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  1. I'd like to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who helped make the return of the GA Poetry Anthology a huge success! We had 14 poetry submissions to read, all of which are linked to below. If you haven't already, I highly recommend checking them out and leaving our site poets a comment, reaction, review, recommendation, or all of the above! Based on the reception of this year's anthology, I think it's safe to say it will be back again next year. So thank you, site poets for your incredible contributions, and thank you, site readers for supporting our poets with so many lovely comments and reviews! Putting together GA anthologies is very much a team effort, so I would also like to thank everyone who worked behind the scenes to make this anthology possible. Anthology Coordinator Valkyrie Tech Support Myr Cia Proof Team Parker Owens Valkyrie Anthology Banner Creation Cia
  2. INTRODUCTION During my brief time here at GA, I’ve noticed that a number of authors have ventured into writing poetry pieces, which have often been very powerful in terms of emotion and rhythm. However, I haven’t seen much variation in set form. In an earlier life, I took some poetry classes. I enjoyed the chance to play with some of the techniques and structures that are available to poets as frameworks for the thoughts and emotions they wish to express: internal rhyme, broken meter, pantoums, sestinas, sonnets, and so on. Sometimes the experience was horribly frustrating, other times it was inspiring, sometimes it focused my thoughts, other times it kept pulling out new ideas… but it was always a mental workout and I usually felt afterward as if I were in better control of both my prose and my poetry. Sometimes I even got a decent poem out of the deal. I was talking with AC Benus about this in June, and we agreed that as we are both form nerds, we would love to co-chair a set of prompts based on poetry forms. Renee has kindly given her consent for us to use this forum. Every once in a while we’ll toss out a poetry form that one of us knows and likes, sometimes with a required subject, sometimes without. As forbidding as some of the structures can seem, they don’t have to be. We’ll treat it like putting a toy on a table, and we hope that other authors and editors at GA will feel like picking up each form and playing with it a bit… and maybe even publishing a poem based on that structure. So that’s from me, and here is the v. erudite AC Benus to write the very first poetry prompt. AC, take it away….. *** Poetry Prompt 1 – Tanka Let's Write a Tanka! A what..? I know, I can hear you asking what a Tanka is. When Irri first suggested combining forces to create poetry prompts with the idea of promoting verse in set form (that is, not 'free-form'), she floated the idea of Haiku. I too thought as much, but I knew that there could be no real understanding of Haiku without first seeing what that shortened form originated from. Tanka, which is also known as Waka (or Japanese verse), is very ancient. Fujiwara Sadaie edited an anthology in 1235 in which he collected verses and presented them sequentially. The first one dates to approximately the year 660, and the last from the year the anthology was collected. Hyakunin Isshu, or The Issue of a Hundred People, provides one Tanka each from one hundred poets. In the 20th century particularly, many fine Japanese poets have seen the potential in the Tanka's open form, and revived it richly to modern tastes. So specifically, Tanka consists of five lines, which are arranged in the following syllables: 5–7–5–7–7. This is like a Haiku, but there are two extra lines at the end, and this makes all the difference. Tanka are emotional poems, where the observer is present and speaking to us directly. In Haiku, the observer (and his or her emotions) is suppressed; a good Haiku is supposed to be untouched by human hands, while the Tanka is all about connection from heart to heart. Let's look at an example. Here is a translation of No. 3 by Kakinomoto no Hitomaro from the Hyakunin Isshu: Still on a mountain, A mountain bird's tail stays still, But it all seems like A long, long life is adrift For one who yet finds no rest. This poem puts you there, with Kakinomoto as he watches a pheasant slowly move. There is an impromptu feeling to the poem, but also one of great and timeless connection to the way things will or have always been. Let's look at another one. Here is a translation of No. 70 by Riozen-hoshi: In sadness complete My roof from others is set, As if depriving The twilight too of the same, We watch the autumn evening. These examples are enough to show you how much 'I' is in Tanka compared to Haiku. They also show another aspect of all Japanese poetry and traditional song, and that is a seasonal reference. Both of these poems mention autumn; Riozen does so directly, and Kakinomoto achieves it by mentioning a pheasant, which is hunted in the fall. For a Japanese-style poem to be true to form, such an allusion must be included. But I wanted to show that they can be subtle and casual. For instance, summer can be brought to your Tanka in the form 'suntan lotion,' 'public pool,' '4th of July,' 'beach blanket' – anything that puts the reader in the hot season. Likewise, for winter, 'robin' (which is associated with Christmas in Britain), 'furnace grate,' 'road salt,' 'heating bill,' 'creaking roof,' 'tire chains,' and on and on and on can serve to put the reader where you are in the time of year. I hope you get the idea and are inspired; anything that says season to you is fair game for a Japanese-style poem. Now, the challenge: write your own Tanka and set it in the season of year wherever in the world you are right now. The Tanka should use a seasonal allusion that has a powerful effect on you specifically. Although you think the allusion may not be meaningful to anyone else, poetry is meant to touch by random connections, so do not be afraid. As final inspiration, here's one I wrote, but can you guess the season? Rain etched on the glass – On one side of it, nature, On the other, my finger; While the drops fall and I try To let one feel real to me.
  3. Here is a place to discuss poems and ideas for NaPoWriMo 2023.
  4. It is necessary to see death. It is necessary to see death, stark naked, lurid and wild, Death as it pisses in the dark alleyways drunk and ecstatic on the jumps of drugs that are hard to name and harder to pronounce, it is still necessary to see death face to face. In a breach of society sanctioned lucidity hardwired in our brain, It is still very necessary to see death, To see the violent vandalism of civilization, Of ashes and nuclear death of atoms and atom bombs, Billions of flashlights burning up the sky, Smell of rotten carcass evaporating in sterile perfume of laboratory engineered poisons, Gases and liquids and solid whites of the eyes of the dead and the suffering of millions upon millions of innocence of ruthless greed of narcissist wankers. It is necessary to see death as it is, for the spring of flowers is nearly over and now we make war. 02/09/2013 ©asamvav111
  5. So long it has been since I have touched those soft lashes of delicate yield So long it has been since I kissed those smooth curves of apple So long it has been since I glorified those abyss of passion, dark and deep So long it has been since I adorned your transcendent frame, your mask of deceit ©asamvav111
  6. I had problems falling asleep last night and this popped into my head unbidden and fully formed. Then insisted I write it down before it would let me rest (you can picture whatever Muse is to blame standing behind me, his sharpened quill-pen ✒️ at my throat) : My beautiful rose made of shattered glass, glittering in the sunlight and morning dew. Beautiful from afar, but made of sharp points and rough edges which cut & scar when you try to hold it too close, hold it too tightly. Your fragile beauty falling apart in the heat of the midday sun. I wrote that thinking of Mr P, who I knew before C and I got our relationship going. Sexually-fluid, gender-queer, skin like smooth chocolate, beautiful lips, a body that was… mmmmm… did I mention the boy was pretty? Damn was he pretty. Lace & corsets; mascara & lip gloss; muscles & strength. Mostly, but not entirely, gay; mostly, but not entirely, a top. Starting in a hole he had no hand in digging and determined to climb out, but he kept sliding back in. Looking for a Daddy with a firm hand and love but afraid of finding what he needed. Someone called him a Butch Queen, which I'm sure they did not mean as a compliment, but which is probably the best label for him. Though he hates labels as they bind you as much as they identify you and he never wanted to be tucked neatly into any box. The trust between us finally wore away but I still wonder how he is and what may have been. He lost himself to the shadows in the hole and I am afraid it will bury him.
  7. Poetry Prompt 5 – Rhymes and Couplets Let's Write some Rhymed Couplets! Why use rhyme at all..? There are a few different reasons; one is to enhance rhythm. We have studied the way in which a poet like Emily Dickinson used alternating rhythms of metre to accent her lines, and she could also choose to punctuate her meanings with rhyme if she wanted to. So that leads us to the second reason, emphasis. You can draw attention to the concept you are presenting in the poem by putting a literary exclamation point on it through use of a Couplet (a matched rhyme in two consecutive lines). The third reason is for humor, for let's face it, the Couplet is difficult to do in English because it can come off sounding hokey. Shakespeare made fun of poor poets in As You Like It. The love-stricken Orlando nails heartfelt verse to the local trees in honor of Rosalind. When found, the jealous Touchstone makes up his own Couplets to knock the young lovers: Sweetest nut from sourest rind, Such a nut is Rosalind. Early English poets loved the rhyming Couplet, as it was foreign to ancient Latin and Greek poetry, and was thus considered something new. It first appeared in Italian or French lyric verse, and then became very popular, even though it's far more challenging to rhyme in this language than in the Romance tongues. Nevertheless, some beautiful and powerful Couplets have come down to us through the ages. Many people know them by heart, like Helen Hunt Jackson's lines: Bee to the blossom, moth to the flame; Each to his passion, what's in a name?[1] In her lines one can feel the power of the imagery, for although the same sentiments can be said in a simpler way, the poetics of the way she presents the basic idea makes it unforgettable. Couplets are also excellent for lightheartedness and sexual innuendo. Witness this gem from John Donne: Licence my roving hands, and let them go Behind, before, above, between, below. Or sometimes, out and out silliness and humor. W. H. Auden wrote a performance translation of a Goldoni opera libretto named Arcifanfano, King of Fools, as set by the composer Karl Ditters.[2] In his production, Auden chose to stick with Couplets throughout because they lead to some hilarious moments. Like these: But who's this modest maiden, Not with brains overladen? Such as she seems to be frigid, With principles too rigid. They blush and retreat and say no, And when you touch them, erupt like a volcano! So how can we build a complex piece in a more serious mode using Couplets? By using the tools we have already learned about – that poetic lines are constructed considering syllable length (either plain or marched into a pattern of metre); that lyrical verse arises when the patterns are rhythmically matched (all lines are the same length) or alternated (lines follow a back and forth use of two different lengths); and that form is there to offer freedom of expression. Any poetical form takes time to master, but once mastery is gained, you can do anything you want with it. Here is an example of what I mean. A couple of years ago I wanted to provide a translation for a particular piece of music in one of my stories. Although the original German lyrics make use of a single rhyme throughout, I knew that in English that would sound forced and bizarre. Answer? Couplets! Here is the result. You can find the music here; open it in a separate window and listen along as you read the lyrics. My aim was not to provide a slavish reiteration of the original words, but to create a beautiful performance poem that can both carry the meaning of the poet and the weight of the music. Sleeping softly, or so it seems, Heaven enters us in our dreams; Angels hover round about, Showing they comfort doubt; Two are singing sweetly, Two with blossoms neatly Spread a bed of roses, And there my heart reposes, For heaven will not forsake We who at dawn must awake. The prompt: write your own set of five Couplets using the music provided here. You have a choice of being serious or silly, it's up to you. If serious, write about how you hope to meet your goals and ambitions for the coming new year. If you are feeling silly and irrelevant, write about how lame this challenge is, or anything else you like. The point is, practice, practice, practice! Get a feel for letting rhyme come to you as you construct Couplets. ------------------------------------------------ [1] Jackson was a school friend of Emily Dickinson, and apparently their relationship was one that started off romantically. The surviving letters between them hint at this very strongly. See Rebecca Patterson's book, The Riddle of Emily Dickinson, Boston 1951. [2] You can buy the Auden-directed production recording of the work here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/dittersdorf-arcifanfano-king/id162471301
