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I could use some pointers please!

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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CatLin
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I could use some pointers please!

Postby CatLin » Thu Dec 03, 2009 6:08 pm

Hi guys!

I'd like to ask a favor. I entered a poem in the challenge this week (Orange). Seems Jan has inspired a lot of people to try their hand at it! Four of the top 10 entries are poetry, including the top two.

Mine isn't one of them. :(

I'd love some serious poetry red ink, if you poem-masters would be willing. I know the meter isn't right - some of my b/d lines have five syllables and some have six (and one has seven :oops:.) Each stanza is correct, but they don't all match. Would that make the points low enough to knock me out of the competition? I wrote this one completely "by ear" and then counted the syllables. I decided I liked it, and besides I was tired and worn out. I entered it almost as is (after some not-so-minor adjusting and editing of course. ;))

What else can I do to improve my poetry? I've entered many poems, but none have appealed to the judges. I'd love your help!

Play Me That Tiger Rag
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Postby swfdoc1 » Fri Dec 04, 2009 1:15 am

Cat,

Assuming (as I think your question implies) that you want to write anything other than free verse and assuming our judges know how to evaluate poetry (no offense to any judges, but you are anonymous and rotate, and I just don’t know anything about all ya’ll’s background with poetry), I can give you some profound but probably hard to implement advice from Paul Fussell, the author of Poetic Meter and Poetic Form. It is certainly advice that has challenged me. It comes down to the fact that we have to move beyond writing “by ear” (to use your excellent term) and THEN move beyond writing overly strict meter. Fussell writes:

We can discriminate three degrees of metrical competence in poets. In the lowest degree, exemplified by the effusions which appear in rural newspapers, we feel a metrical imperative either not at all or
only very rarely . . .

. . . .

Here so much effort is going into finding rhymes that little energy is left over for the meter.

In the middle range of metrical competence we find poems which establish in the first line a rigorously regular metric and then adhere religiously to it with little or no variation. . . . Swinburne said of [one such poem]: “Verse assuredly it is not; there can be no verse where there is no modulation.” . . . .

In poems of the third and most sophisticated metrical kind, the entire function of mere is very different from what it is in the second sort. Emerson’s remark helps suggest the all-important difference: “It is not meters, but a meter-making argument that makes a poem.” Or as Pound puts it, “[Meter] can’t be merely a careless dash off, with no grip and no real hold to the words and sense.” In this kind of poem the poet establishes regularity only to depart from it expressively. When he does compose a metrically regular line it is not because the metrical scheme tells him to, but because something in the matter he is embodying impels him toward a momentary regularity. . . .

“Most arts,” writes Pound, “attain their effect by using a fixed element and a variable.” The fixed element in poetry is the received or contrived grid or framework of metrical regularity; the variable is the action of the rhythm of the language as it departs from this framework.
(N.B.: the first alteration is mine; the second is Fussell’s.)

At bottom, we need to scan our poetry and learn the effects of replacing the regular foot with a substitution. I believe that the general effects of most substitutions can be LEARNED, but some of THIS can possibly be done by ear.

And of course, this is just one issue, but a key one. There are issues of word choice, metaphors, allusions, rhyme scheme (including use of fixed forms), figures, etc.

Does this help at all?
Steve
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“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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Postby CatLin » Fri Dec 04, 2009 1:01 pm

Yes, Steve! Thank you for the quotes. I (in my humble opinion) think "Tiger Rag" falls into that 3rd category. Fussell describes exactly what I was doing when I wrote it. I have entered meterically(?) perfect poems in the challenge without forced rhymes, but this one, I knew it wasn't "perfect" but I liked the way it sounded - how the words I wanted emphasized were, and they created the rhythm while staying within a regular beat/meter.

I, in no way, am criticizing the judges. I've judged the challenge many times and rating poetry is the most difficult part. I know enough to know if it's bad, and I know whether I like it or not. I think I can judge fairly whether other people would like it regardless of my own opinion. The variety and quality of poetry in the top 10 shows that they were more than fair. I was ecstatic to see that mine was #11 :D and #7 in masters. I was so sure I'd done something terribly wrong.
:oops:

I've written quite a bit of free verse for the challenge too, but I must be lacking that certain "something" that the poets who regularly win have. I'd like to be able to write poetry like a master, too. ;) I'm always trying to improve. That's why I LOVE Jan's lessons so much. I attended her workshops at the FW conference this past August too, and Jan is even better in person. ;)
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Postby swfdoc1 » Fri Dec 04, 2009 3:06 pm

I certainly did not take your comments as criticizing the judges in any way and I hope you did not take mine that way. When I said "assuming our judges know how to evaluate poetry," and "I just don’t know anything about all ya’ll’s background with poetry," I hope people read that with a "normal" tone and with a snide, sarcastic, or condescending tone. I was just stating my assumptions since if judges understand poetry, they will think category 3 poetry is good and category 2 poetry is less good (as they should), but if they don't understand poetry, they would get it backwards.

I'm glad your Clemson poem did well (and not just because I attended 2 ACC schools!). You varied the meter on purpose, and it placed at a level that you were happy with--great!
Steve
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"When the Round Table is broken every man must follow Galahad or Mordred; middle
things are gone." C.S. Lewis
“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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Postby CatLin » Fri Dec 04, 2009 3:11 pm

swfdoc1 wrote:I certainly did not take your comments as criticizing the judges in any way and I hope you did not take mine that way.

snip

I hope people read that with a "normal" tone and with a snide, sarcastic, or condescending tone.


I did - and hope you didn't assume otherwise. I was agreeing with you, and by stating my own limitations put myself in with the judges. :D Deb does a great job of placing judges in teams, I'm sure.

Thank you for your help, Steve, and your encouragement. I appreciate you!
Cat
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Postby swfdoc1 » Fri Dec 04, 2009 7:41 pm

Good grief! I was trying to say "and NOT with a snide, sarcastic, or condescending tone."

(I know you knew that but still . . . :oops:.)
Steve
nlf.net
________
"When the Round Table is broken every man must follow Galahad or Mordred; middle
things are gone." C.S. Lewis
“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien


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