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Be a Better Writer--MASTERING METER

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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JayDavidKing
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Re: Be a Better Writer--MASTERING METER

Postby JayDavidKing » Tue Jun 17, 2014 9:42 pm

Jan, I wrote a poem for one of your classes (sorry, I don't recall which one) called "Things Found Along the Road". You were teaching a certain type of poetry style that had a preset form of repeating lines. I wrote it in 10, 10, 10, 10 rhythm with alternating stress throughout. The poem has eight verses with identical rhythm and stressing. This is the first verse. Did I mark it correctly? If you want to see the entire poem it is at http://www.faithwriters.com/article-det ... p?id=91935

Had I but KNOWN what LURKED aLONG the ROAD,
when FIRST my HEART comMITTed TO its GOAL
perHAPS I WOULD have SOUGHT to SHED my LOAD;
aLAS, I ADDed DAIly TO its TOLL.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--MASTERING METER

Postby glorybee » Tue Jun 17, 2014 10:00 pm

Gerald, this poem is GORGEOUS. You've marked the meter correctly--it's called iambic pentameter, by the way, and it's the meter that Shakespeare used in most of his sonnets (although with only 14 lines of it).

Totally beautiful--thanks so much for sharing it here!
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--MASTERING METER

Postby Come forth » Tue Jun 17, 2014 11:21 pm

Jan you ask:
I'm not sure where you pronounce an 11th syllable in that last line, but it's certainly an Aussie thing, I'll bet.


Let me look at that line again:

Here they are nurtured, in this earthy home.

Isn't 'here' two syllables -- he re? Doesn't the rule of syllables being formed by vowels apply. I've checked it in three online syllable counters and it shows as two syllables in each. Please, I'm not trying to be smart here, just trying to learn.

So does the syllable count change with some pronunciations of the word?

An interesting thought comes to me in regard to accents and syllables/stresses. If accent changes syllable count and stress, then how can someone like me learn what is right and wrong where stress is concerned?

Blessings, Graham.
May we all get eyes to see and ears to hear,
A Revelation of His Word, crystal clear.
Admitting our need to be drawn in,
Less of self, more of Him.

My prayer for us all.
God bless us with the Revelation of His Word, Graham
http://www.shekinahcloud.com/page/page/8464330.htm

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Re: Be a Better Writer--MASTERING METER

Postby glorybee » Tue Jun 17, 2014 11:50 pm

A syllable is a unit of a word that contains one vowel sound--that's not necessarily the same as being "formed by a vowel." For example, many words contain silent vowels that don't add to their syllable count.

"Here" is one of those words--the second "e" is silent, serving the purpose of giving the first "e" a long "e" sound, but not pronounced.

However--maybe Aussies do pronounce "here" in two syllables--I'm just not sure. But there are many, many words with unpronounced vowels. My granddaughter's name is Kate--two vowels, but only one syllable.

You've certainly brought up an interesting question. "Does the syllable count change with some pronunciations of a word?" The answer is "yes." The word "blessed" can have one syllable (sounding like "blest") or two syllables (sounding like "bless-ed"). The word "mole" can be pronounced "mo-lay" when it's a kind of sauce, or "mole" when it's a little animal. And of course, people may pronounce words differently because of their dialects or accents.

So your final question--how can you learn right and wrong when stresses are variable--is a good one. I can only say that you should work on making your meter work with the way YOU pronounce words, and not to worry about the way that they'd be pronounced by potential readers. You just can't make it work for every single reader, but it'll be close--and if it's good, any little blips in the meter as a result of accent won't matter in the least.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--MASTERING METER

Postby Come forth » Wed Jun 18, 2014 1:08 am

Thanks Jan; this actually helps a lot.
May we all get eyes to see and ears to hear,
A Revelation of His Word, crystal clear.
Admitting our need to be drawn in,
Less of self, more of Him.

My prayer for us all.
God bless us with the Revelation of His Word, Graham
http://www.shekinahcloud.com/page/page/8464330.htm

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Re: Be a Better Writer--MASTERING METER

Postby merrimj1122 » Thu Jun 19, 2014 11:16 am

Wow so glad to stumble by this...
I love writing poetry but always have so many questions because 30 yrs after my University writing days, i started writing again and my memory fails me on rules, etc :o
I seem to have an ear for meter, if its off I switch it right away with another word and try to keep the syllable count but can never seem to "analyze" the stressed and unstressed... I just write and it seems to flow... I can tell when its "off"
My big question has always been, if you are keeping to iambic pentameter and one line sounds so perfect but suddenly has 11 syllables... Is that ok? Should u keep it because it flows well, or should you search and re-write to make it read well sticking to 10? I have read if a poem ends in 9 or 11 syllables in iambic pentameter it is still fine?
This question has always been my biggie bec i never know if in the "poetry world" it is really still considered acceptable, or a minor error, or a biggie, or it truly doesn't matter.
Thanks any help to this question appreciated,
Hope to be able to read all the threads here
Mar

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Re: Be a Better Writer--MASTERING METER

Postby glorybee » Thu Jun 19, 2014 12:58 pm

merrimj1122 wrote:My big question has always been, if you are keeping to iambic pentameter and one line sounds so perfect but suddenly has 11 syllables... Is that ok? Should u keep it because it flows well, or should you search and re-write to make it read well sticking to 10? I have read if a poem ends in 9 or 11 syllables in iambic pentameter it is still fine?
This question has always been my biggie bec i never know if in the "poetry world" it is really still considered acceptable, or a minor error, or a biggie, or it truly doesn't matter.
Thanks any help to this question appreciated,
Hope to be able to read all the threads here
Mar


Not being a member of the "poetry world," (not even close), I'll freely admit that I don't know the answer to your question. I know that if I were writing the poem, my own obsessiveness would make me re-work that line until it had 10 syllables.

