry class. I hadn’t actually intended to take a poetry class that semester. I had signed up for Literature in Film and I had even attended the first session of that class, but then the University made a mistake (not that they would admit it) and dropped me from all of my classes. I managed to get my other classes back, but not Literature in Film. I had to round out my schedule and Peter Wild’s class was the latest to start, so I chose it. I was cursing my bad luck, but it turned out that luck was on my side. I was about to enter my favorite poetry class ever.

By this point in college, I was a veteran of many poetry writing classes. Most of them were, you might say, free form. The instructor tried to guide you in your work, but most of you assignments were general “bring in a new poem this week” assignments. There is nothing wrong with that approach. It allows people to work in their own way and their own style. Peter Wild’s approach, however, was totally different. Peter gave assignments. He would tell you how many lines to write, what subjects to pick, whether to write in the first person or the third. At one point he gave both the first line and the last line of the poem we were to write. I still remember them.

The first line was:

For centuries lovers have looked to the stars

And the last line was

And the three-legged dog chased the beer truck out of town

Not all of his students liked this approach. It was too hard. It stifled their creativity. It made them write about things they didn’t care about. The other students complained, but I didn’t. I loved having the constraints and challenges. I may not have always produced my best work, but I learned to become more resilient as a poet. For the first time in my life, I felt like poetry was something I could control and shape at will.

One of the benefits of constraint is that it gives you something to start from. If you know what your last line has to be, you start to think of ways that you can get there. If you know that you have to write a poem about the constellation Orion, you go out and stare at the stars. You are no longer dealing with a blank page. You know that at least one of those words is going to be “Orion”. That’s a place you can start from.

We have, of course, been dealing with constraints throughout this project. Form and meter are constraints. Style and tone are constraints. It is important to realize a constraint is a tool. It helps bring focus to a poem. You won’t always want restraints, but when you are stuck, a constraint is a good way to get the words flowing again.

Today’s Assignment

Wikipedia’s random link is a great and magical thing. Click the link and it takes you to a random article. Click it a few times, and you will find something that can inspire a poem.  Here are some items I found:

Click the link for yourself a few times to find some inspiration, or choose one or more of the entries above.

Write a new poem an old subject – 31p31d

Where you came from

Trees from a trip to Montana

Trees from a trip to Montana

Reviewing your old poems is an important way to grow as a poet. Because I am not always the most organized of people, I keep finding more poems that I have scribbled down somewhere or saved in inappropriate places. At one point in my life, I had a file cabinet full of poems, but after a dozen moves over the past fifteen years, it has long ago disappeared. Many of those poems would be over twenty-five years old now. That’s a trip through time I would still like to take at some point.

As I read my old poems, I have varying reactions. Some poems I clearly remember writing, while others are a mystery to me. Some even make me cringe just a little. When that happens, I try to tell myself that they can’t all be winners.

Overall, my old poems tell me about where I have come from. I have ventured in and out of poetry over the years. My old poems definitely show signs of their age, at least to me. I can almost immediately see the difference in life experience between then and now. That doesn’t make the old poems bad, just of a different time.

Changes in Focus

In reviewing my more recent work, I can spot a certain narrowing of focus. My life is spent in hotels, offices, hospitals and on the road between them. These are the places where the events of my life happen, and it shows in my work. While I like many of the new poems, I feel as if my poetic world has gotten a bit too small, and I need to open it up again. This project is helping with that.

I don’t have specific advice for how you should review your old work. I can tell you that the process isn’t about editing (though you are free to edit). It is about assessment and growth. By reviewing your old poetry, it is possible to spot patterns and habits that you may want to break or bring back. You can also track changes in your point of view. If nothing else, reading your old work is an interesting personal journey, and one that I suggest you take at some point.

Today’s poetry assignment

If you like, reread some of your old poetry. Write a new poem about a subject from one of your old poems. See how revisiting it feels.

 

Write a poem that follows the three rules of the imagists – 31p31d

Day 15 of 31 poems in 31 days

The Imagism Movement

For the past week or so we have been discussing meter and rhythm as a framework for creating poetry. Today I want to move in another direction. The use of the image as the primary driving force behind your poem. Image driven poetry began with the Imagism movement in the early twentieth century. The movement began with poets such as Ezra Pound and Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) and eventually dovetailed into the Modernist movement as exemplified by T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, for which Ezra Pound was the editor.

There are three basic rules that the imagists followed:

  1. Direct treatment of the “thing”, whether subjective or objective.
  2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
  3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome.

Ezra Pound’s most famous application of this concept was the poem:

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

The concept, as exemplified in Metro, was to reduce a poem down to its most essential images, leaving out all the chaff that traditional poetry, especially iambic pentameter, seems so prone to. This does not mean that most poems should only be two lines, but rather that poetry should not waste time or space.

The Imagist and Modernist movements began the path that eventually led to today’s widespread use of free verse over meter and rhyme. While the Imagist movement itself was fairly short-lived and not widely embraced (Wallace Stevens famously commented that “Not all objects are equal. The vice of imagism was that it did not recognize this”) it opened up the possibilities of poetry and influenced future movements such as the Objectivists and the Beats.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Write a poem that follows the three rules of the imagists.

Write a poem that uses at least two different forms of repetition – 31p31d

Day 14 of 31 poems in 31 days.

Repeating Yourself

Stack of baskets

Stack of baskets

One of the central concepts of poetry is repetition. As poets we repeat sounds, syllables, words, syntax, meters, lines and stanzas. The use of repetition is one of the qualities of poetry that separates it from prose. In prose, repetition is rare and usually done to either increase clarity or to make a single point.

Repetition creates patterns. Whether the patterns are phonetic or syntactic, when people encounter these patterns they recognize them and respond to them. If you repeat the same word or line over and over again, the reader will assume that it has significance. If you repeat a sound (rhyme, alliteration, consonance) it links words or lines together. If you repeat a meter, it moves the poem forward and adds a musical quality to the poem. If you repeat syntax, it allows different ideas either form links or create contrasts.

Repetition is a tool. If used well, it adds to a poem through the links and patterns it creates. If used badly, it can become too obvious, creating predictability. Like any poetic tool, it should be used carefully and with intent. If you don’t know what you want to accomplish by using repetition, there’s a good chance you will misuse it.

Here are a few of many types of repetition to consider:

Adnomination: repetition of words with the same root word (e.g. inform, informal, perform, formula)

Anaphora – repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of successive clauses, sentences, or lines.

Assonance: repetition of the sound of a vowel or diphthong in non-rhyming stressed syllables.

Alliteration: repetition of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words.

Consonance: repetition consonant sounds in close proximity.

Meter: repetition of stressed and unstressed syllables.

Rhyme: repetition of word endings, often at the end of a line.

Ploce: repetition of a word or phrase

Epanalepsis: repeating a word or phrase from the beginning of a sentence, line, or stanza at the end of the sentence, line, or stanza.

 

Today’s Poetic Assignment

Write a poem that uses at least two different forms of repetition. Try to embrace at least one form of repetition that you don’t ordinarily use.