  8. . Poetry Prompt 6 – Elegy Let's Write a Tennyson-style Elegy! We have studied how verse form relates to certain patterns, like line length, using end-of-line rhymes for emphasis and memorability, and stanza patterns like the Tanka, Haiku, and Couplet. We can build on that by practicing with the four-line structure of the Elegy, which is like a pair of couplets split up to be a-b-b-a in its rhymes. The Elegy belongs to a group of lyric poetry including the Pastoral and the Eclogue. This form is ancient, and city-bound Hellenistic Greeks used to dream of getting back to nature through such popular pieces. While the other two forms promoted bucolic bliss, the Elegy spoke of loss – more often than not, of one handsome shepherd being taken by someone rich and powerful to 'the city,' and his equally handsome and lonely shepherd mate having to deal with the separation.[1] In this sense Shakespeare's poem Venus and Adonis is an Elegy, as the goddess has to suffer the rather comic rebuff of the beautiful boy before ultimately losing him altogether. With this, he breaketh from the sweet embrace Of those fair arms which bound him to her breast, And homeward through the dark laund[2] runs apace; Leaves Love upon her back deeply distrest. Look, how a bright star shooteth from the sky, So glides he in night from Venus' eye. Later, continuing to run from the goddesses' lust-driven pursuit, the beautiful teen boy is gored and killed by a boar. So in this we come to how the Elegy has been most often used in English: a lament for a departed loved one. Even though it is usually thought of as a death song, good Elegies still retain the element of nature as a sub-theme. For our purposes of studying how to write one, I will stick with examples from arguably one the greatest same-sex love poems ever written (and one sadly few bother to read today); Tenneyson's In Memoriam contains the lines: 'Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all. And the man he loved, Arthur Hallam, must have been a remarkable soul, for the expanse of In Memoriam is as passionate and sweeping as its near contemporary poem, The Leaves of Grass. Tennyson deals with his loss by questioning everything – Christian hypocrisy against same-sex love, faith versus reason, love being stronger than doubt and hate, even Creationism versus Evolution. And ever in the background is nature and how it brings the poet back to the presence of his beloved. Take for example these strophes from 95: By night we lingered on the lawn, For underfoot the herb was dry; And genial warmth; and o'er the sky The silvery haze of summer drawn; And calm that let the tapers burn Unwavering: not a cricket chirped: The brook alone far-off was heard, And on the board a fluttering urn: But when those others, one by one, Withdrew themselves from me and night, And in the house light after light Went out, and I was all alone, Then strangely on the silence broke The silent-speaking words, and strange Was love's dumb cry defying change To test his worth; and strangely spoke. So word by word, and line by line, The dead man touched from the past, And all at once it seemed at last His living soul was flashed on mine, And mine in his was wound and whirled[3] About empyreal heights of thought, And came on that which is, and caught The deep pulsations of the world. So, sucked from out the distant gloom A breeze began to tremble o'er The large leaves of the sycamore, And fluctuate all the still perfume. Here we can see what I mean when I say the rhyme pattern is like a pair of Couplets split up, and note that Tennyson chose to stick with a lyrical 8-syllable line length throughout. There is a grandeur to these lines, but I chose to show them first for how beautifully he weaves in the presence of both nature and the memory of the departed. But that does not always have to so blatant. Easier to follow are the four stanzas of 73: So many worlds, so much to do, So little done, such things to be, How know I what had need of thee, For thou wert strong as thou wert true? The fame is quenched that I foresaw, The head hath missed an earthly wreath: I curse not nature, no, nor death; For nothing is that errs from law. We pass; the path that each man trod Is dim, or will be dim, with weeds: What frame is left for human deeds In endless age? It rests with God. O hollow wraith of drying fame, Fade wholly, while the soul exults, And self-infolds the large results Of force that would have forged a name. So here, I hope you noticed right away, Tennyson used the exact form and line pattern, but achieved something markedly different from 95. His anxiety almost beats with a heartbeat as we read his words, and 'nature' becomes thought of human nature and of how natural it is for two people to love one another. The prompt: write your own set of four-lined Elegy stanzas. The theme is 'Remember,' and I encourage all of you to submit your work to Irri for the spring anthology. Keep the rhyme pattern a-b-b-a, use as many stanzas as you like, but maintain a consistent 8-syllable line. Play with it; your poem does not have to be about death or loss, just remembrance. -------------------------------------------------- [1] The two young shepherds who were household names in ancient and Renaissance times were Corydon and Alexis. They were as well known a couple as Romeo and Juliet is to us and the story of how their pure love and passionate devotion to one another was tested by the glitz and fakeness of hypocrisy was written about time and time again. Marlowe's famous lines of "Come live with me and be my love, and we will all the pleasures prove" is Corydon speaking to Alexis. (See Chapter 3 of Bruce R. Smith's 1991 literary survey of same-sex love in Shakespeare's England) [2] Laund = a grassy meadow [3] The 'his' of this line and the line above are the originals. Tennyson's son later systematically went through the poem and edited parts he felt were too 'gay.' Thus in this line he craftily added a 't' to make a nonsensical 'this': "And mine in this was wound". Unfortunately this was one of his favorite ways to deface the manuscript. Sometimes, as in the case of "His living soul was flashed on mine," he was forced to cross out his father's words and simply write something obscuring above it; here he altered it to read: "The living soul was flashed on mine," which again makes no sense to a reader. (See In Memoriam, edited by Robert H. Ross, 1973 New York) Walt Whitman's editor for the Leaves of Grass insisted he add qualifiers like "him and her," and "he and she" in his erotic poetry where he only wrote "him" and "he." Later on his dutiful students defaced his manuscripts after the master's death to reflect the edited print versions of the poem. (See Love Stories, by Jonathan Ned Katz, 2001 Chicago) Emily Dickinson likewise had her manuscripts rather brutally altered by her editor and niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi. As Keith Stern writes: "Though we know little about Dickinson's sexual life, we can be certain about the passions of her sexual orientation. In 1852 she wrote a love letter to her friend Susan Gilbert that read in part, 'Susie, forgive me darling, for every word I say – my heart is full of you, none other than you in my thoughts.' Her love for Gilbert inspired many of her poems. In addition to altering Dickinson's rhymes and punctuation, early editors replaced Gilbert's name in many of the love poems that were written to her. Scissors and erasers were taken both to poems and correspondence, turning 'her' to 'him,' and erasing the 's' in front of 'she.'" (ps. 139-140, Queers in History, 2009 Dallas) It is a shame that LGBTQ youth are still systematically kept from knowing the extent of Gay arts and letters that exists all around them. Editing Gay people out of their own history should end. _
  9. Poetry Prompt 8 – Quatrains Let's Write some Quatrains! Last prompt we took a major step forward, although it was so smooth ( ) you may not have noticed it. We went from lyric poetry, with its rhythms based on lines of 6 or 8 syllables to narrative poetry, where the line lengths are set at 10 or 12 syllables. The Quatrain is a storytelling device, and unlike the simple heartstrings of the Lyric form, the narrative qualities of the Quatrain can move a reader along just like a story does: with a beginning, a middle (development) and an end. And although the term can be used to talk about any 4-lined strophe of verse, for us it means something specific. It means four lines rhymed a-b-a-b, and having a total of 40 syllables, 10 per line. The history of why 10 syllables became the standard storytelling form in English is a bit odd. Classical Latin and Greek poetry is remarkably consistent in favoring 12 beats per line, and even Chaucer wrote that way. The Earl of Surrey was the great innovator, for in his work in translating Italian sonnets into English, he fell into a natural 10 beat rhythm, which he later used un-rhymed and called 'Blank Verse.' Without him, we would not have the English Sonnet or the blank verse that folks like Marlowe and Shakespeare used so well. Inspiration? Oh yeah, there are a lot of fantastic Quatrains in the English language, don't worry about that! Here is a little gem, and sorry about the carnage That drinks and still is dry. At last they perished – His second son was levelled by a shot; His third was sabred; and the fourth, most cherished Of all the five, on bayonets met his lot. (Canto Eight, Don Juan, Byron) Byron rather smoothly uses the Quatrain in a conversational style to simply tell us what happened to this poor man's children. Other times nothing can surpasses the grandeur of the Quatrain to talk about our personal stories of love, like this one: When wasteful war shall statues overturn, And broils root out the work of masonry, Not Mars his sword, nor war's quick fire shall burn, The living record of your memory. (Sonnet 55, Shakespeare) For a contemporary poet using the Quatrain to great effect, check out the following link to a work by Gert Strydom. http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/if-there-is-something-more-wreathed-quatrains-in-answer-to-edgar-allan-poe/ So, if you are thinking of tackling your own Quatrain, how do you start? Start with the story you wish to tell, and it can be a simple one. How the coffee spilled in the car and made you late for work; how the puppy wags his tail and makes your blues disappear; how the flowers are blooming now because you laid mulch down last autumn. You get the picture – you can write about the Trojan War if you want to, but I'm sure you have your own stories, so use 'em! Once you know what you want to story-tell about, I suggest you write out the first two lines. Review. Are they in the proper metre? Are the two words at the end of the lines easy to come up with a rhyme for? If so, write the next two lines. Done. If NOT, then tweak the first two lines until you have the rhythm, and have words that you can think of easy and natural rhymes for. Only then proceed to the last two. The prompt: write two Quatrains. One inspired by the sights of spring around you right now (or autumn, if you are below the Equator). And a second one telling us how you feel inside about it. It can be happy or sad, or indifferent – it's all up to you! Keep the Quatrains to four lines, rhyming a-b-a-b, and 10 syllables per line. Don't get frustrated, just have fun with it.
