This past fall I participated in a Madwomen in the Attic Workshop led by local Morgantown poet, Lori Wilson. The class of five women, including Lori, provided an intimate setting in which I felt comfortable reading raw work in an effort to produce better poetry. The class also made me focus on writing. Lori’s insightful comments have continued to echo in my thoughts while I rework many of the poems presented in class. Last year I read Poetry for Dummies for the first time, which gives additional suggestions for inspiration and refining poetry. I thought I’d share a few examples from it below.
I’m finding these exercises below very helpful:
Chapter 9 – Going for the Breath: Framing individual lines
As you read poetry you become sensitive to the way you breathe. You read a group of words and then pause before reading another group of words -it’s just natural. Pay attention to that when you write poetry as well. Let those natural pauses determine where lines end. The breath, as it’s called in the poetry world, is a natural way to frame individual lines. -pg 162
My poem went from this:
Chapter 10 – Working with Traditional Forms of Verse : Traditional Ballads
Ballads take many forms. A popular one is the four-line stanza in which the first and third lines are written in iambic tetrameter (four iambs) and the second and fourth are written in iambic trimeter (three iambs), with a rhyme scheme of ABXB (the third line, X, need not rhyme or may rhyme with A).
Here’s what two such stanzas may sound like:
The winter moon had tipped and spilled
Its shadows on the lawn
When Farmer Owen woke to find
His only daughter gone;
She’d taken all the clothes she had
Against the biting cold,
And in a note to him she wrote,
“I’ve taken all your gold.”
Chapter 10 – Sonnets
It must consist of 14 lines.
It must be written in iambic pentameter (duh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH).
It must be written in one of various standard rhyme schemes.
If you’re writing the most familiar kind of sonnet, the Shakespearean, the rhyme scheme is this:
Every A rhymes with every A, every B rhymes with every B, and so forth. You’ll notice this type of sonnet consists of three quatrains (that is, four consecutive lines of verse that make up a stanza or division of lines in a poem) and one couplet (two consecutive rhyming lines of verse).
Ah, but there’s more to a sonnet than just the structure of it. A sonnet is also an argument — it builds up a certain way. And how it builds up is related to its metaphors and how it moves from one metaphor to the next. In a Shakespearean sonnet, the argument builds up like this:
First quatrain: An exposition of the main theme and main metaphor.
Second quatrain: Theme and metaphor extended or complicated; often, some imaginative example is given.
Third quatrain: Peripeteia (a twist or conflict), often introduced by a “but” (very often leading off the ninth line).
Couplet: Summarizes and leaves the reader with a new, concluding image.
Chapter 11 – Writing exercises for Poets pg 184-185
1. Using language from one subject to write about another. (By Bernadette Mayer)
2. Hiding half of your poem from sight. Take one of your poems and fold it in half horizontally, so you can see the top half of the poem but not the bottom half. Rewrite the half you can’t see- without looking at the original. Compare the original to you revisions. (By Maxine Chernoff)
3. Reworking poems you don’t like. Select one of your poems that you’re dissatisfied with. Read it through. Now put it away. Try to write the same poem again without referring to the older version. (By Maxine Chernoff)
Check out Lori’s work, and join the Madwomen in the Attic local class as we host Mary Lucille DeBerry in the celebration of her new book. Hope to see you next Saturday, at 2:00 on January 10th at the MAC in Morgantown, WV.