On Writing Poetry
by Ken Lehnig
This article, by the vagabond rambling poet, will take us on a journey, one in which we will examine the art of writing poetry in a different, abstracted, and assuredly skewed manner. (That may wander back into the normal and mundane.) In fact that is the only way the writer (me) can do anything. In and then out best describes the way my brain works. I can’t promise that anything I write will be found in a textbook, because it has been many decades since I have opened a textbook, and I didn’t retain anything then – so I doubt there is little in my memory to retrieve. What I will write I hold as true, based on my journey, but if I have put some established truism, on writing poetry, to memory (and write it here), it is totally by accident, and I apologize in advance – and bow to those remarkably intelligent others. (Readers and Teachers)
Yep, Dear readers, the vagabond poet is going to write a how-to on writing poetry. It won’t be a class for Dummies, because I know that not a single one of my readers are dummies. Let us call it On Writing Poetry 23
Read the directions and directly you will be directed in the right direction.’
Doorknob – Lewis Carrol
‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
‘To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing wax —
Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
And whether pigs have wings.’
Structure or form:
First, go here to be totally confused, but enlightened. http://www.shadowpoetry.com/resources/wip/types.html
Here is the thing, and you may not like it, you have to study and work with poetic form and structure to be a good poet. It does not mean that you have to adopt any one form as your own, but it may well happen.
We will start with some tuff love. If you take or have taken a formal writing poetry class – you will get this next point made on the C or D on your writing assignment. (Yikes! I have already wandered back into the Normal.)
Writing rambling love, or hate verbiage, is not poetry; it is rambling love, or hate, verbiage and probably should stay in your journal.
(Please, go read ‘Elizabeth Barrette Browning’, Lord Byron, or Emily Dickinson)
Writing bouncy, simplistic rhyming, unintelligible, self-indulgent, in two or three word bursts, may well speak more to your spoken word performance than the poem itself.
(Please read the beat, hippy, street, and jazz poets – Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, Richard Brautigan. Allen Watt, Bob Kaufman Drew, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Carolyn Rodgers, and note all the forms and structures.)
If you have just started writing what you call poetic ART, it’s not. It is certainly artistic expression and you should be commended for the doing of it. I am for any type of artistic expression, including: Journal writing, for the courage to self-examine emotions; Spoken word writing, for the courage it takes to perform it. But if you are to be an Accomplished Poet then it takes a bit of work, and doing the work will have you write even better. (Do take the time to read the work of other poets, you will be surprised at how relevant poetry is throughout human history, and it will affect your work.)
I know a young man with a real talent, his bent was spoken word, because he was exposed to it, and was moved. In my opinion his work was far superior to the works I have heard, but when he wrote it down, it was difficult to read. I attempted to show him some simple structures. I broke his poem down into stanzas and cut out his emphasized words into single word lines. He still resisted and claimed I was wrecking his ART. Art is not accidental it is intentional. I soothed his ruffled feathers and told him his spoken word was performance art, his effort in that medium was clearly there, not what I read. Form does not wreck your ART, it tells the reader how you want the piece read. Stanzas group thoughts and allow readers to rest and ponder before the next stanza. Art should be a consistent expression, learn your mediums, then do the best you can to create within the medium. You will discover what works best for you. (To spoken word artists: good form and structure allows for your work to be printed correctly and read by a wider audience.) In the man’s journey he discovered himself as a Poet, who brilliantly writes and speaks poetry. He came to compare poetic form to sheet music, allowing the reader to read it just as it is spoken – an apt comparison.
Love the language:
Read the dictionary. Looking up words is not truly effective, because you don’t know what you don’t know. In my long years on the planet I have noted that common usage words are boring, unless it is parodied. So Dude, that begs a bitchen question: When you write, are you looking for agreement, or are you looking to enlighten the reader? If you just want agreement, or understanding, for your particular feeling, or emotion, text your friends, or write a journal. Trust me here, I wrote journals as a young man, a valuable and necessary start, but now the content seems shallow and trite. Now I write down random thoughts, or ideas, as they come, for poems, stories, and songs. It also is a lot easier on the muse. 😉 Take the time to just peruse the dictionary and write down words that get your attention. Stick them up on your wall or write them on postits, and stick them on your computer.