  10. I just thought I'd put all the links in one easy-to-access place Poetry Prompt 1 — Tanka Poetry Prompt 2 — Haiku Poetry Prompt 3 — Lyrics Poetry Prompt 4 — Metre Poetry Prompt 5 — Rhymes and Couplets Poetry Prompt 6 — Elegy Poetry Prompt 7 — Blank Verse Poetry Prompt 8 — Quatrains Poetry Prompt 9 — Sonnet Poetry Prompt 10 — Italian Sonnet Poetry Prompt 11 — Haiku #2 Poetry Prompt 12 — Rondo Poetry Prompt 13 — Ghazal Poetry Prompt 14 — Ballade Poetry Prompt 15 — Free Verse Poetry Prompt 16 — Carol Poetry Prompt 17 — Childhood Verse Poetry Prompt 18 — Rubaiyat Poetry Prompt 19 — Lullaby Poetry Prompt 20 — Found Poetry
  11. Poetry Prompt 3 – Lyrics Let's Write some Lyrics! I'm not talking about writing a song, at least not yet. But now that we have begun to think in terms of structure, and have been introduced to the concept of lines of poetry being made up of a set number of syllables, it's time to look at the most popular form in the western world. 'Lyrics' for my intents and purposes refers to a set of alternating lines of syllables - a discernible beat created through a repeating of line length. Like the rhythm we have seen from Japanese verse of 5 and 7 syllables playing back and forth, the most common equivalent in lyrical Western verse is an 8 and 6 pattern. A little birdie has told me Irritable1 has a fantastic prompt coming up talking about the internal rhythm within a line, but for now let's just look at how lines can form lyrics by using two different syllable lengths. Emily Dickinson had an innate way to construct poems. They are often very lyrical, as in this example: Nature and God—I neither knew Yet Both so well knew me They startled, like Executors Of My identity. Yet Neither told—that I could learn— My Secret as secure As Herschel's private interest Or Mercury's affair—[1] This is a perfect example for us to look at. For one, 835 (as it's known) is flawless as it alternates back and forth between 6 and 8 syllable lines. These lyrics also not no bother with rhyme, which we will get to in later prompts. For now, we can just read it and feel the connection to Tanka and Haiku, and we can build on it to write our own lyrics. And speaking of connection, I personally never feel I can understand Dickenson's poetry except in a queer context, and this poem once again reconfirms that for me as she speaks of feeling like Nature and God have never known her; that seems a very familiar doubt that every LGBT person has ever felt. Here's another Dickinson example (known as 551): There is a Shame of Nobleness— Confronting Sudden Pelf— A finer Shame of Ecstasy— Convicted of Itself— A best Disgrace—a Brave Man feels— Acknowledged—of the Brave— One More—"Ye Blessèd"—to be told— But that's—Behind the Grave— The prompt: write two stanzas of lyrics. Follow the 8-syllable/6-syllable pattern as you go. Base it on the first emotions you remember having when you woke up this morning. This is practice, so it is up to you if you wish to incorporate rhymes, and feel free to make the poem humorous if you like. [1] The analogy in the second stanza is an interesting one. Hershel was a chemist who published multiple papers on his experiments with mercury. The play of that science (i.e. Nature) with the mention of the god Mercury's not-so secret (and same-sex loving) love life brings in the element of spirit (or of God) to contrast it.
  12. . Poetry Prompt 11 – Haiku #2 Let's Write an Issa-style Haiku! We have studied Tanka, and Basho-style Haiku, so now we can move on to the other great master of Japanese Haiku, Issa Kobayashi.[1] While in Tanka the poet can have free range to explore the subjective with words like "I" and "me," Basho's Haiku strives to be totally objective and simply paint a scene with words. His Haiku assume the reader will feel the same emotions the poet did from simply reading the scene. Issa approached it from a different perspective. His Haiku are almost a perfect blend of detached witness speaking from an "I" POV, while focusing on showing (and not telling) the reader about an event. Here's an example: The dog's kindness shows as he moves aside for me on this path of snow. Or, here's another wintry one: Hey, it's in his look, that guy right in front of me, right down to his chill. Now for some background: born in 1763, and trained firmly in the Basho tradition of poetry, he wrote more than 20,000 Haiku but only a few hundred Tanka.[2] When he was 52 years old, he decided to start writing a poetic journal, whereby he would chronicle a year of his life. He called it Oraga haru, or My Springtime.[3] His wife had borne him a daughter recently, and their child turned two years old as he began this project. He dedicated his newfound joy in living to the fact that she brought hope and a fresh outlook to his existence. It proved tragic, because as he was writing this work, his daughter contracted smallpox and died. Issa recorded it all – his happiness, his despair, his grief, and finally, his determination that a higher purpose exists. Oraga haru became a landmark when he published, and it's arguably one of the greatest poetic works you'll be able to find. Do check it out in Hamill's translation. So, intimacy reigns in Issa's Haiku. He does not shy away from being a poet telling his side of things, as long as he keeps it simple, and adheres to the basic requirements of the Haiku as a form. Those are, the inclusion of a seasonal word – like 'snow,' and 'chill' in the examples above – and a structure of three lines arranged in syllables of 5-7-5. The question is, how does he do his magic? Answer: I do not know. It's just one of those things that works or fails to work, so I can simply give you more examples to see how he balanced the objective with the subjective. The great lord is now from his horse dismounting like cherry blossoms fall. --- You butterfly, fly – I see already on me too much earth-bound earth. --- At mid-summer's height, my umbrella disappeared; hard-core thief, perhaps? --- There are moonlit flowers, forty-nine years' worth of them, beneath whom I've walked. --- Perfect form, oh, snail, bit by bit, unflagged you climb Mount Fuji's great heights. --- Old dog lying there ear on the ground as if to hear Worm's lullaby. And his most famous poem, the one for the loss of his daughter: Tsuyu no yo wa tsuyu no yo nagara sarinagara The way of the dew, the dew's way of departing, brings and takes so much. The Prompt: write one or more Haiku based on an animal observation. This can be an inspirational moment, like a snail climbing a mountain, or a peaceful moment, like a dog napping on the grass. Just anything you see from the animal kingdom that makes you pause and reflect. Keep a seasonal word, and maintain three lines of 5-7-5 syllables. ------------------------------------------------ [1] In Japan, he's simply known as Issa, which is highly unusual. For in Europe, many important people, like Michelangelo and Galileo, are remembered by their first names; in Japan that's almost unheard of. I would speculate it's the intimacy of his poetry that makes people feel close to him; close enough to simply think of him as "Issa." [2] See: The Spring of My Life by Sam Hamill, Boston 1997. [3] Oftentimes the simplest things are the most difficult to translate. Case in point, the word oraga is a masculine form of 'my,' but it carries a certain, forced crudeness to it. It's a spoken work, the kind you're likely to hear in informal settings, like a bar, and its inclusion in the title of a collection of poems must have shocked early readers. I almost toy with the idea that the accurate rendering in English for this book is My Damn Spring. _
  13. Poetry Prompt 10 – Italian Sonnet Let's Write an Italian-style Sonnet! Italian Sonnets are more lyrical than their English cousins. They have built-in music via the nature of 'kissing rhymes,' and a forced pivot point that cannot be changed. The beauty and flexibility of the Sonnet as a form really took off in the skilled hands of Tuscan poets. Francesco Petrarca (also known as Petrach in English) had his Rerum vulgarium fragmenta (Fragments of Ordinary Things) published posthumously in 1374, and it changed the world of poetry substantially.[1] Before his death, he had used the Sonnet in a forty-year exploration of the forbidden love he felt for a person later scholars wanted to believe was a woman, but for whom the internal evidence of the Sonnets points to as a young man. Because of the lyric quality of this form, Romantic poets embraced the challenge of writing Italian-style sonnets, and preferred it to the narrative nature of the English form. The Italian Sonnet is made up of three parts: two quatrains, rhymed a-b-b-a, a-b-b-a; and a sestet, rhymed c-d-c-d-c-d.[2] The lines maintain 10 syllables throughout. Because of this structure, the pivot point is automatically built in at the break from the quatrains to the sestet. Let's look at a full example: Much have I travelled in the realms of gold, And many goodly states and kingdoms seen; Round many western islands have I been Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold. Oft of one wide expanse had I been told That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne; Yet did I never breathe its pure serene Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold: Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He stared at the Pacific—and all his men Looked at each other with a wild surmise Silent, upon a peak in Darien. John Keats, On First Looking into Chapman's Homer Here you can immediately see why this form is more challenging than the English Sonnet. But we can tackle this, for the 'kissing rhymes' (seen, been; hold, told) are constructed exactly like the Elegy form we've already studied. Think of the quatrains here like four pair of divided couplets, and that will make it much easier to tackle. As for the pivot point, you can see it naturally occurs when the poem shifts to alternating rhymes of c-d-c-d-c-d. It's almost like a sigh of relief when it settles into this smooth flow. In its way, there is something fundamentally unromantic about this poetic form in the English language. Perhaps it's because the English Sonnet is ideal for expressions of love and deep emotions, the Italian Sonnet becomes reserved for abstract concepts. Here is an example whose opening lines inspired the film Dead Poets Society: O ye dead Poets, who are living still Immortal in your verse, though life be fled, And ye, O living Poets, who are dead Though ye are living, if neglect can kill, Tell me if in the darkest hours of ill, With drops of anguish falling fast and red From the sharp crown of thorns upon your head, Ye were not glad your errand to fulfill? Yes; for the gift and ministry of Song Have something in them so divinely sweet, It can assuage the bitterness of wrong; Not in the clamor of the crowded street, Not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, But in ourselves, are triumph and defeat. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Poets Here's another example whose lines you may find surprisingly familiar: Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus The prompt: write one Italian Sonnet about a recent dream. Use the quatrains to paint the sights, sounds, and other senses of the dream in an unsentimental way. With the sestet, introduce the emotions of how the dream made you feel. Keep consistent 10-syllable lines, and use the rhyme pattern of: a-b-b-a; a-b-b-a; c-d-c-d-c-d. [1] See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Il_Canzoniere [2] There is much variation on how to construct the concluding sestet, but for our study, we shall stay orthodox.
  14. Poetry Prompt 9 – Sonnet Let's Write an English-style Sonnet! There are fundamentally two types of Sonnets: English and Italian. The English Sonnet has about the easiest definition of any poetic form. It's 3 quatrains and a couplet; that's it. But, oh what magic can flow from that combination, for it's like Goethe said, "Mastery appears in limitation of form, and order alone can give us freedom." The history of the Sonnet stretches back to roots in Medieval France, but later Italian poets made it well known throughout Europe. In the 16th century, English writers began to experiment with how the older form was constructed, and by Shakespeare's time, the new shape was perfected. So, as easy as the form actually is, the freedom for the poet lies in using the quatrains to establish and then develop a theme. The couplet comes in at the end to verify, refute, celebrate, or destroy the message of the poem. It's all up to the sonneteer, and it all comes down to a 'pivot point.' Think of it like listening to a piece of music. If the composition were all happy and breezy, the music might fail to connect with the listener. However, if the composer introduces a change in tempo, a slip into a minor key, then the happy-go-lucky original theme is suddenly placed in context, and the hearer knows there is depth to the composition. With the Sonnet, this 'change of key' (the pivot point) usually happens with one of the quatrains.[1] Let's look at an example in summary form. Shakespeare's Sonnet 44 breaks down like this: - 1st quatrain: If thoughts were flesh, nothing would keep us apart. - 2nd quatrain: Then neither land nor sea would stop me from being with you. (pivot point) - 3rd quatrain: BUT, thought is thought and elements are elements. - couplet: So I must pay tribute to my flesh as the earth, and my tears as the water; both keep us apart. Or, here's the same type of breakdown for number 58: - 1st quatrain: God forbid I tell you what to do. (pivot point) - 2nd quatrain: SO, let me suffer without blaming you for who's trying to kiss you. - 3rd quatrain: I have faith in your character; you'll do no wrong by me. - couplet: Waiting may be hell, but not as much hell as accusing you. In Sonnet 55, he waited until the end for the break: - 1st quatrain: You'll outlive history and monuments in my poetry. - 2nd quatrain: Not war, nor rebellions, nor coup d'état shall burn your memory. - 3rd quatrain: There will be room for you in the future despite all the death and hate in the world. (pivot point) - couplet: SO, until judgment day comes, you will live here, in lovers' eyes. I hope you can come to see how much potential and flexibility the Sonnet offers; the possibilities seem endless for capturing emotions in a narrative style. You have all the tools to write your own Sonnet: you've practiced with the quatrain (a 4-lined sentence of verse, rhymed a-b-a-b, and having 10 syllables per line), and the couplet (a 2-lined sentence of verse, rhymed a-a, and having 10 syllables per line), so feel empowered to try your own. Do not be intimidated by the useless notions that Sonnets must be difficult, or that they are antiques, for the form can easily accommodate any modern notion or vocabulary. It's just a structure, so start building on it, and have fun. The prompt: write one English Sonnet about your first love. Remember, we are looking for the pivot point, so if the love ended sadly, contrast that with a moment of brightness; if it was joyous, contrast it with a moment of doubt that it might not last, etc., etc. You get the idea. (As an aid, I have written a small piece on basic rhyming technique. It can be found here: https://www.gayauthors.org/forums/blog/513/entry-15424-rhyming-is-fundamental/ ) ----------------------------------------- [1] The shift can happen at the start of any of the quatrains, or be delayed until the couplet for maximum effect.
