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#14--THE WELL-CONSTRUCTED POEM

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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#14--THE WELL-CONSTRUCTED POEM

Postby glorybee » Mon Jun 07, 2010 8:57 am

Today’s quick take: Aisle and isle are pronounced the same, but they are very different words. I’ve seen the wrong one used in challenge entries several times.

An aisle is a narrow walkway, such as the one between rows of seats in a church or a theater.

An isle is a small island.

Too often, an entry will have a sentence like this:

Sharon walked down the isle and took the hand of her handsome groom.

Unless they’re getting married on the beach, the writer probably meant aisle.


***

Continuing with my series based on the Challenge Judging Criteria—this week I’ll look at the well-constructed poem. Apologies to any of you who heard my presentation on poetry at the conference last year; I’ll be covering much of the same material (although in less detail).

This lesson can only give you the tiniest smidgeon of the characteristics of well-constructed poetry. My goal is merely to get you to pick out an item or two that you might consider trying in order to improve your poetic skills. If you see something here that interests you, please do some self-paced research and practice.

1. If you write traditional, rhyming poetry, rhyme well.

a. avoid predictable, clichéd rhymes (love/above, girl/curl)
b. rhyme interesting words—words with more than one syllable, ‘salsa’ words, comical words. Google Stephen Sondheim and study his lyrics to almost any song for some eye-opening rhyming skills
c. use internal rhyme
d. avoid forced rhymes—choosing a word simply because you needed a rhyme, and forcing the words of the rest of that line to make that word work
e. use slant (inexact) rhyme
f. vary your rhyme schemes. Instead of rhyming the 1st and 3rd lines and the 2nd and 4th, switch it up in any number of interesting ways
g. use RhymeZone.com as an excellent resource for rhyming words

2. If you write traditional poetry, master meter.

a. count the number of syllables in each line. There should be a pattern. NOTE: you do not have to have the same number of syllables in each line—just a consistent pattern. Quick practice—count out the syllables of each line of “Amazing Grace”, tapping your fingers for each syllable. Do you hear the 8,6,8,6 syllable count? That’s just one of thousands of possible meters—but a good one for beginners.
b. count the stressed and unstressed syllables in each line. There should be a pattern. The most common pattern consists of alternate stressed and unstressed syllables, but there are many other ways to do it. Figure out a pattern, and stick to it.
c. Once you’ve mastered a and b—you know who you are—write more interesting meters. I’ve written about this before, so I’ll move on. Some poets are definitely stuck in the 8,6,8,6 groove.

3. If you write free verse—use poetic language. Free verse is more than just prose written in varying line lengths. The free verse poet uses language differently from the prose writer.

a. vary your syntax (the order of words in a sentence/line)
b. use imagery—a free verse poem should not be overly abstract. Imagery consists of words that appeal to your senses.
c. use figurative language: metaphor, simile, personification, hyperbole, symbolism
d. choose words for their sounds: assonance, consonance, alliteration, repetition, onomatopoeia
e. toss the rules of punctuation and capitalization out the window—but have a reason for doing so; everything you do should enhance the meaning of the poem

4. Use enjambment—where you carry on a thought from one line to the next without punctuation—and then you put the punctuation where it would naturally fall, even if it’s in the middle of a line. I used too much of it in my sonnet Defiance, but it should give you the idea. Not every line needs to end with punctuation or even a ‘mental pause’.

HOMEWORK: You have a choice.

1. Ask a question about well-crafted poetry. OR…
2. Add your own item to this list—what do you think makes the difference between a well-crafted poem and a mediocre one? OR…
3. Find a poem that you think is well-crafted, either here on FaithWriters or elsewhere. Post no more than 8 lines of it, and tell what makes it excellent. OR…
4. Write a stanza or two, incorporating one of the listed skills above. Let me know which one you were using (internal rhyme, for example, or metaphor, or any of the others…it’ll help me to respond if I know what I’m looking for).
Jan Ackerson

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As Melting Wax

Postby OldManRivers » Mon Jun 07, 2010 9:58 am

We are but candles,
melting in the fire of time,
relentlessly,
most assuredly,
some say in crying tones, "'Tis so sad,"
but as for me,
I cherish this burning of my mortal hours,
for I become,
Light in darkness,
Warmth in cold,
the Divine in human form.

I thought I would try internal "rhyme" with the sequence of melting, crying along with the bringing together of the adverbs, relentlessly and assuredly.

I also tried to emphasize with word choice in which words carry capitals.