The work of a poet is to examine his or her own emotions, and thought, and write in such a way as to elevate the reader into I higher understanding, or different point of view. Everything you feel has been written about a million times over human history, and words have been invented along the way that will say in a few words what you may have rambled on for in twenty pages of poetic scribblings. Find the words, to say it better and with economy.
An economic and meaning packed stanza of mine, on gold miners, as an example:
digging gritty earth
Play with words:
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
I love words and what words you choose should be extra-ordinary. When choosing words look for sounds and syllabic bouncing, as well as the best meaning, to improve your poem. I found the word ‘jongleur’, a French minstrel, the sound of the word intrigued me. ‘Sozzel’ was another word that intrigued me. I wrote ‘Sozzel The Jongluer’ last year. The poem and variations became the genisis for two books of poetry and short stories.
I picked proper strings
and let the rim shot fire
against the cracked plaster’s
so many loud drunken tales and stories told
in smoky shadows
Bereft of kindness
this shelter offers little
but a tune and spirit
down some sad memory
and whatever webs I deem to spin and ply
really only lies about other uneasy worlds
so sozzel the jongleur
The old sot smiles
and his filthy cohort dance
a jiggle of old bones
and graceless promenades
rough hewed, true to the gravel tones I entrain
no eminence grise
could I yet endue
But through parlance
it behooves me to find comfort
where my tongue’s
lilt has gained some merit
the rag tag and bobtail
fuddle and frolic
let go this day’s nettle and lift your saddened heart
and sozzel the jongleur
Carroll’s famous piece ‘Jabberwocky’ makes the point well. Here he uses nonsense words, the meanings of which the reader has no idea. But the mind ‘Matrixes’, it looks for meaning, just as faces seem to appear in tiles, wall texture, and random print patterns. Having an awareness of this human trait gives the poet a tool, for the reader to find a broader personal meaning to a poem.
Here is excerpt of apoetic exercise I wrote:
Priddle and passel perning on a peer
Saddle up a seaner , brigged and get
Tattle in a tangle, teater and tear
Better a bounder than a booring bet
I dinked this all lost in faddled rhyme
Cast asea only the moon embrates me now
Dark writ in candled awe, besown in time
You and life a pleasant versuasive vow
Ya’all determine whether I succeeded.
Certainly more could be written, the class could go on, and we would all fall into irreversible boredom. I am capable of going on about not much, in a confusing way, for a very long time! So let’s wind it down and just break it down to the rambling vagabonds poetic writing essentials.
A poetic works check list:
1. Read other poets
2. Expand your vocabulary
3. Look at structure and form
4. Work with word sounds
5. Say it in a fresh new way.
6. Look from a new perspective
7. Condense your thoughts
8. Write economically.
9. Seek lucidity
10. Feel the cadence
11. Artistically transform your emotions
12. Elevate your language usage
13. Twist meaning
14. Enlarge meaning
15. Minimalize while expanding
Enjoy yourself , even when you are in the darkest moods. Mood , good or bad, is the grist of what it is to be a poet.
You have been given a gift – you are a Poet.
See, how easy that was.
’We’re all mad here.’
Cheshire Cat – Lewis Caroll
Content and Context:
This point will be the last for this article, and I think it’s a good one. When you write, read what you have written, and see if it is as you intended. If it has, due to the muse’s contribution, expanded, is it still within the context you intended? From this position begin to edit and improve. I will put a piece down for a day or two and come back to it, not as an editor, but as a reader. When I am satisfied that it is as I intended, then I will look at editing and improving the piece.
The test on this material will be announced.
On every artistic endeavor I have undertaken I started out pretty crude, with work and attention to the craft, I have improved. Every artist is on a journey. I trust that wherever you are in your journey, you will take what I have offered in the supportive spirit I intended.
First appeared in http://lit.org ‘Majestic’ The Ramblings Of A Vagabond Poet