  15. Poetry Prompt 14 – Ballade Let's Write a Ballade! With the Ghazal we've seen how refrain can build and lend grandeur to a work with songlike attributes. Related to that is a complex form from Southern France. A Ballade is a song/poem that is also very like the Ghazal in being flexible in what type of theme the poet wishes to select. One of the greatest French poets, François Villon, used the Ballade to write of abstract things like the seasons, as well as a very emotional plea for acceptance and forgiveness on the day he was to be executed by the State. Curiously enough, another point of connection between the Ballade and the Ghazal is the "Envoi" (or, sometimes "Envoy" in English). This is a direct address from the poet to the person or abstract notion the Ballade is dedicated to. In it's way, it's very much like the salute of the poet in the final couplet of the Ghazal. The origins of this form are a bit obscure, but they are French, and seem to come out of the genuine Troubadour traditions of songs for entertainment. By the 15th century and the heyday of François Villon, the form had been perfected and was probably not expected to be sung anymore.[1] Its structure is demanding, but I think you will see it really is an extension of the Sonnet form we've already studied. Ballade requirements: - At least three stanzas of eight lines each - A concluding quatrain addressing the inspiration (either person or idea) of the poem, and known as the Envoi - Each of the stanzas, and the Envoi too, end in an exact repeat of the same line – this is known as the refrain - All lines are of a uniform syllable count, to be determined by the poet - The rhyme scheme is very strict and minimal. Every eight-line stanza uses the same rhymes, and goes: a, b, a, b, b, c, b, c. - The quatrain is rhymed: b, c, b, c, and uses the same rhymes as the stanzas. - This means you will need a whopping total of 6 a-rhyme words, 14 b-rhyme words, and 5 c-rhyme words (as the refrain rhyme is a repeat) Wow. I know; that's a lot to take in. But it's manageable once we look at some examples. Here is a poem called Ballade of Dead Actors by William Ernest Hanley. To help you, I will put the rhyme scheme designation before each line. a Where are the passions they essayed, b And where the tears they made to flow? a Where the wild humours they portrayed b For laughing worlds to see and know? b Othello's wrath and Juliet's woe? c Sir Peter's whims and Timon's gall? b And Millamant and Romeo? c-refrain Into the night go one and all. a Where are the braveries, fresh or frayed? b The plumes, the armours – friend and foe? a The cloth of gold, the rare brocade, b The mantles glittering to and fro? b The pomp, the pride, the royal show? c The cries of war and festival? b The youth, the grace, the charm, the glow? c-refrain Into the night go one and all. a The curtain falls, the play is played: b The Beggar packs beside the Beau; a The Monarch troops, and troops the Maid; b The Thunder huddles with the Snow. b Where are the revellers high and low? c The clashing swords? The lover's call? b The dancers gleaming row on row? c-refrain Into the night go one and all. Envoi b Prince, in one common overthrow c The Hero tumbles with the Thrall; b As dust that drives, as straws that blow, c-refrain Into the night go one and all. You can see the refrain becomes a powerful line, much as the repeated word in the strict Ghazal form is. The poet chose 8-syllable lines, and pretty much stuck to that as much as possible. You can also see how demanding the rhyme scheme is. Let's look at the master at work. Here is Villon's Ballade des dames du temps jadis, which is arguably one of the word's great poems. Dictes moy où, n’en quel pays, Est Flora la belle Romaine; Archipiada, ne Thaïs, Qui fut sa cousine germaine, Echo, parlant quand bruyt on maine Dessus riviere ou sus estan, Qui beauté eut trop plus qu’humaine? Mais où sont les neiges d’antan? Où est la très sage Héloïs, Pour qui chastré fut et puis moyne Pierre Esbaillart à Saint Denis? Pour son amour eut cest essoyne. Semblablement, où est royne Qui commanda que Buridan Fust geté en ung sac en Seine? Mais où sont les neiges d’antan? La royne Blanche comme lys, Qui chantoit à voix de sereine, Berthe au grand pied, Bietris, Allys, Harembourgis qui tint le Mayne, Et Jehanne, la bonne Lorraine, Qu’Anglois bruslèrent à Rouen; Où sont-ils, Vierge souveraine? Mais où sont les neiges d’antan? Envoi Prince, n’enquerez de sepmaine Où elles sont, ne de cest an, Que ce refrain ne vous remaine: Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?[2] Again we can feel the power of the limited rhyme scheme and the way the refrain interacts will all the ideas in the poem. If you think you would like to see one more example, here is one I wrote from my novella, Unafraid. It's simply called Terry's Ballade. https://www.gayauthors.org/forums/blog/513/entry-14663-terrys-ballade/ All right, let's roll up our sleeves and write one. Where to start? With the rhymes. Start there because you need so many – 14 words alone for the b rhyme! After you've come up with a general concept, begin choosing 'power words' that speak to your theme, and see if you can come up with good, natural sounding rhymes for them. Consult a rhyming dictionary if you have one, or use one of the many online versions. Keep a running list, as ideally you will want plenty to choose from, and not feel obligated to make an awkward one 'work' simply because you run out of good choices. The prompt: write one Ballade based on images from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. You decide how many syllables to use per line, and whether you wish each stanza to be about a different panel from the ceiling, or flow as an overall impression of the artwork. Include an Envoi and address it to whomever you like. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallery_of_Sistine_Chapel_ceiling -------------------------------------------- [1] The English word 'ballad' also comes from the Troubadour tradition, but can generally mean any type of storytelling song, usually but not always about love. 'Ballade' - with an 'e' - means a very specific poetic form and should not be confused with the other, more general term. [2] Here is a more or less literal, non-poetic, translation: Tell me where, or in what land is Flora, the lovely Roman, or Archipiades, or Thaïs, who was her first cousin; or Echo, replying whenever called across river or pool, and whose beauty was more than human? But where are the snows of yesteryear? Where is that brilliant lady Heloise, for whose sake Peter Abelard was castrated and became a monk at Saint Denis? He suffered that misfortune because of his love for her. And where is that queen who ordered that Buridan be thrown into the Seine in a sack? But where are the snows of yesteryear? Queen Blanche, white as a lily, who sang with a siren’s voice; Big-footed Bertha, Beatrice, Alice, Arembourg who ruled over Maine; and Joan, the good maiden of Lorraine who was burned by the English at Rouen — where are they, where, O sovereign Virgin? But where are the snows of yesteryear? Envoi Prince, do not ask in a week where they are, or in a year. The only answer you will get is this refrain: But where are the snows of yesteryear?
  16. Poetry Prompt 16 – Carol Let's Write a December Carol! Okay, don’t groan and don’t shake your head. This prompt will be more flexible than you probably have in mind. First, what is a Carol? In our brains it is probably just the word we use to label any old Christmas song on the radio, but believe it or not, its roots are far from church, and it's not tied to any one religious tradition. My edition of the Harvard Dictionary of Music[1] informs us that 'Carol' derives from the French 'Carole,' which is the name of a circle dance (what we in North America would call a 'square dance'). The author says: "[Caroles were] associated in English with the early pagan dance-songs performed in celebration of the winter solstice, a ritual which later merged with that of Christmas." The author also says Caroles possibly used a poetic structure known as the Virelai, and for our prompt, we shall follow that tip: it's a part-song alternating between a chorus and several verses. So, although Christmas Carols are probably familiar to us, the modern ones in celebration of Nature are probably not. Let's begin by looking at some Carols of this type. Here is Ein Lied hinterm Ofen zu singen, by Matthias Claudius from 1782. Der Winter ist ein rechter Mann, Kernfest und auf die Dauer; Sein Fleisch fühlt sich wie Eisen an, Und scheut nicht süß noch sauer. War je ein Mann gesund wie er? Er krankt und kränkelt nimmer, Er trotzt der Kälte wie ein Bär und schläft im kalten Zimmer. Er zieht sein Hemd im freien an und läßt's vorher nicht wärmen und spottet über Fluß im Zahn und Grimmen in Gedärmen. Aus Blumen und aus Vogelsang weiß er sich nichts zu machen; Haßt warmen Drang und warmen Klang und alle warmen Sachen. Doch wenn die Füchse bellen sehr, wenn's Holz im Ofen knittert, und um den Ofen Knecht und Herr die Hände reibt und zittert; Wenn Stein und Bein vor Frost zerbricht und Teich und Zehen krachen: Das klingt ihm gut, das haßt er nicht, dann will er tot sich lachen.- Sein Schloß von Eis liegt ganz hinaus Beim Nordpol an dem Strande; Doch hat er auch ein Sommerhaus im lieben Schweizerlande. Da ist er denn bald dort, bald hier; gut Regiment zu führen; und wenn er durchzieht, stehen wir und sehn ihn an und frieren.