Breathing Poetry

carlow.edu

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.

poetry for dummies

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:

To 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,
A
nd in a note to him she wrote,
“I’ve taken all your gold.”

pg 170

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:

A
B
A
B

C
D
C
D

E
F
E
F

G
G

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.

    pg 172

    .

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)

 

house where a woman

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.

MaryLDebPosterFinal

Poetry for Dummies

swirls

I’m currently reading Poetry for Dummies published in 2001 and have given myself Saturday afternoon homework.

poetry for dummies

In the middle of chapter 9, a chapter describing Open-Form poetry, there is a great open verse tutorial. I’ve found it online as well at the Dummies website too and have copied it below.

Think of open-form poetry as a way of thinking — an especially intense awareness of every single aspect of the poem, from subject and tone to music and rhythm, from the physical shape of the poem to the length (in space and in time) of the lines, from the grammar you use to the parts of speech.

When you write an open-form poem, try to be very conscious. Everything in the poem, every feature, every aspect, must have a reason for being there. Be conscious of the following:

  • Economy. Cram as much energy as possible into each word. Cut everything that doesn’t absolutely need to be there.
  • Grammar and syntax. Are you always using complete sentences? Well, that’s fine — but you could also do it another way. Decide whether you have a reason to write in complete sentences for this poem. If you can come up with a reason, fine. If not, consider alternatives — bursts of words, single words, word fragments. And who says you have to use “proper” grammar? Or punctuation? Try breaking a few rules, if that improves the poem.
  • Parts of speech. Some teachers say you shouldn’t use adjectives or adverbs; they prefer nouns and verbs instead. That’s an excellent starting point: Use only the words you need. If all you’re doing is prettifying something, forget it. Use adjectives only when they’re surprising (“your green voice”), contradictory (“aggressive modesty”), or give information the reader simply can’t get elsewhere (“It was a Welsh ferret” — how else would we know a ferret was Welsh?).
  • Rhythms. Look at the rhythms in your lines. Does the rhythm of the line contribute to its meaning? Anything sing-songy? If so, is it good that it’s sing-songy?Often, open-form verse falls into iambs (a group of syllables consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, as in “alas!”) and dactyls (one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed, as in “penetrate”). Don’t let this happen unless there is a reason for it.
  • The physical lengths (the number syllables and the actual length) of the lines you use. Avoid falling into exactly the same lengths. Every length should have a reason behind it.
  • The length (in time) it takes to read each line aloud. If each line takes about the same number of seconds, figure out whether there’s a reason for it. If there isn’t, consider other shapes and lengths.
  • Line endings. Poets realize that line endings carry a certain emphasis or pressure. Your lines should end where they end for some reason. The way a line ends — where, and after what word or punctuation mark — should be the best way to end. Do you want a pause there? What’s going to happen when your readers go to the next line? Something unexpected? Some surprise?Read a lot of open-form verse, and you’ll notice that poets use a great deal of enjambment, winding the words around the ends of lines in gorgeous and meaningful ways.

I have so many half-formed poems that need to be worked on. I brought one of them to the table with me and tried to think of its’ form and consider it in the light of each of the bullet points above.

My poem went from this:

The Rush of Wings

.

Each day that passed she fell in order with living

The resonance of time, individual

The light of the sun

Counted on

.

The rush of wings

Shook loose the snow

Buried on top of the earth

.

Dreams of her mother

Visited at night

Awaking other thoughts that had been lost

friends,

taking care of yourself,

cleaning the closets,

using glasses from the cupboard,

time alone

.

When quietness had come.

To this:

The Rush of Wings

.

Death is a gaping hole

A limp lived with

In the wake of a loss

Someone is left alone

.

Each day passed

Living fell in order

Time, individual

Half-paralyzed

The movement of the sun

Counted on

My grandmother smiled.

.

The rush of wings

Shook loose the snow

Buried in the earth

.

Dreams of her mother

Visited at night

Awakening lost thoughts

Friends

Taking care of yourself

Cleaning the closets

Using glasses from the cupboard

Time alone

.

When quietness had come.

~

Other quotes I’ve picked up in my reading are below:

More meaning, fewer words. pg 10

Use vowels, consonants, sounds as a rhythm to the music of your poetry. pg 69

An intricate braid of poems. pg 103

Let the natural poem breath make the line break. pg 163

One thing I don’t do very often with my poetry is to speak it aloud. Joining a writers group allows this verbalization, which in turn informs my poetry by the way I hear myself and the way others describe understanding my poems.

(I liked the grassy swirls on the first image above. I took this at Phipps Conservatory.)