I also tried to build a syllabic rhythm moving up in count, down, then up again.
Last edited by OldManRivers on Mon Jun 07, 2010 10:08 am, edited 1 time in total.
May God's gentle grace be with you.

Jim McWhinnie

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Postby glorybee » Mon Jun 07, 2010 10:03 am

Jim, this is beautiful, and I was hoping we'd hear from you.

Can you please point out for those of us (including me!) who are still learning free verse--what are some poetic 'goodies' you put in there for us? What deliberate choices did you make when constructing that poem?
Jan Ackerson

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Postby Evensong » Mon Jun 07, 2010 11:00 am

Hi dear Jan! Saw your post on FB and couldn't resist jumpin' in on this on a lazy dazy Monday morning (don't ya just love slow Mondays? :mrgreen: )

Your explanation of poetic form is wonderful, as is all your informative posts. Thank you again for all you do here!

Jim, your poem is beautiful! What an inspiring thought wrapped in such effective imagery! Thank you!

I pulled this out of the ancient archives. LOL! Here are a few lines from "The Wine."
*******

“Let There Be!”

“Let There Be!” angels echo, “Let There Be!”
And look! Behold!
Emerging from the vibrance of His Voice,
the Vine appears
in newborn golden splendor,
growing in the glow of God-Light,
unfurling green in grace before unseen.

********

Readers will find alliteration, consonance, assonance, personification, and imagery. The vine is a metaphor and symbolizes the Creator's redemptive plan. I might add one other thing here that stands out to me in this section. The pace of the lines starts out quick and almost rushing, which fits the excitement of Heaven as God begins the creation of His redemptive plan. The pace changes as the Vine appears and grows, giving the reader a slow-motion 'close-up' of the vine and building interest in what is to come. I used capital letters to emphasize the eternal importance of the Vine. I have found that some editors prefer standard punctuation and caps. That's entirely a preference of the editor. I like to be free to use them or not as I desire the poem to appear, but I have changed that to fit the editor's requirements.
Blessings, Linda Owen
“...We have seen His glory....” John 1:14 (NIV)

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Postby glorybee » Mon Jun 07, 2010 12:35 pm

Evensong wrote:Here are a few lines from "The Wine."
*******

“Let There Be!”

“Let There Be!” angels echo, “Let There Be!”
And look! Behold!
Emerging from the vibrance of His Voice,
the Vine appears
in newborn
golden splendor,
growing in the glow of God-Light,
unfurling green in grace before unseen.

********

Readers will find alliteration, consonance, assonance, personification, and imagery. The vine is a metaphor and symbolizes the Creator's redemptive plan. I might add one other thing here that stands out to me in this section. The pace of the lines starts out quick and almost rushing, which fits the excitement of Heaven as God begins the creation of His redemptive plan. The pace changes as the Vine appears and grows, giving the reader a slow-motion 'close-up' of the vine and building interest in what is to come. I used capital letters to emphasize the eternal importance of the Vine. I have found that some editors prefer standard punctuation and caps. That's entirely a preference of the editor. I like to be free to use them or not as I desire the poem to appear, but I have changed that to fit the editor's requirements.


Thanks, Linda! I've color-coded your fun poetic terms (although not all of them) to help out the readers.

Thanks for mentioning pacing, too. It's a great tool, especially for the free verse poet who can fiddle with line length and spacing to pace her poem.
Jan Ackerson

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Postby OldManRivers » Mon Jun 07, 2010 1:21 pm

We are but candles,
melting in the fire of time,
relentlessly,
most assuredly,
some say in crying tones, "'Tis so sad,"
but as for me,
I cherish this burning of my mortal hours,
for I become,
Light in darkness,
Warmth in cold,
the Divine in human form.

I thought I would try internal "rhyme" with the sequence of melting, crying along with the bringing together of the adverbs, relentlessly and assuredly.

I also tried to emphasize with word choice in which words carry capitals.

I also tried to build a syllabic rhythm moving up in count, down, then up again.
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Postby glorybee » Mon Jun 07, 2010 2:03 pm

Thanks, Jim! Always great to get a glimpse into the mind of the poet.

Do you have anything to add to my list of components of a well-constructed poem?
Jan Ackerson

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Postby GracefulWarrior » Mon Jun 07, 2010 7:39 pm

Hi Jan,

I have never tried to write poetry and had never really cared for it.

I found this poem on the internet about 6 years ago and with what I was going through at the time; I could really identify with it. Thats what I liked about it.

I don't know if it would be considered a "good" poem or not. But it helped me to see that poems can really speak volumes and contain very powerful emotions.