[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJbXQ_oG7hI Structurally, we can see this Carol is made of quatrains, which alternate between a rhyme scheme of a-b-a-b, and c-c-c-c. The 'c' section forms a chorus of sorts for the verses sandwiched above and below it. Being rhymed the same each time gives these middle sections the feeling of a refrain, even though the text is different each time. Here is another example of this type written by Malcolm Sargent, and called the Nature Carol: Coral, amber, pearl and shell, Gifts we gather from summer seas, Find and bind make love the spell, Take our gifts if they charm and please. Aloha! Aloha!, Hanaw, hanaw, aloha! Aloha! Aloha!, Hanaw, hanaw, Aloha! Ruby, onyx, rain and dew, Weave a crown with your jeweled light, Show and know whose world is new, Who is prince of the day and night. Aloha! Aloha!, Hanaw, hanaw, aloha! Aloha! Aloha!, Hanaw, hanaw, Aloha! Meadow, orchard, field and vine. Melon, grape and maize are here, Leaf and sheaf with tendrils twine, Bring your harvests far and near. Aloha! Aloha!, Hanaw, hanaw, aloha! Aloha! Aloha!, Hanaw, hanaw, Aloha! Mountains, flowers, trees and hills, Laugh and sing where His blessings fall, Wind and waves, lagoons and rills, Shout His love who is Lord of all. Aloha! Aloha!, Hanaw, hanaw, aloha! Aloha! Aloha!, Hanaw, hanaw, Aloha![3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdoqZUaVB9w In terms of structure, we again have a verse section made of a quatrain rhymed a-b-a-b. Here the chorus is repeated verbatim and sticks to a simple c-c couplet. That brings us to Charles Dickens (lol), and his A Christmas Carol. The novella has five parts, which he termed as 'Staves.' A Carol for him had five stanzas, and he intended his book to be a joyous song of praise to the Christmas spirit. These types of Carols arose at the beginning of the 18th century and evolved into the Christmas songs we know of today. In fact, one – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – is even quoted in A Christmas Carol. As it's a 'perfect' carol to reflect the Christmas aspect of this type of poem, let's look at the lyrics. God rest you, merry gentlemen, Let nothing you dismay For Jesus Christ, our Saviour Was born upon this day, To save us all from Satan's power When we were gone astray. O tidings of comfort and joy, For Jesus Christ, our Saviour was born on Christmas day. In Bethlehem, in Jury, This blessed babe was born And laid within a manger Upon this blessed morn The which his mother Mary Nothing did take in scorn. O tidings of comfort and joy, For Jesus Christ, our Saviour was born on Christmas day. From God our Heavenly Father A blessed Angel came, And unto certain Shepherds Brought tidings of the same, How that in Bethlehem was born The Son of God by name. O tidings of comfort and joy, For Jesus Christ, our Saviour was born on Christmas day. Fear not, then said the Angel, Let nothing you affright, This day is born a Saviour Of virtue, power and might; So frequently to vanquish all The friends of Satan quite. O tidings of comfort and joy, For Jesus Christ, our Saviour was born on Christmas day. The Shepherds at those tidings Rejoiced much in mind, And left their flocks a feeding In tempest, storm and wind, And went to Bethlehem straightway, This blessed babe to find. O tidings of comfort and joy, For Jesus Christ, our Saviour was born on Christmas day.[4] As far as structure goes, this Carol follows the basic lyric pattern we studied earlier: 8-syllable lines followed by 6-syllable ones. This holds true (mostly even in the chorus section). As for rhymes, the poet contented himself with an a-a-a pattern on lines 2, 4 and 6 (thus in the first stanza, we have: dismay; day; astray). So now, if you are contemplating writing one, where do you start? It seems to me the Carol arises from a spiritual place. It's about connection with the natural world around us, or though the heart and soul with the higher power that gives rise to all human emotion. I'd say to relax and take a moment to feel and reflect. Perhaps your Carol will be about the extremes of temperatures this time of year (cold for the northern hemisphere, and hot for the southern). Perhaps your Carol will be about good-fellowship or renewal, which seems to be a common thread through most of the many holidays in this final month of the year. The prompt: write one Carol suitable for the month of December. It can be a Nature-inspired song, or one based on any of the many holidays in the 12th month: Winter Solstice, Saturnalia, Hanukkah, Milad un Nabi, Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, New Year's Eve, or even Festivus (for the rest of us).[5] Have fun, but provide a lyric set of stanzas (I'd say about 4 or 5) and a refrain. Use any metre or rhyme scheme you feel is best. -------------------------------------------- [1] 18th printing, 1967, by Willi Apel; pages 122 & 123 [2] Translation kindly provided by Aditus. A Song to Sing by the Fire: The winter is a righteous man, Strong like stone and enduring; His flesh feels like iron, And he does not shy from sweet or sour. Was ever a man as healthy as he? He never suffers nor ails, He braves the cold like a bear and sleeps in cold rooms. He puts on his shirt outside without warming it up first and scoffs at toothache and colics in his intestines. He doesn't care for flowers and birdsongs; He hates warm drinks and warm songs and everything warm. But when the foxes are barking, when wood wrinkles in the stove, and servant and master rub their hands and tremble. When stone and bone break from the frost and ponds and toes crack That sounds good to him, that he does like then he laughs himself to death. His castle of ice is far away near North Pole on the beach; But he also has a summerhouse In our lovely Switzerland. Sometimes he's here, sometimes he's there; to govern over us; and when he passes through, we stand and gaze at him and freeze. [3] Copyright 1960 by Oxford University Press. http://www.joe-offer.com/folkinfo/songs/pdf/674.pdf [4] As printed in Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern, W. B. Sandys, editor; 1833 London [5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Festivus
  17. Poetry Prompt 15 – Free Verse Let's Write Some Whitman-Style Free Verse! Well, now I've gone and messed up the concept. The goal of these poetry prompts is to introduce set forms of poetry, and here prose poetry, or 'free verse,' is often seen as being free of the metre, rhymes and patterns that make up other types of poetry. Only part of that is true, and this partial misconception is why I felt we should dive into it with some critical examination. The best way to do that is start with its inventor, and arguably, still one of its brightest luminaries: Walt Whitman. It also helps that Whitman was one of the most open and sensual of same-sex loving poets in modern times. He published almost fearlessly in the middle of the 19th century about the young men he loved.[1] For me the interest in him as a person lies in knowing that he started off his writing career as a bon vivant, silk-scarf-wearing, opera-going critic for the newspapers, but one who reinvented himself as a working-class man among other sweaty men in the streets and taverns. How and why did he do this? It's a bit of an unknown, except that by 1855, his first volume of poetry was ready for the press: The Leaves of Grass. Whitman's great 'yawp' hit the world with not much reaction, except for those anonymous reviews penned by none other than Walt himself praising the book as the greatest volume of poetry ever published. And success was not far behind either, for by 1860 and the third edition, the book and poet were reckoned as formidable.[2] As I have hinted at before, The Leaves of Grass introduced something new to the English language, prose poetry, which is also known as free verse. At first glance Whitman's poems seem to lack structure, or pay only passing interest to the rat-a-rat semantics of metre and poetic 'feet.' And so it is, mostly. But let's look at some examples and examine his internal structure at closer range. Here's one as it appears in print: I am a man who, sauntering along, without fully stopping, turns a casual look upon you, and then averts his face, Leaving it to you to prove and define it, Expecting the main things from you.[3] But, if we break it down by the natural cadence, which I will show you with the syllable counts at the start of each line (yes, horror upon horrors – its metre, lol), the following reading becomes the way the poem is experienced: v. I am a man who, v. sauntering along, vi. without fully stopping, viii. turns a casual look upon you, vi. and then averts his face, v. Leaving it to you vi. to prove and define it, viii. Expecting the main things from you. So here you can see the free-form has a very definite form indeed, and it's a lovely one; 5-5 6-8 6-5 6-8. The flow is built in, and poem is rock-solid because of it, no matter how it is shown on the page. This is the type of internal structure I hope to show you exists, and which you can become aware of as you write your own prose poems. Let's look at another example. You would wish long and long to be with him – you would wish to sit by him in the boat, that you and he might touch each other.[4] And the natural breakdown…? x. You would wish long and long to be with him – x. you would wish to sit by him in the boat, ix. that you and he might touch each other. Sometimes you encounter prose that is extremely poetic. If you stop to examine why you think that is the case, you will often discover it is due to exactly this type of internal structure of syllable counts, or its metre. Here's an example from an author whose work I believe inspired Whitman to invent prose poetry in the first place. Appalling is the soul of a man! Better might one be pushed off into the material spaces beyond the uttermost orbit of our sun, than once feel himself fairly afloat in himself![5] And the natural breakdown…? ix. Appalling is the soul of a man! ix. Better might one be pushed off into ix. the material spaces beyond the ix. uttermost orbit of our sun, than once x. feel himself fairly afloat in himself! You can bring a sharper focus to your prose poems by being cognizant of how the internal structure is formed. And you can use this new outlook to enhance your reading enjoyment of other free verse pieces. To that end, let's look at one of Whitman's best known and admired pieces; one he wrote to sum up his feelings on the assignation of President Lincoln. Passing the visions, passing the night, Passing, unloosing the hold of my comrades’ hands, Passing the song of the hermit bird and the tallying song of my soul, Victorious song, death’s outlet song, yet varying ever-altering song, As low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling, flooding the night, Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning, and yet again bursting with joy, Covering the earth and filling the spread of the heaven, As that powerful psalm in the night I heard from recesses, Passing, I leave thee lilac with heart-shaped leaves, I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming, returning with spring.[6] The prompt: write at least one Free Verse poem based on your personal reaction to the following scenes from the 1985 film, Room with a View. Use any syllable count you like or number of lines that come to you, but please keep in mind the internal structure of your prose poem. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-gFsXfbF08 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKbBwrsEV5A ---------------------------------------------------------------------- [1] Whitman's adult life spanned the age of total innocence where men could live in relative openness with one another without fear that their love would be demeaned, to the hysteria, criminalization, and total debasement Gay men faced by the end of that century. See Jonathan Ned Katz's Love Stories, Chicago 2001. [2] An inexpensive, and unabridged version is available. Get Leaves of Grass, 1860, Jason Stacy, introduction, Iowa University Press 2009. All citation for the quotes will refer to the 1860 page numbers where the poems can be found. [3] Pg. 187. [4] Pg. 294. [5] From Book XXI, Pierre by Herman Melville, New York 1852 [6] This poem first appeared in the 4th edition of Leaves of Grass in 1865 as part of the 'Captain, O my captain!' set of mourning poems. Few people realize or comment on the fact that 'Oh, my Captain! my Captain!' is a direct quote from Melville's Moby-Dick. In chapter 132 Starbuck reaches out for one final connection to Ahab's humanity by reminding the man about their families waiting for them back on Nantucket. The attempt proves to be too late.
