Hello there! It’s been a week and it’s time to meet again. What shall we talk about today? I decided on one of my favourite forms of expression and dare I say, many of yours, too. POETRY!
To start with, what is poetry or a poem? Defining poetry is difficult! It means different things to different people, both poets and readers. The basic or literal difference, of course, is the way poems look different from prose; in that, they are composed or written in lines. And the poet decides where and how the lines end, with less importance to grammar except in spelling and punctuation. It affords more freedom of expression to the writer.
By definition, it is a form of literature that depends on arranging language for its meaning, sound and rhythm. It is designed to stir the reader’s imagination and emotions. Poetry is the way it is because it looks that way and it looks that way because of the way it sounds and vice versa.
Reading good poetry before you attempt to write is as good a place to begin as any. The best way to learn to write poetry is to read. A lot of it. The famous masters are a good reference point, with Keats, Milton, Frost, Dickinson and Shakespeare heading the list. It is imperative to understand what constitutes poetry. It does not suffice that the last two words of lines rhyme. The most important thing to remember while writing poetry is that it has to “sound” like a poem. I take the length of the lines as a rough guide. For example, it would look incongruous if one has one line consisting of 15 words and the next, only 5. The ideal way to write a poem is to pay attention to the rhythm and the meter.
Rhythm and meter though related, are different. Rhythm is the overall tempo of the poem, the way it unfolds or the pace of the poem. It is the musicality of the poem. It is best checked by reading the poem aloud. Meter, on the other hand, is the measured beat or repeated pattern that is established within the sentences or lines as we write.
Very often it is an art that one develops as one goes along the path of writing poetry where a particular line “just doesn’t feel right.“ One can rectify this by reading the line again spotting the problem and fixing it by replacing a one syllable word with a two syllable word or vice versa.
If the rhythm of the poem is not established the lines end up looking like prose that has been arranged into lines to “look like” poetry. It never turns the words into a poem.
A metrical foot is a unit of metrical measurement of stressed and unstressed syllables. It is beyond the scope of my article today to talk about what constitutes stressed and unstressed syllables, but it would be useful for the reader to look it up.
However, the choice of words and pauses and stanzas also greatly contribute to the rhythm and musicality of a poem as happens in free verse.
THEME AND MEANING
While writing on online platforms, one is often given parameters to which one has to adhere. For example, we have all learnt to write villanelles and chain rhymes and couplets. When one tries to fit in one’s words into these forms, one sometimes tends to lose the ultimate aim, which is to write a poem. Just stringing words that fit into our rhyme scheme as we understand it, without giving equal importance to the meaning it is intended to convey, robs a poem of its soul, so to speak. One should be careful to keep the theme in mind all the time and never deviate from it, just so as to fit with the rhyme scheme or pattern prescribed. This can be ensured best if one reads aloud the poem or reads it well at least in one’s head. More often than not, our inner ear will pick up offending words or phrases, if any and allow us to rectify it.
USE OF LITERARY DEVICES
Using literary devices like metaphors and similes are the essence of poetry since time immemorial. Both make comparisons and while in a metaphor the subject actually is spoken as the object it is being compared to “ Life is a battlefield” whereas in a simile, it is “ “compared to” the same phrase when used as “Life is like a battlefield” becomes a simile.
Alliterations and oxymorons and such devices add to the beauty of a poem and its musicality. A good time to remember our good old Wren and Martin.
Having said that, it is best to avoid oft-repeated words and phrases or clichés, which make a poem look jaded and stale. Using original metaphors greatly adds to the value of a poem and one is encouraged to use one’s own imagination given the goal and theme of the poem being written.
Just to mention a few poetic forms, the ballad is a long story usually with an alternating rhyme scheme, the haiku has 3 lines with alternating lines of 5-7-5 syllables. A limerick might not be literary but is a poetic form. Blank verse is written in iambic format but carries no rhyme scheme. Sonnets and Villanelles are more complex but beautiful forms.
Free verse has neither rhyme nor rhythm, but still need to have a flow.
AN ARTIST PAINTS
Having spoken of the rhythm, rhyme, meter, literary devices and theme of a poem, it finally boils down to the expression and imagination of the poet. Poems have a soul that is imparted to it by the poet. And while it is best if the reader too can sense and appreciate the soul, the poet is like an artist. The canvas s/he paints is seen with the mind’s eye of the poet and it is his /her own interpretation that finally trumps all else. Words are the paint a poet uses and the poem, a painting.
As in everything else in life and in writing, one gets better and better with practice. As one writes more and more, the style and depth of writing will evolve. Revise your poems before you submit it. There will always be room for improvement.
Don’t hesitate to change a word or line, especially while rhyming. There is nothing that sticks out like a sore thumb, more than a word or phrase used solely to fit into rhyme. One can even go back and change the line one is attempting to rhyme to. This will only enhance the beauty of your poem, even if it takes more time. Even if the line being changed is as dear to you as a child being a creation of your own.
HOW I QUILL IT
To me, poetry is the language of my soul. It is an outpouring of emotion into words and phrases. It makes me smile, it makes me cry, it makes me angry. The only thing I can never be, to good poetry, is indifferent.
When I write, I often draw upon my own experiences to fuel the energy of my poems. I am intense and passionate about words, feelings and emotions. As mentioned earlier, when I write, I like to do it in one go at the first draft. I may refine it later with words and phrases being rearranged and realigned but the first draft is always “me” on paper, unedited and often, uncensored. A few of my poems cannot be shared with anyone but me! Yet they are cathartic and even therapeutic. That’s the way I enjoy writing poetry. Just being me. Of course, this is much easier when one writes without any prompt or prescribed theme.
I’m just a beginner and have a long way to go.
I have just skimmed the surface of the vast sea of poetry in this article, too. But I hope to motivate you to read more and write some more.
One of the most important characteristics of poetry is that it is evocative in a way prose can never be. At least not to me.
Poetry is an ever-evolving genre and defies a specific definition at every turn.
Hoping to get inputs from everyone, learn some more and grow some more. Let’s hope some of our work will speak to another’s soul as much as it did to ours.
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