On the other hand--9 or 11 syllables would probably be just fine. As I said in the lesson, meter isn't engraved in stone, and you'll find many poems by poetry masters that are loosy-goosy with their meter. I guess it depends on if you're looking to get it published, and how picky the publishers are about their poems. If you're writing for your own benefit, or self-publishing, and you love that line--let it be.

Welcome to the writing forum--hope to see a lot more of you here in the future!
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--MASTERING METER

Postby swfdoc1 » Thu Jun 19, 2014 2:39 pm

2 quick thoughts:

First, in their posts here, some folks have indicated stressed and unstressed syllables differently than I would. Some of this may be that an established rhythm can almost “force” the reader to put stress where it would otherwise not lay, and this is subjective. Also, I’m not sure whether my “scanning” is right, other people’s is right, or some of each. And, in some cases a given line of poetry can legitimately be scanned in more than one way.

However, there are some pretty good rules of thumb, including these: http://prosody.lib.virginia.edu/ (It is well worth reading everything on this page, but you can just scroll down to the rules of thumb if you want.) Rules of thumb, 1-3 are pretty standard; rule 4 is more advanced. Also, many people suggest that demonstrative pronouns are usually stressed.

Also, I think the hardest thing for me to master is the idea of secondary stresses, as indicated by dictionaries, and when that impacts scanning a poem. Two easier ideas, but ones which I don’t always remember, are promotion and demotion (or diminution). Promotion occurs when 3 (ought to be) unstressed syllables appear in a row. The middle one becomes stressed. Similarly demotion/diminution occurs when 3 (ought to be) stressed syllables appear in a row. The middle one becomes unstressed. (But there are exceptions—oh joy!)

I linked to the above site several years ago, but primarily for a different reason: you can also practice scanning on this site. If you want to practice, the link above contains the directions. After reading them, you can click on different poems to practice your scanning.

Second thought: I’m glad terms like iambic pentameter have come up. I was afraid some confusion might have set in about the word “meter.” Jan, your use of songs was a great intro to meter, and when people started doing the homework, they were using “meter” in the song sense, as you asked them to. But later it seemed that people thought that they could just count syllables to give the meter in the poem sense. But that might have been my imagination. Anyway—as I said— I’m glad to see terms like iambic pentameter coming up.

By the way, IF you want to take the lesson in this direction, you could discussion the point raised on (or at least implicated by) the linked page in my last post: making substitutions to the regular “foot” of your meter can change the total syllables in a line. The syllable variation question has been raised once or twice by folks, but you might not want to go there.
Steve
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Re: Be a Better Writer--MASTERING METER

Postby lish1936 » Thu Jun 19, 2014 6:36 pm

Jan wrote:There are other very gifted poets on this site (I remember Henry Clemmons from a long time ago, but haven't heard from him in a long time), Linda Watson Owen, Leigh McKelvey, Beth LaBuff--but most of those people aren't writing here any more.


All are among my favorites. Speaking of Beth LaBuff and as if to confirm what you said, Jan, Beth demonstrated her talent by winning 2nd place EC for this week :)

But back to the topic:

Before I found Faithwriters, non-fiction was the only area of writing I attempted. I dabbled in poetry, with little knowledge of what I was doing or why. I'm learning so much from Jan and this thread. Proof positive that I need all the help I can get when it comes to meter and rhyming is the following poem that I submitted awhile back for one of the Challenge topics. It has little rhyme or a consistent meter (I see that now), but hopefully some "reason." I'm probably better suited for free verse.

I'll take a "D" for exhibit A on how not to write poetry. :lol:


Garden Warrior


Although I’m armed for conquest,
no matter what I wield
against its rays, the sun
shoots through my shields,
of hat for shade
and lemonade
7-6-6-4-4-4 (Did I calculate the meter correctly?)

(The meter for the rest of the stanzas is hopeless)

Caught in fierce combat
with weapons of mass exhaustion
and dehydration
I attack before sunrise
and return under
cover of sundown.

Even so the battle rages
with sticks and stones
and rocks hewn in time
nestled in hardened clay.
I strike a blow and then retreat
to fight another day

I give it all I’ve got
of gut, and strength and sinew
of sweat and tears and toil.
I can’t believe the
hole’s too small

Tomorrow is another day
to battle sun and soil
with manicured soldiers
dressed in gloved fatigues
struggling hard against the foe
with rake and hoe

The battle cry goes forth
dig, rake, and mulch
water, seed, and sow
my cause is just
and conquer I must

With every infant sprout,
the earth gives up the struggle.
With every little flowering bud,
the sun submits and snuggles.
And I sit peacefully in the shade
Sipping lemonade.