  18. Poetry Prompt 13 – Ghazal Let's Write a Ghazal! Ok. This is not a form I know very well, but I have written one, and thought it would be fun to try more. A Ghazal is song/poem expressing the loss or pain of love. In its basic form, it is about the metaphysical joining of spirit and body through the emotions felt in separation and longing for the beloved. By projection, it can expand as a form to encompass any deeply-felt/deeply-expressed emotion involving earthly attachments and a desire to transcend them. Its origins are Indo-Perso-Arabic, and during the great flowering of Islamic culture in the late Middle Ages, it spread to every corner of the world where that religion flourished. This was aided by the Sufi mystics, who following the example of their founding saint, Rumi, expressed love for other males in an open, erotic, and completely unafraid manner. Its structure is deceptively demanding, and for the English language at least, very, very advanced in its level of difficulty. Unlike an entire host of other poetic forms, the Ghazal has lagged sorely behind in this tongue of ours. The strict requirements are: - All lines are of a uniform syllable count - Both lines of the first couplet end with the same word - The second line of all following couplets repeat the exact word that ends the lines of the first couplet - The last or second-to-last couplet must include a signatory statement of the poet's name, title or nickname - The rhyme scheme is this: a-a; b-a; c-a; d-a and so forth. There should be no rhyme on the first lines of the couplets after the initial one – this is considered bad form. The adjusted requirements are: - Same as above, except – - Both lines of the first couplet end with the a rhyming word, not a repeat of the exact word - The second line of all following couplets have words that rhyme, but do not repeat the initial word of the first couplet - The poet's 'signature' is not necessary. In my opinion, this adjustment to the form is fair, as in the English language the repeating of the same word in the manner of a rhyme has always been considered very poor poetics; perhaps this is what led to the Ghazal being ignored by English-language poets for so long. As for the other requirements, they are open: the poet may establish any metre he or she likes, as long as it stays consistent throughout, and the number of couplets can vary from about four, to say a million. There is no upper limit. As for a strict example, look at Agha Shahid Ali's Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight? here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghazal You can see the word 'tonight' is used to end both lines of the first couplet, and then to conclude the last line of every subsequent couplet. Another aspect to note in Ali's poem is that each couplet is a complete thought, and ends with a period or question mark. This follows one tradition, but open-ended couples melting into one another is also standard. The best examples are German ones, as German-language poets began embracing the form about 200 years ago.1 My sincerest thanks to aditus for helping me find and cite the following Ghazals. He also provided the delightful translations you will find in the footnotes. Here is an adjusted-requirement example by Friedrich Rückert, called Nach Tschelaleddin Rumi:2 Wohl endet Tod des Lebens Not, Doch schauert Leben vor dem Tod. Das Leben sieht die dunkle Hand, Den hellen Kelch nicht, den sie bot. So schauert vor der Lieb ein Herz, Als wie von Untergang bedroht. Denn wo die Lieb erwachet, stirbt Das Ich, der dunkele Despot. Du laß ihn sterben in der Nacht Und atme frei im Morgenrot. This is a very good example to study, for although Rückert did not repeat the a-rhyme-word, he rhymed it all perfectly (as 't' and 'd' consonant sounds are acceptable rhymes in German). I think this is a beautiful Ghazal. Here is a strict example by Hugo von Hofmannsthal:3 In der ärmsten kleinen Geige liegt die Harmonie des Alls verborgen, Liegt ekstatisch tiefstes Stöhnen, Jauchzen süßen Schalls verborgen; In dem Stein am Wege liegt der Funke, der die Welt entzündet, Liegt die Wucht des fürchterlichen, blitzesgleichen Pralls verborgen. In dem Wort, dem abgegriffnen, liegt was mancher sinnend suchet: Eine Wahrheit, mit der Klarheit leuchtenden Kristalls verborgen ... Lockt die Töne, sucht die Wahrheit, werft den Stein mit Riesenkräften! Unsern Blicken ist Vollkommnes seit dem Tag des Sündenfalls verborgen. The only thing lacking in this Ghazal is the signatory salute. The repeat of verbogen becomes a mesmerizing refrain, and comes close to the heart of why the Ghazal is such a powerful form. The prompt: write at least one Ghazal in your native language based on the well-known love scene from the Holocaust movie Bent. Max & Horst are your guide for that sensual desire to transcend this world by being fully sensual in it. Channel their love and pathos into a Ghazal of any number of couplets, with lines in a consistent syllable count that you establish. You decide if the form is of the 'strict' or 'adjusted' variety. --------------------------------------------- 1. See here for a very interesting study of German Ghazal and Lieder: http://www.academicroom.com/article/repetition-structure-german-lied-ghazal 2. Translation kindly provided by aditus: Perhaps death ends life’s misery, But life shudders before death. Life spots the dark hand, But not the bright calyx it offers. Thus trembles a heart before love, As if threatened by doom. For where love awakens, dies The ego, the dark despot. Let him die at night And breathe freely at dawn. 3. Translation kindly provided by aditus: In the poorest smallest violin the harmony of the universe is buried, Its ecstatic deepest moans, where the exult’s sweet sound is buried; In the stone along the way is the spark that ignites the world, Is the force of the terrible, flash-like impact buried. In the worn-out word, is what many seek musingly: A truth with the luminous clarity of the crystal buried… Attract the sounds, look for the truth, throw the stone with tremendous force! From our view, perfection since the day of the fall, is buried.
  19. Poetry Prompt 12 – Rondo Let's Write an Opera-Style Rondò! A Rondò is a two-part aria. What's an aria? An aria is like a song in two sections, but the first section is repeated at the end. A Rondò breaks this repetition rule. The basic structure is this (and it's easy to follow): Aria sections: part A; part B; recap part A Rondò sections: part A; development of part A; recap part A; part B. This type of number is used to convey complex emotional situations at the height of the drama, and as such, is a great complement to the Sonnet forms we've already studied. The first part of a Rondò is slow, and the second part fast; it's like the natural break that occurs at the pivot point of a Sonnet. The history of this piece of dramatic music is not so straightforward. Like the origin of the Sonnet, the non-musical version of the Rondò comes from French late medieval poetry. The Rondeau is a well-established form of verse very much like the Italian Sonnet, with a rhyme structure of a-b-b-a; a-b-b-a, etc. So, this form being as old as it is would seem to have a long-lived history as the musical type known as the Rondò. But, it doesn't. Rondòs appeared all of a sudden at the end of the 1770s, and by the middle of the next decade had hit a perfect stride. Let's look at the structure in more detail. The classic Rondò is made of three quatrains of 8-syllable lines. Rhyming can vary greatly, but generally in Italian it follows the rules of vowel, vowel, vowel, consonant. In other words, think of the ending sounds like this: ah, eh, ee, are; or, ee, ough, ah, own; and so forth. That is the basic structure of Italian poetics where finding words that rhyme is not a challenge and what matters is the harmonious placement of the phonetics concluding a line. Let's look at an example. Follow along with the music as you read. The Rondò begins at min. 1:20. Amor, pietoso Amore, Oh Love, piteous lord of love, rendimi alfin al pace, finally grant me some peace, porgi ristoro a un core allow repose for my heart stanco di tollerar. so tired in its suffering. Basti il mio lungo pianto Let my long bouts of tears suffice l'ire a saziar del Fato, to assuage the anger of Fate, cessi un amante ingrato prevent that ungrateful lover di farmi sosprirar. from having to make me sigh. Ah se invano io mi lusingo, Ah, in vain I flatter myself, se pietà di me non hai, for if you do not take pity, crudo Amor! perché mi fai cruel Love, why then make of me le tue leggi seguitar? accomplice to your heartless law? So you can see, this is strong stuff! Emotions are pulled out from within the character and bared for all to see. You can also tell how the rhyme structure works here, although Lorenzo da Ponte, the poet, decided to keep it eh, eh, eh, are; oh, oh, oh, are; and then he diversified with oh, ai, ai, are. This is quite different from the typical approach to end of lines in English poetry, but as you can see, it makes for a beautiful effect, especially here in the capable hands of Maestro Salieri. Love-gone-wrong is one of the usual themes for a Rondò, but it's only one possibility. In Un cosa rara,[1] da Ponte wrote a Rondò where the Queen of Spain is reflecting on the joys of a simple life – the life of which she is deprived. And in our next example, by da Ponte again,[2] an evil woman comes to grips with not only giving up her political ambitions, but losing her life to save the man she's manipulated into doing her dirty work. Follow along with the music as you read. Non più di fiori vaghe catene No more with his garlands of flowers discenda Imene ad intrecciar. will blessèd Hymen descend on me. Stretta fra barbare Now locked in barbarous aspre ritore chains of captivity, veggo la morte it's only Death I see ver me avanzar. approaching step by step. Infelice! qual orrore! Unhappy soul! What horror awaits! Ah, di me che si dirà? Ah, but what will be said of me? Chi vedesse il mio dolore, Who seeing my agony will not then Pur avria di me pietà. find a little room to pity me. Ok, so bad example? No, a beautiful one, even though it breaks the form in several ways (having only 10 lines instead of 12, metres all over the place, etc.), I wanted you to hear how a great Rondò comes to life with great music. We can feel her torment, but her grudging acceptance to embrace her fate, even though it means a public execution for treason. She is brave here, and shines forth as the example that it's never too late to do the honorable thing. The prompt: write one Rondò based on a well-known movie scene. Channel the pathos you personally know and love from a favorite movie moment, like Scarlett O'Hara grubbing turnips and saying "As God is my witness…" or, the adrenalin injection scene from Pulp Fiction – you choose. Work those emotions into three quatrains, with the pivot point coming on the 3rd one. You decide how or if you wish to rhyme it, and how many syllables each line contains. Again, relax. Don't get frustrated; just have fun with it. -------------------------------------------- [1] Un cosa rara, ossia bellezza ed onestà – or, A Rare Thing, Beauty and Honesty Together – music by Vincent Martín y Soler. [2] The authorship of this number from La clemenza di Tito is in dispute. The libretto was created for Mozart by Caterino Mazzolà, but scholarship by H.C. Robbins Landon shows convincingly that this piece was preformed in concert long before the opera was commissioned. This assertion is validated by the number literally being cut and pasted into the opera score; he speculates that Lorenzo Da Ponte was the poet this piece and not Mazzolà. See Landon's 1791 Mozart's Last Year, 1988 New York.
