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.

Write a poem that doesn’t use your standard process – 31p31d

Day 13 of 31 poems in 31 days

The Methods to our Madness

Tire Swing
The twins playing around a tire swing.

We have spent the past few days talking about form and meter. I could use a break from that, so today lets discuss approaches to the act of writing a poem. Some people just sit down and write. They don’t have a plan or even a topic in mind. They simply sit down and start to write. Sometimes it takes them a while to get started, because they don’t have a set idea or method in mind. At other times the muse strikes them right away and before they know it, they’ve created a poem. Today I want you to think about your process of creation. First off, do you have a process? Secondly, does that process seem to work for you? Here are some parts of the process I want you to think about, along with some typical answers.

Where do you write?

  • At home
  • At work
  • At a coffee shop
  • On the bus/train/drive to work
  • Outdoors
  • At a desk
  • At a table
  • On a comfy sofa
  • In a hotel room
  • In bed

What tools do you use?

  • Pen
  • Pencil
  • Notebook
  • Journal
  • 3 x 5 Cards
  • Computer
  • Tablet
  • Audio Recorder
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Plenty of snacks
  • Music
  • Facebook

When do you write?

  • Whenever the mood strikes
  • First thing in the morning
  • In the middle of the day
  • At the end of the day
  • Whenever the kids give me a quiet moment
  • At work when the boss isn’t looking
  • On my lunch break

How long are your sessions?

  • I don’t have a set length
  • I spend about a half hour a session
  • I spend an hour or more per session
  • I like to spend an entire day just writing poetry
  • I concentrate on the number of poems, not on the time

How do you choose your subjects?

  • I write about the events in my life
  • I take items from the news or other mediums
  • I try to imagine other characters and voices
  • I write about the things I see
  • I just make stuff up

How do you prepare?

  • Just sit down and start
  • Take a walk first
  • Exercise first
  • Meditate first
  • Keep a list of possible topics
  • Read the newspaper
  • Read other people’s poetry
  • Reread my previous session’s work
  • Scream

What writing methods do you use?

  • Just write the poem
  • Write an outline
  • Automatic writing
  • Start in prose then convert to poem
  • Convert entries from journal

How do you edit or revise?

  • I don’t
  • I correct spelling and grammar errors
  • I revise as I go
  • I reread the poem and look for errors or parts that could be better but I don’t spend too long on it
  • I rework my poems extensively, often changing order, word choice and adding new parts

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Today is a two-part assignment. The first part is to think about your method of writing poetry. Please tell us about your work style in the comments, even if you aren’t posting your poetry in the comments.

The second part is to shake up your process. If you have a lot of structure, try loosening up. If you write very loosely, try adding some structure to the process. Find a new place to write or use a different tool. The change doesn’t have to be major, but if you post your poem, please tell us what you changed.

Write a poem using syllabic verse – 31p31d

Day 12 of 31 Poems in 31 days

A simple form

A Sugar Skull bell from Ben's Bells, sporting their slogan. "Be Kind"
A sugar skull bell from Ben’s Bells, sporting their slogan. “Be Kind”

There are many types of poetic meters and forms. One of the most straightforward is syllabic verse. Syllabic verse sets a specific number of syllables per line or per stanza, but does not focus on stressed or unstressed feet. This type of meter has been more popular in languages with less of a focus on stressed syllables, such as Japanese and Spanish. Haiku, with its pattern of five, seven and five syllables, is one of the most common examples of syllabic meter.

The benefit of syllabic meter in English language poetry is that it is less restrictive than meters that focus on stressed and unstressed feet. Syllabic verse gives a poem structure, but avoids the patterned, sometimes singsong qualities of popular English meters such as iambic or dactyl. Syllabic meters can be as simple as ten syllables per line and can grow quickly in complexity from there.

A poetic compromise

Those who dislike syllabic meter feel that it doesn’t provide real structure, that the English language is far more focused on stressed and unstressed syllables than on the number of syllables. Their contention is that most people don’t notice the number of syllables in a line, only the number of stresses, therefore, determining line length solely by the number of syllables is meaningless.

In my opinion, syllabic meter is a reasonable poetic compromise between image-based lines and metered poetry. While length-based word choice still enters into consideration when writing syllabic verse, you don’t have to torture yourself trying to replace the most appropriate word with one that fits the meter. Syllabic verse “looks” like poetry because the line length is patterned, but it allows you the freedom to experiment within the line.

Poetry Assignment

Write a poem using syllabic verse. You can assign length ether by line or stanza. If you are stuck for a way to begin, start with this two-word ten-syllable line:

Historically Antithetical

Write a poem in the first person that makes a definitive statement – 31p31d

The big tent

Bukowski's BMW
Bukowski standing by his BMW

In the comments these past few days, I have had a discussion with one of our participants, Rosemary, about poetry in forms and one poet in particular, W. B. Yeats. W.B. Yeats is widely recognized as a master. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923, and most believe his best work happened after winning the prize. That said, I don’t particularly care for Yeats. It is easy for me to acknowledge his skill, but he writes in a style that leaves me cold. Reading his work feels like reading an English assignment. It brings me no pleasure. Rosemary does not agree with me. She’s not alone.

While I like to think of the poetry community as one big family, I don’t necessarily think of it as one big happy family. Just because you are in the same family doesn’t mean you have to like each other, although I certainly like Rosemary.

Feuds and expectations

Alexander Pope was by all accounts an insufferable little man (At 4 foot 6, I do mean little) who was loved by half the literary world and despised by the other half. Any poet his disliked, he insulted and parodied within his poems. Even poets that were his friends rarely escaped his poetic wrath. He was perhaps the best poet of his age, and he had no humility about that fact whatsoever.

In modern times, one of my poetic heroes, Charles Bukowski, was forever insulting the beat poets, and took great offense whenever his work was lumped in with theirs. On the surface, their work had many similarities, but Bukowski felt as if the beats were conspicuously trying to embrace the lifestyle of the poor and downtrodden, while for him that was simply the reality of his life. The moment he had money, he embraced it with both hands and wrote about it conspicuously. That ticked a lot of people off too. They wanted their poor, downtrodden poet to stay poor and downtrodden.

Write the way you write

Some people believe (or at least believed) that you cannot have poetry without meter. They believe that patterns are the very heart of poetry and that meter is the way of determining and defining those patterns. For most of the history of poetry, few poets questioned that poetry and meter were inextricably intertwined. In the twentieth century, however, poets began to reconsider the idea of meter. Poets such as William Carlos Williams began to focus on image over meter. They wrote poetry in which line length was determined by the image or the impression the line was meant to create rather than patterns of syllables, word lengths, sounds or stresses. This was a controversial act. Today though, this style is the dominant approach to poetry.

My point is that you will never please everybody. Some people will like your poems and others will, most decidedly, dislike them. You have to write what feels true to you. Embrace your voice, whether the crowd likes it or not.

Today’s poetry assignment

Write a poem in the first person that makes a definitive statement. Stand behind something you believe or tell a bold lie. Either way, embrace what you have to say.