Lillian
Last edited by lish1936 on Thu Jun 19, 2014 6:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--MASTERING METER

Postby glorybee » Thu Jun 19, 2014 6:44 pm

Steve, thanks for that very valuable link. I think it's a fantastic resource for more advanced poets, and for those who want to pursue the study of meter.

I'm slightly intimidated by it, but when (if!) I ever get some free time, I'll definitely work through some of the poems on that site.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--MASTERING METER

Postby glorybee » Thu Jun 19, 2014 6:48 pm

lish1936 wrote:
Garden Warrior


Although I’m armed for conquest,
no matter what I wield
against its rays, the sun
shoots through my shields,
of hat for shade
and lemonade
7-6-6-4-4-4 (Did I calculate the meter correctly?)


Lillian


Lillian, you counted the syllables correctly. The meter consists of both the syllable count and the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables.

I admire you tremendously for stretching out of what you were used to writing, and dabbling in both fiction and poetry. Not everyone is so willing to attempt new things, and what you've done is commendable.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--MASTERING METER

Postby swfdoc1 » Thu Jun 19, 2014 7:36 pm

glorybee wrote:I'm slightly intimidated by it, but when (if!) I ever get some free time, I'll definitely work through some of the poems on that site.


I still freshen up with it sometimes and still make mistakes. One thing that is especially nice is that in some passages, it alerts you to more than one possible way to mark the stresses.
Steve
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Re: Be a Better Writer--MASTERING METER

Postby lish1936 » Thu Jun 19, 2014 9:25 pm

Jan wrote: But wait—we’re not done. Not only does there have to be a pattern of number of syllables, but there must also be a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables.


I may have missed this in reading through the comments, but does that mean both "patterns" must match up as one in the same? I also tried to emphasize the stressed and unstressed syllables, but not sure I got it right. They are SO off key! How might I correct this, if at all?

Although I’m armed for conquest,
Al-THOUGH I'm ARMED for CONquest

No matter what I wield
No MATter what I WIELD

Against its rays, the sun
A-GAINST its RAYS the SUN

Shoots through my shields
SHOOTS through my SHIELDS

of hat for shade
Of HAT for SHADE

And lemonade
And LEMonADE

Thanks,

Lillian
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Re: Be a Better Writer--MASTERING METER

Postby glorybee » Thu Jun 19, 2014 10:05 pm

lish1936 wrote:
Jan wrote:
I may have missed this in reading through the comments, but does that mean both "patterns" must match up as one in the same?


I'm not sure that I understand that question.

Meter has two components: syllable count and the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables.

1. The syllable count should have a consistent pattern. In the example you've provided, this stanza is (7, 6, 6, 4, 4, 4). This is an unusual syllable count, but you could maintain that consistently in every stanza, making this a quirky and unique poem. Most poems that are rhymed and metered have a more regular syllable count. If you go back to the original lesson and click the link for "Megan's Hands," you'll see a poem I wrote with an unusual meter: (8, 7, 10, 8, 7, 10). It's not a typical pattern--but it's the same in every stanza.

2. The stressed/unstressed bit is what seems to be giving the most trouble. I really don't want to go into the names for the different patterns of stressed/unstressed, but I'll give you some examples:

unstressed - stressed: like the name Annette, pronounced a--NET
stressed - unstressed: like the name Robert, pronounced ROB--ert
unstressed - unstressed - stressed: like the name Marianne, pronounced mar-i-ANN
stressed - unstressed - unstressed: like the name Jericho, pronounced JER--i--ko

There are many other patterns, but these are the most common.

Here's your stanza, with the stressed syllables as I hear them:

al THOUGH i'm ARMED for CON quest
no MAT ter WHAT i WIELD
a GAINST its RAYS the SUN
shoots THROUGH my SHIELDS
of HAT for SHADE
and LEM on ADE

It seems to me that this stanza is very close to having a meter that works. It's very consistently made up of sets of unstressed/stressed syllables. A few tweaks of the 3rd and 4th line might give you something like this:

Although I'm armed for conquest (7)
No matter what I wield (6)
Against its rays, the sunshine (7)
Shoots through my futile shields (6)
Of hat for shade (4)
And lemonade (4)

If you don't care for "futile," any other 2-syllable word with the accent on the first syllable would do.

Please let me know if I haven't understood your question, and I'll give it another shot.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--MASTERING METER

Postby Laurie » Thu Jun 26, 2014 12:12 pm

It's been almost seven years since I've written poetry on a regular basis. I think I've written a total of three since 2007. Anyway, I used to enjoy experimenting with different patterns. I didn't look them up, so I don't know if there were even names for them, but I just made them up as I went. ;) Generally speaking, I could hear the meter okay, but sometimes I was so caught up in the rhythm, I would hear some words wrong.

I don't have anything to add, but just wanted to say it's nice to see everyone chiming in on this topic. I learned a lot here at FW back in the day. Lessons like this are so valuable. :)

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