  20. Poetry Prompt 18 – Rubaiyat Let's Write some Rubaiyat! There are two areas to explore: the historic form of this poem as a complete, self-continued unit, and its later use in English as a stanza pattern. First, the original form: Omar Khayyám may not have invented the ruba'i, but he was a master at writing this type of verse. The term comes from the Arabic word for 'four,' and means a stand-alone poem in four lines. The plural is rubaiyat, and as such means a collection of these poems in one volume. Khayyám, born in medieval Persia, was an all-around Renaissance man and bona fide genius; a great mathematician whose texts on the subject of algebra are still current today, an astronomer, geologist, and philosopher, it's a miracle he still had time to pursue his two main interests in life – wine and handsome young men! Those less scholarly pursuits led him to create some of the best poetry mankind is lucky enough to have. Often these beautiful four-lined verses came spontaneously to him while he was at a gathering and would be written down by others. Soon after his death in 1131, his many young men and acolytes gathered them together and published a collection of approximately 300 rubaiyat. So, what makes a Rubaiyat a Rubaiyat? Four lines of equal syllable length – usually 10 beats for Khayyám – and a rhyming pattern more often than not conforming to a-a-a-b-a. This means a quatrain with three words that rhyme and one that does not; this 'oddball' is often the concluding word of the third line, but sometimes it can shift to the second. Now that we know the basics of the form, the harder question arises as to what is the soul of this type of poem. It is a rather philosophical one, and for Khayyám personally, it rests squarely in the school of the ancient Greek thinker Epicurus. Akin in many ways to modern existentialism, it can be glibly summarized as 'eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!' Let's look at an example.[1] عاشر من الناس كبار العقول وجانب الجهال أهل الفضول واشرب نقيع السم من عاقل واسكب على الأرض دواء الجهول رباعيات خيام Eashir min alnnas kibar aleaqul wajanib aljihal 'ahl alfudawl washrab naqie alssmm min eaqil waskab ealaa al'ard dawa' aljuhul Omar Khayyám One tenth of the top-minded people, and also those people ignorant of curiosity, drink the poisoned infusion of sanity while pouring on the ground the medication of alcohol. Omar Khayyám Here we see the poet has chosen to use consistent 10-syllable lines, and a rhyme pattern of a-a-b-a. In this regard, it's a good example of the form, and also shows the type of philosophical subject Rubaiyat excel at. More examples: يا نفس ما هذا الأسى والكدر قد وقع الإثم وضاع الحذر هل ذاق حلو العفو إلا الذى أذنب والله عفا واغتفر رباعيات خيام Ya nafs mma hdha al'asaa walkudur qad waqae al'iithm wadae alhidhr hal dhaq hulu aleafw 'illa aldhdha 'adhnab walllah eafa waghtafir Omar Khayyám Hey, what is this same sorrow and chagrin that has signaled sin and lost restraint; it may have tasted sweet, but he who forgives both 'guilt' and God pardons the excuse. Omar Khayyám ----------- اي بس كه نباشيم و جهان خواهد بود ني نام زما و ني نشان خواهد بود زين پيش نبوديم و نبد هيچ خلل زين پس چو نباشيم همان خواهد بود رباعيات خيام Ay bs kh nbashim w jhan khawahid bud ni nam zama w ni nshan khawahid bud zyn pysh nbwdim w nabud hych khalal zyn ps chw nbashim hman khawahid bwd Omar Khayyám Suffice to say, we are not of the world that will be, they will outshine this time that was, and not be saddled with our piled-up damages; if only we could do the same for us now. Omar Khayyám Two more examples I cannot find the original for are these; they give a beautiful sense of Khayyám as a poet: Everywhere that there has been a rose or tulip-bed, It has come from the redness of the blood of a king; Every violet shoot that grows from the earth Is a mole that once was on the cheek of beauty. Omar Khayyám [Clement Wood, translator] ----------- Hell is a spark from my useless worries, Paradise is a moment of time when I am tranquil. Omar Khayyám [Clement Wood, translator] Second, the modern form in English: Due to the stunning popularity of Edward FitzGerald's book, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, published in 1859, the Rubaiyat form became very well-known in English. So popular in fact, that rough parodies of it arose in blatant praise of drinks and carousing (ones which Khayyám no doubt would have cheered!). In addition, the attention FitzGerald's flowery and un-abashedly Victorian language received influenced generations of poets who came after him.[2] In time, the Rubaiyat was adapted into a stanza form. It followed the originals in having consistent line lengths (either narrative like Khayyám: 10 syllables; or lyrical with 8 beats per line), and a rhyme pattern of a-a-b-a. From this, a totally new type appeared called the 'Interlocking Rubaiyat.' This poem consists of multiple stanzas with the 'oddball' word forming the main rhyme for the next strophe. Thus, this pattern was born: a-a-b-a; b-b-c-b; c-c-d-c; d-d-e-d; e-e-f-e, and so forth. Now for examples. First, a taste of FitzGerald: I sometimes think that never blows so red The Rose, as where some buried Caesar bled; That every Hyacinth the Garden wears Dropt in her Lap from some once lovely Head…. Edward FitzGerald, after Omar Khayyám Believe it or not, that is supposed to be the same poem that Clement Wood translated so beautifully and accurately above. Here is another Rubaiyat: Tudor indeed is gone and every rose, Blood-red, blanch-white that in the sunset glows Cries: "Blood, Blood, Blood!" against the gothic stone Of England, as the Howard or Boleyn knows. Ezra Pound Suffice to say, the florid language of FitzGerad became associated with the form, but other poets were attracted to it as well. Few people realize that Robert Frost's best-known poem is a Rubaiyat. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening was first published in 1922, and recaptures some of the lost spirit and soul of the true Rubaiyat of Khayyám. It is an Interlocking example, and the rhyme patterns are this:[3] …know. ...though; …here …snow. …queer …near …lake …year. …shake …mistake. …sweep …flake. …deep, …keep, …sleep, …sleep. Frost chose a lyrical metre for this poem, and also concluded with a four-line strophe of a single rhyme, but the three preceding Rubaiyat work beautifully to bring the thought of one's own mortality to mind without even mentioning 'death.' The prompt: write one four-lined Khayyám-style Rubaiyat on the theme of 'your muse' (with or without references to drink and pretty boys ). In addition, write one multi-stanza Interlocking Rubaiyat based on the sights and feelings stirred in you by watching Ambrose Bierce's short story, An Occurrence at Owl Bridge.[4] Use the consistent line lengths you think are best for the individual poems, and follow the basic rhyme patterns for the two types of Rubaiyat. --------------------------------------------- [1] Translations, such as they are, are mine and based on Google Translate with reference to the meaning of the poems rendered in English by others. I provide the originals because they are available online here, but I have no way to verify the veracity of the text. The phonetic rendering of the original is also generated by Google Translate, and I make no claim on its legibility in Farsi or Arabic. I include it so we can see the relative metre and length of the lines, and the poet's rhyme scheme without translation. I have avoided all references and use of FitzGerald for this section. [2] In should be noted that FitzGerald's book is not an accurate rendering of the original in any sense. FitzGerald exercised a free hand in cobbling together various bits and pieces found in some of the Rubaiyat to make them more 'poetic.' Nevertheless, FitzGerald's influence as a poet cannot be understated; he just did not bother to present Khayyám in an accurate way. The Rubáiyát can be found here. [3] The full version of Frost's poem can be found here. [4] There are several versions of this video on youtube, but so you are not influenced by Bierce's word choice, please avoid reading the actual story while writing your poem.
  21. Poetry Prompt 17 – Childhood Verse Let's Write Some Childhood Verse! I can bet you've probably been around some children in recent weeks, and I know for certain you were one once So, coming off the glow of the holidays, I thought we'd look at the art of Childhood Verse. These can be of two types: one assuming the POV of a child, or the other where an adult observer records the emotions raised by watching kids and their activities. In terms of the history of this type of poetry, I doubt very much that people before the Industrial Revolution had much time or interest in childhood as a phase. With the growing affluence of a middle class in the 19th century, concepts of children and childhood evolved to regard young people as 'pure and innocent,' whereas before, kids were held in suspicion as 'uncivilized and wild.' This bit of romantification was tempered by a sense of duty to bring them up right, and that's basically where we stand today. As I said, there are two types – kid POV and grown-up POV. The first one I was introduced to when young via a tremendously popular book: Where the Sidewalk Ends.[1] I remember absolutely hating it! lol It seemed to me at the time (as a kid) like a bunch of simple-minded prattle about how we children were 'supposed' to think and feel. Here is a link to one of the better examples from the book called Eighteen Flavors; it's about a fallen ice cream cone. I suppose for me the problem has always been a lack of connection with the poems in this collection, for although Silverstein wrote the masterpiece, The Giving Tree, which moved me a great deal as a kid, none of these Sidewalk poems felt touching to me at the time. I also resented the pressure to like them simply because they were childish, which adults seemed to relish; but without an emotional hook, they appeared forced. As an adult, I can appreciate them a bit more. For me there are much better examples around of what it's like to be a kid, or observing children at play. Sticking with the child's POV, here is The Night Wind by Eugene Field: Have you ever heard the wind go "Yooooo"? 'T is a pitiful sound to hear! It seems to chill you through and through With a strange and speechless fear. 'T is the voice of the night that broods outside When folk should be asleep, And many and many's the time I've cried To the darkness brooding far and wide Over the land and the deep: "Whom do you want, O lonely night, That you wail the long hours through?" And the night would say in its ghostly way: "Yoooooooo! Yoooooooo! Yoooooooo!" My mother told me long ago (When I was a little tad) That when the night went wailing so, Somebody had been bad; And then, when I was snug in bed, Whither I had been sent, With the blankets pulled up round my head, I'd think of what my mother'd said, And wonder what boy she meant! And "Who's been bad to-day?" I'd ask Of the wind that hoarsely blew, And the voice would say in its meaningful way: "Yoooooooo! Yoooooooo! Yoooooooo!" That this was true I must allow – You'll not believe it, though! Yes, though I'm quite a model now, I was not always so. And if you doubt what things I say, Suppose you make the test; Suppose, when you've been bad some day And up to bed are sent away From mother and the rest – Suppose you ask, "Who has been bad?" And then you'll hear what's true; For the wind will moan in its ruefullest tone: "Yoooooooo! Yoooooooo! Yoooooooo!"[2] Another master at this type of poem is Robert Louis Stevenson. Here's an example from his A Child's Garden of Verses.[3] We built a ship upon the stairs All made of the back-bedroom chairs, And filled it full of sofa pillows To go a-sailing on the billows. We took a saw and several nails, And water in the nursery pails; And Tom said, “Let us also take An apple and a slice of cake” – Which was enough for Tom and me To go a-sailing on, till tea. We sailed along for days and days, And had the very best of plays; But Tom fell out and hurt his knee, So there was no one left but me. I think these examples give you a good grounding on the whimsy and play-like atmosphere Childhood Verse writers wish to bring to poems told from a kid's POV. The second type in this category is about how children, and watching the way they play, affect grown-ups. There are some really fine examples in this genre, and we can stick to Field and Stevenson to see how they approached the subject with an adjusted POV. Here is Field's Pittypat and Tippytoe : All day long they come and go – Pittypat and Tippytoe; Footprints up and down the hall, Playthings scattered on the floor, Finger-marks along the wall, Tell-tale smudges on the door – By these presents you shall know Pittypat and Tippytoe. How they riot at their play! And a dozen times a day In they troop, demanding bread – Only buttered bread will do, And the butter must be spread Inches thick with sugar too! And I never can say "No, Pittypat and Tippytoe!" Sometimes there are griefs to soothe, Sometimes ruffled brows to smooth; For (I much regret to say) Tippytoe and Pittypat Sometimes interrupt their play With an internecine spat; Fie, for shame! to quarrel so – Pittypat and Tippytoe! Oh, the thousand worrying things Every day recurrent brings! Hands to scrub and hair to brush, Search for playthings gone amiss, Many a wee complaint to hush, Many a little bump to kiss; Life seems one vain, fleeting show To Pittypat and Tippytoe! And when day is at an end, There are little duds to mend; Little frocks are strangely torn, Little shoes great holes reveal, Little hose, but one day worn, Rudely yawn at toe and heel! Who but you could work such woe, Pittypat and Tippytoe? But when comes this thought to me: "Some there are that childless be," Stealing to their little beds, With a love I cannot speak, Tenderly I stroke their heads – Fondly kiss each velvet cheek. God help those who do not know A Pittypat or Tippytoe! On the floor and down the hall, Rudely smutched upon the wall, There are proofs in every kind Of the havoc they have wrought, And upon my heart you'd find Just such trade-marks, if you sought; Oh, how glad I am 'tis so, Pittypat and Tippytoe![4] Stevenson created a poem where he personified 'play' as a character who comes out and recedes much like the playthings do in the Toy Story films. Here is his The Unseen Playmate: When children are playing alone on the green, In comes the playmate that never was seen. When children are happy and lonely and good, The Friend of the Children comes out of the wood. Nobody heard him, and nobody saw, His is a picture you never could draw, But he's sure to be present, abroad or at home, When children are happy and playing alone. He lies in the laurels, he runs on the grass, He sings when you tinkle the musical glass; When e'er you are happy and cannot tell why, The Friend of the Children is sure to be by! He loves to be little, he hates to be big, 'T is he that inhabits the caves that you dig; 'T is he when you play with your soldiers of tin That sides with the Frenchmen and never can win. 