I tried to find some of characteristics you described in it. I don't see rhyming in it. It seems like the meter is different for each line. The author does start each stanza with repetition.

Dark, dark the night that presses on my soul,
That crushes, squeezes, pulps my ability to love.
My trust, expecting the brilliant day of reciprocation,
Blinded instead by unseen sands.

Cold, cold the empty edge of your steel emotion
Mashing, piercing, breaking the porcelain of my feeling.
My trust, reaching out from the abyss of loneliness,
Your hand retracts, you laughing.

Vast, vast the expanse of your capacity for cruelty.
It rends, rips and reveals the raw innards of my pride.
My trust, freely given to you, laid on the altar of humility —
The saving angel never came.


I don't know who the author is.

Holly

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Postby glorybee » Mon Jun 07, 2010 8:26 pm

Holly, I found your poem online here. Apparently the poet is a fellow named Greg Taylor, who had a (now defunct) website for writers. He calls it an 'intentionally bad, bitter poem'--nevertheless, I found some nice things in it.

You already mentioned repetition. It's also got personification, alliteration, imagery, and probably lots of other 'goodies', too.

Can you tell us a little bit about why you don't care for poetry?
Jan Ackerson

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Postby GracefulWarrior » Mon Jun 07, 2010 8:51 pm

wow, thats funny! I was wondering if that was the case, where someone was upset or angry and wrote it from those feelings.

Also funny.. after reading that "purposely bad" poem, I now like poetry.

Forgive me, but I used to think poetry was all fluff. But when I read that poem and could see some of the same things that were happening to me in it.. It was exactly my feelings on paper, painted like a picture that I could say look -- this is how I feel!! I was not a happy camper at the time.

I thought wow, poetry does really have depth and meaning.

So I guess it was just ignorance on my part.

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Postby DanielK » Tue Jun 08, 2010 3:13 am

Hey, Jan!

I've always enjoyed poetry, though obviously some of my early poems were pretty naff. Right now there's a question I want to ask you. I noticed that in your lesson you didn't mention the japanese style poems, which, if I remember correctly, have to have a certain number of syllables to each line. Here's one I once wrote:

The plants growing high
Tall green carpets everywhere
Paths snake-wriggle through
Golden flowers bow to pines
Giant needles stabbing blue.

In this poem (I think it's called a tanka) I HAD to have the number of syllables as 5,7,5,7,7. I also had to use very poetic language. So, what's your advice on this sort of poem? I don't really think it falls in with the typical rhyming couplets.

Daniel

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Postby danamc » Tue Jun 08, 2010 7:33 am

I am in awe of those who can write free verse. I guess it takes practice but it seems to me that it just comes natural to some people. I just don't get it.

A question about the Challenge. Do you think it makes a difference in the judging if the judges of a particular week aren't poets?

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Postby glorybee » Tue Jun 08, 2010 8:17 am

Daniel, I'm glad you asked about tanka, which is a form we don't often see in the challenge--one tanka by itself isn't long enough for a challenge entry, and a person would have to write a series of them (or incorporate a tanka into a story) to make up a challenge entry.

Tanka and haiku both have requirements beyond syllable count--the tanka should describe a single moment in time, and the haiku should mention something in nature. Both are best if they have a bit of a bite at the end (although they're so short that a nip may be sufficient).

Because so much of the tanka or the haiku is predetermined (lines, syllables, and to some extent, subject matter), I'd say that the poet who takes them on should pay particular care to word choice and imagery. These little poems should leave the reader with a vivid impression.
Jan Ackerson

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Postby glorybee » Tue Jun 08, 2010 8:27 am

Dana, that's an interesting question. Poetry has been doing very well in the challenge recently, and in fact, I believe it has always done well (second to fiction, but better than non-fiction and devotionals).

I suppose it's possible that in any given week, there may be a judge who's not particularly comfortable with poetry--but that's true of any genre (sci-fi, historical, etc.) That's the beauty of the judging system; there are always 4 judges, and their skills and experiences with different writing genres complement each other.

Also, one of the judging criteria is "How well does this entry work within its own genre?" So even a judge who isn't particularly familiar with poetry will be comparing poems to poems in a particular challenge week, and I have confidence that they'd be able to determine which poems were more effective.

As for free verse, I'm with you in awe of good free verse poets. I've only rarely attempted it, and writing each word was agony!
Jan Ackerson

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Postby ElizaEvans » Tue Jun 08, 2010 9:35 am

"burning of my mortal hours"

That's awesome! That's poetry! :D
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