Long ago, I taught a class on forms of writing. One class was on poetry. The briefest glance at anything I post on here as “poetry” will tell you I’m not very good at it.
NEVERTHELESS, I both enjoy poetry and attempt to incorporate some of the principles of poetry in my prose: I try to write sentences that sound like the effect I’m trying for, that have an appropriate cadence, that use telling simile and metaphor or other figurative language, and that exhibit an economy of syntax.
Here are some of my class notes on poetry:
What Makes it Poetry, Anyway?
John Ciardi, poet, editor, critic, says that “The life of the poem lies in the way it performs itself through the difficulties it imposes upon itself.”
He asks not WHAT does a poem mean, but HOW does a poem mean.
Formal patterns of rhyme and meter; sonnet, haiku, sestina. In prose, this would be essay, prose-poem, flash fiction, short story, novella, novel, trilogy, Game of Thrones.
Similarity or identity of sound in words; perfect rhyme (rain, Spain, main, plain), imperfect rhyme (also known as slant rhyme or half rhyme; “getting the rhyme wrong”: (discuss, dismiss; giver, never; down, upon; eyes, images; restored, word), eye rhyme or sight rhyme (love, move, stove), assonance (words begin with different letters but have the same vowel sound — fill, wish, mist).
The beat. The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables within the line.
Free verse has no formal meter and no formal rhyme; it has cadence, which is the natural-sounding rhythm or flow of ordinary speech.
non-metrical devices for accelerating or slowing the pace of a poem to reflect changes in the poem’s tone or attitude. Longer lines slow down the pace of reading. Short lines speed it up.
(l) Sound patterns: rhyme (generally speaking, the heavier and more complicated the rhyme, the faster the pace); repetition of vowel sounds, consonants, words, lines (gives emphasis and slows pace).
(2) Visual patterns: placement of words within the body of the poem — isolation of words as single lines, the separation of words by unusual spacings in the line, the breaking off of lines for special effect.
(3) Punctuation: capitalization of whole words or their first letters, italics, whole stops or half stops within or at the end of a line (a pause or a stop at the end slows the pace more than a pause or stop within a line).
(4) Grammatical structure: parallel construction and balanced opposites control the voice emphasis (“I’m ok and you’re ok” — lays stress on I’m and you’re. “I’m nice and you’re not” — lays stress on nice and not).
(1) imagined similarities: metaphors (identifies one thing with another: “You are the sunshine of my life.”), similes (using “like,” “as,” or “as if”: “My love is like a red, red rose.”), allusions (a reference to something else: Our #4 daughter used to call soap bubbles “Glendas.” Because: obviously.)
(2) suggestive associations: one word is linked with another (golden/youth, happiness, wealth; or bird/freedom)
John Ciardi says, “A word is a feeling.” Advertisers know this; so do undertakers and politicians. Euphemisms: toilet paper = bathroom tissue; dead person = loved one; liar = faulty historian. Different ways of referring to the same thing can express or trigger different attitudes. Earth = ball of mud, spaceship Earth, the big blue marble, God’s footstool, Mother Earth.
Ciardi also says: “Only a poem can illustrate how a poem works.”
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: The dog ran through the woods on a sunny day. Rewrite that, using the principles of poetry to make it funny. Rewrite it to make it scary.