'T is he, when at night you go off to your bed, Bids you go to sleep and not trouble your head; For wherever they're lying, in cupboard or shelf, 'T is he will take care of your playthings himself! [5] And the ultimate pinnacle of this type of poem is arguably one of the very greatest poems in the English language, The Children's Hour, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Between the dark and the daylight, When the night is beginning to lower, Comes a pause in the day's occupations, That is known as the Children's Hour. I hear in the chamber above me The patter of little feet, The sound of a door that is opened, And voices soft and sweet. From my study I see in the lamplight, Descending the broad hall stair, Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra, And Edith with golden hair. A whisper, and then a silence: Yet I know by their merry eyes They are plotting and planning together To take me by surprise. A sudden rush from the stairway, A sudden raid from the hall! By three doors left unguarded They enter my castle wall! They climb up into my turret O'er the arms and back of my chair; If I try to escape, they surround me; They seem to be everywhere. They almost devour me with kisses, Their arms about me entwine, Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine! Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti, Because you have scaled the wall, Such an old mustache as I am Is not a match for you all! I have you fast in my fortress, And will not let you depart, But put you down into the dungeon In the round-tower of my heart. And there will I keep you forever, Yes, forever and a day, Till the walls shall crumble to ruin, And moulder in dust away![6] Flawless, and lest you are inclined to think it's overly sentimental, the truth is that Longfellow's young daughter had just died when he wrote it. This poem is his mourning effort, and the eternal tribute of a father's love. The prompt: write two Childhood Verses, one from a kid's point of view, and one from the perspective of an adult. For the first, recall a particular way that you used to like to play, and tell the reader about it. For the grown-up poem, remember those times when you were a child and did not want to go to bed; write the poem from the POV of the adult trying to make you fall asleep. You can use any stanza pattern or rhyme scheme you feel best conveys your concept. -------------------------------------------- [1] Sheldon Allan Silverstein, New York 1975 [2] From Poems of Childhood, New York 1904 [3] From A Child's Garden of Verses, Chicago 1916 [4] From Poems of Childhood, New York 1904 [5] From A Child's Garden of Verses, Chicago 1916 [6] First published in the Atlantic Monthly, Boston 1860
  22. Poetry Prompt 19 – Lullaby Let's Write a Lullaby! I suppose there are the sweet, made-up words to Brahms' Lullaby, and the child-bewitching lyrics to "…Mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird…" but what I have in mind is more for grownups. Songs about sleep, in the guise of a song to put one to sleep, have popped up over the years and decades. In terms of form, metres vary. Rhyme also plays a part, but it is often subtle and not obvious to the hearer. The reason for that is also due the slower tempo of such poetry. Shall we look at some examples? Opera will occasionally have Lullabies, and Mozart wrote a beautiful one for Zaïde, a singspiel from the 1770s.[1] Here, an enslaved woman encounters a manual laborer who is asleep out in the open. Loving him, she removes the few precious things she has and lays them around the man to encourage his dreams of freedom and hope. Here is a performance translation of Ruhe Sanft as used in the film Amadeus, and sung by Felicity Lott.[2] Safely rest my chosen lover Slumber in contentment awhile Now, my picture, my picture will I give you See, how tender, how tender is my smile. Oh, happy fancies calling you Bring dreams to set your heart on fire To churn up our deepest desire Then we can find your dreams come true. Here is the original, performed by Lucia Popp. Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben, schlafe, bis dein Glück erwacht! da, mein Bild will ich dir geben, schau, wie freundlich es dir lacht: Ihr süßen Träume, wiegt ihn ein, und lasset seinem Wunsch am Ende die wollustreichen Gegenstände zu reifer Wirklichkeit gedeihn.[3] A more humorous take on the genre comes from different stage performers: musical comedians and social commentators Flanders and Swann. Their grown-up Lullaby is simply titled Bed.[4] The subject I wish to consider tonight Comes under the general head – Without an iota of “double entendre” So no dirty sniggers – of Bed Though everything else has been treated at length In the various books I have read, Spinoza, La Rochefoucauld, Schiller and Kant Say – practically nothing on Bed. So I’ve founded a new philosophical school Of which you have probably heard Propounding this thesis: “The too early worm Is the one that gets caught by the bird.” Delightful, delectable pillow and sheet, Luxurious eiderdown spread, Red hot water-bottle bowed down at my feet, Oh bountiful blessing of bed! To hell with ambition, it drives a man mad! I can scarcely wake up to be fed, Those people who keep making plans for the lad Will find him, if wanted, in bed. You Risers and Shiners whose insults are hurled At my almost invisible head Consider the mess you have made of the world And stay out of mischief – in bed! Six monasteries hourly are saying a mass For a blessed relation, now dead, Who left me a blanket – electric no less! Now an integral part of my bed Oh weep not ye maidens at solitary me Now left on the highest of shelves, Oh seek not ye matrons my solace to be But keep your cold feet to yourselves. Oh purest of pleasures, voluptuous sleep, My eyelids are heavy as lead, Oh soft, oh delicious, oh long, wide, and deep, Oh warm ––– Oooooh (yawns).....oah...bed. And finally, an example that purports to simply be about a mother's love for her infant child, but has always been perceived as allegory about the spirit of African Americans to 'spread their wings and take the sky.' Summertime by George Gershwin is the opening number of his opera, and has lyrics written by DuBose Heyward. Here is the number performed by Maria Callas. Summertime, and the livin' is easy Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high – Oh, your daddy's rich and your ma is good-lookin' So hush little baby, don't you cry. One of these mornings you're gonna rise up singing And you'll spread your wings and you'll take the sky – But till that morning, there's a nothin' can harm you With Daddy and Mommy standin' by.[5] The prompt: write lyrics to accompany George Gershwin's piano version of his composition, Lullaby. On the video, the place to begin setting the words occurs at minute 0:27. Choose any metre and rhyme scheme you think appropriate. You also decide if you want to write a song about sleep, or a song to put someone to sleep. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mk2TMZNv0Rc -------------------------------------------- [1] Commonly said to be from 1779-1780, I have posted an essay on a more accurate dating scenario for this opera. [2] Here is a second video of the same performance [3] Zaïde is based on a work by Voltaire. Only the text of the musical numbers survive, and the libretto has been attributed to both Johann Andreas Schachtner and Emanuel Schikaneder by various authorities at various times. [4] Lyrics by Michael Flanders, and music by Donald Swann. [5] Here is a great live performance of Ella Fitzgerald singing Summertime.
  23. Poetry Prompt 20 – Found Poetry Let's Create some Found Poems! When I was a young man I once attended a poetry reading in the basement of a Tokyo dance club called "Blue." Blue was sleek and modern, on the gradient scale of glass, stainless steel, and cool-colored illumination. Its sister club, Yellow, was warm and cozy, but both were themed on Alice Through the Looking Glass. Next to Blue's light court with the up-lit stand of bamboo was a large reception space, and this is where I heard a Canadian poet read from her newly published volume. She had gone through stacks of vintage same-sex porn magazines, cobbling together salacious 10-syllable lines of text in sets of 12, and then concluding her Found Sonnets with a couplet borrowed from one of Shakespeare's W. H. poems. The effect made me laugh. I got nasty, uncomfortable stares – glares, really – from the poetry-reading crowd, but later the poet herself found me and said: "You're the only one who got it. I was pretty uncomfortable reading here. Everyone took it so seriously!" So what is a Found Poem? It is a modernist take on forcing a deconstructivist's eye to an existing text. It is cut up and reassembled to suit the higher emotional goals of the poet; in other words, it's a collage. The history of this type of verse goes back a long way. Walt Whitman built a memorable poem around a recurring line and theme he found in a novel by Herman Melville. The poet wrote: O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won, The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting, While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring; But O heart! heart! heart! O the bleeding drops of red, Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead. O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells; Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills, For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding, For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning; Here Captain! dear father! This arm beneath your head! It is some dream that on the deck, You’ve fallen cold and dead. My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still, My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will, The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done, From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won; Exult O shores, and ring O bells! But I with mournful tread, Walk the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead. This is based on Melville's: "Oh, my Captain! my Captain! noble soul! grand old heart, after all! why should any one give chase to that hated fish! Away with me! let us fly these deadly waters! let us home! Wife and child, too, are Starbuck's – wife and child of his brotherly, sisterly, play-fellow youth; even as thine, sir, are the wife and child of thy loving, paternal old age! Away! let us away! – this instant let me alter the course! How cheerily, how hilariously, O my Captain, would we bowl on our way to see old Nantucket again! I think, sir, they have some such mild blue days, even as this, in Nantucket."[1] Few people know Whitman's poem about the murder of President Lincoln is grounded on a found item from Moby-Dick. Later poets who used found technique are Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. In the same way that Whitman left his Lincoln poem unacknowledged to his source material, Pound began his Cantos in the middle of an un-credited translation of Homer: And then went down to the ship, Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and We set up mast and sail on that swart ship, Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward Bore us out with bellying canvas, Circe's this craft, the trim-coifed goddess The poet paid eight dollars to have his first volume of poems self-published in an edition of one hundred, and his first reviewer had this to say: "French phrases and scraps of Latin and Greek punctuate his poetry.... He affects obscurity and loves the abstruse."[2] As for Eliot, William Packard writes eloquently about his found poetry technique. "T. S. Eliot in The Waste Land drew on mythology and anthropology, which he interwove with colloquial voices of twentieth-century women in London who were all frustrated and out of touch with their own fertility."[3] In contemporary understanding, Found Poetry maintains a few rules to adhere to. Namely, that sections of text should be lifted verbatim – usually only on a line-by-line basis – from the source material; only the most minimal editing is allowed to achieve the artistic goals of the poet; the resulting work should follow the 'old' standard and be a unified whole made up of lines and images that flow and work together (which naturally can be achieved through contrast as well); and finally, a single piece of writing is usually the object used for deconstruction. The prompt: write three Found Poems on the themes of 'Loss,' 'Memory,' and 'Celebration.' Your source material is The Dead, by James Joyce. You may decide if you wish to explore metre in your poem or not, or rhymes to accent certain parts. You may also wish to consider using a repeating section as a refrain. Let your imagination run free, as long as you allow the three principal themes to guide your creation of three freestanding works. -------------------------------------------- [1] From chapter 132, The Symphony, Moby-Dick, New York 1851 [2] See: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/ezra-pound [3] P. 107, The Art of Poetry Writing, New York 1992
  24. April is National Poetry Writing Month. The challenge is to write thirty poems in thirty days. This is a great time to visit or revisit AC Benus' poetry prompts, which can be found in the Prompt forum. Feel free to share your work either here, in a blog, or posted as a collection. Most people post weekly, in order to avoid clogging the story queue. I'll be posting every Saturday in my "April Musings" poetry collection. I hope we get as many, if not more, participants as we did last year. I look forward to reading everyone's creations.
  25. Since this is an open discussion forum, So I thought I could express my opinion here and see if other poets out here share my thoughts.... To be honest, I am no superb poet or anything....In fact I started writing when I was at the worst stage of my life and had no one to share my thoughts or feelings with....And so I started writing in hopes to give words to the turmoil in my heart...That is when I started wondering that maybe tragedy of life is a strong motivator or inspiration for a poem...Since, emotions are common all over the world so no matter which language we write our poems in, the meaning always touches us......I wonder if the poets out here would agree with me?
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