A Meditation On Some Lines

"...poets, in my view, and I think the view of most people, do speak God's language — it's better, it's finer, it's language on a higher plane than ordinary people speak in their daily lives." - Stephen King

God knows I'm no bard, but then I never thought I could write fiction until I tried. It turned out that it wasn't as bad as I expected it would be, but writing verse? I've read many poets, some on E2, and some in books. I even have a few favourites, though for the life of me I couldn't tell you why. I've also read a good deal of what some people have called poetry on E2, and found it lacking. Some of the authors have tried to argue their case, others have called me names. I'd rarely argue, as I consider myself lacking the wherewithall to give appropriate criticism beyond "this isn't working for me".

I'm going to be honest and say that I never really studied poetry as a form, never really learned to appreciate it, and certainly never wrote a deal of it. "Por'try" was almost universally viewed by us schoolboys as being a pansy's occupation; we'd rather be playing cricket than reading about it, unless it were John Betjeman doing the verse, in which case we'd grudgingly appreciate his sweeping strokes. I'd never have admitted having a passing knowledge of Ogden Nash or Robert Frost, and my copy of A Puffin Book of Verse was tucked away behind my books on astronomy and space. If I'd had pornography, I would have hidden it well behind that. In short, I was a Philistine (to rhyme with "dine") who lacked the patience, and possibly the instinct, to write what I would call a poem.

This is not to say that I didn't learn to pass a poetic turn once in a while, or to weigh words carefully to good effect. I flatter myself that I could turn a handsome phrase, knew to alliterate lightly and could tap out a reasonable rhythm, but only as gentle touches in a piece of prose. In short, I was a coward; deep prosody was something I avoided.

It was inevitable that sooner or later I would churn something out that resembled verse. My first adult inspiration came on a canal towpath in Nottingham, a single phrase that I jotted into a notebook, a sentence that would form the basis for a haiku:

Wind shimmers willow
 A single leaf falls to earth
Russet hues abound

I was quite proud of this, though not proud enough to make it public, and certainly not enough to brag about it. I was still puzzled by this poetry thing, and upon marrying my favourite poet, devoted some time to discussion, reading and study. Christine and I shared quite a few of our best beloved verses, and I did of course, read what she'd written before falling at her feet to worship.

I did go so far as to pen a song for her, an act of great love, and even sang a little to her, an act of great bravery for us both. Some day I will finish the verse that completes the song, but it will be a day when tears do not impede my typing.

Meantime, I still give thought to what poetry actually is, and today, decided to turn one of my little noding ideas into verse. The original snippet would have become a daylog entry about a week ago, had I had the time and inclination, but it was left on paper as a piece of potential.

At the close of day, there is no wind. There are hummingbirds in the garden, and it is stifling. In the beds of flowers, trying to hide but making their tiny breeze, the insects move delicately, trying not to be eaten.

I rather liked it, though it clearly needed a little polish, and I felt that it deserved to become something. The easiest thing to do is to see if it makes decent free verse; after all, many would-be poets seem to think that it's the only way of writing a poem. Would it work for this little slice of the world? I hacked in a few line breaks and took a look.

Free Verse Version

At the close of day
there is no wind.
There are hummingbirds
in the garden,
and it is stifling.

In the beds of flowers,
trying to hide but
making their tiny breeze,
the insects move,
trying not to be eaten.

It's not so bad. I have read worse, and it does seem not to lose anything of the original, but even as I was writing I could hear Christine's voice, telling me, as she had done so many noders, that free verse seems easy, but is harder than it looks. She'd tell the whole world that before tackling it, one should become familiar, even intimate, with other forms. These words were not about to become a sonnet, but by Jove they may be pantoum materiel. This, along with haiku and the limerick, is the one form on which I had a reasonable grasp. It's a form which repeats lines from previous stanzas, and provided one is careful, it can be quite attractive, but may also appear to be forced, shoe-horned into the form.

Pantoum Pandemonium

It turns out that the easiest way to create pantoum is with a spreadsheet. Punch in the lines, reference the repeated lines as appropriate. This is shake-and-bake versification, so let's see how my few lines fare. To be frank, I'm not expecting much.

There is no wind.
There are hummingbirds
In the garden
And it is stifling.

There are hummingbirds
Making a tiny breeze,
And it is stifling
In the beds of flowers.

Making their tiny breeze,
The insects move delicately
In the beds of flowers,
Trying to hide.

The insects move delicately
In the garden
At the close of day.
There is no wind.

Eh, clumsy, just as I thought. Turning a reasonable bit of prose into a pantoum was almost as easy as free verse, but was marred by the contrived form; it certainly seems no better, even though I played with it a little. I asked a few noders for feedback, and their comments agreed with my own critique, that it doesn't flow, ends abruptly and breaks the image into coarse shards. There is little poetry in the word "stifling", and "...there is no wind" just does not work.

Read, Reflect, Rewrite, Repeat

Let me work on this for a little while, and see if I can improve it. I will give myself an hour, and take my own advice to read it aloud and see how I feel about it; this is about heart, not just mind.

The evening is calm;
There are hummingbirds
Around the garden
In the heat haze.

There are hummingbirds
Making a tiny breeze,
In the heat haze
Among the beds of flowers

Making a tiny breeze,
The insects move delicately
Among the beds of flowers,
Trying to hide

The insects move delicately
Around the garden,
Colourful as hummingbirds.
The evening is calm.

A few minutes reciting it, re-imagining and reliving the original scene, and I had a little inspiration. I spent a few more minutes playing with words and images, with a nudge here and there. Introducing the idea of colour was my first notion, and restating the heat with "haze" just set it up nicely. In my opinion, it now flows a little better, keeps the magic and tells a little more story. This is as I remember it, the smallness and beauty of that one tiny moment. I think I'll keep it. Maybe it's not the best of verse, but I've learned a lot. I'm a little happier now, and am for a while done pretending to be a poet, at least in public. I shall, for a time, stick to my guns, my prose and my cowardice, and wait until I'm ready for a sonnet.

Thanks to Byzantine, NanceMuse and Posmella for some very valuable feedback.

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