In autumn, I start a creative writing course with the Open University. One of the assignments is to write an 80-line poem. I know you out there who dash off a daily Sonnet or Etheree ( yes I had never heard of it before either-this is what one is and this is one I prepared earlier ) wonder what all the fuss is about.
Well the fuss is that the last poetry I studied was back in 1977-8 when I started but didn’t complete English A’ Level ( I decided that living on a commune where naked women –some hippie idea of moon cycles- gardened was the better option... and dear reader it was!) And frankly apart from the last few weeks, I have not written poetry since the 60’s which was for some Cadburys Chocolate writing competition which I won but then so did the entire class. Clever marketing rather then good writing one suspects.
This is my fourth poem ever written-yes I know but it takes time to learn. Thanks to 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem by Ruth Padel, I now know that this 50-word poem is a free form (1) syllabic (2) verse with rhythm maintained by the use of enjambment (3) and an underlying 7-5-7 syllabic beat within an irregular 4 stanza form(4). And that it leans to metaphorical expression through the voice of an old woman. See what happens when you read Poetry books.
British readers may recognise Ruth Padel from her long since axed
To illustrate what you are missing (and how so much more I have to learn) are two modern sonnets that caught my ear. Read them and then say modern poetry is so elitist and obscure.
Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.
Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters out hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.
Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a child’s name as though they named their loss.
Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer-
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisteree.
Carol Anne Duffy (1993)
How often have I carried our family word
for the hot water bottle
to a strange bed,
as my father would juggle a red-hot half-brick
in an old sock
to his childhood settle.
I have taken into so many lovely heads
Or laid it between us like a sword.
An hotel room in
with a girl who spoke hardly any English
my hand on her breast
like the smouldering one-off spoor of the yeti
or some other shy beast
that has yet to enter the language.
Paul Muldoon (1983)
(1) meaning no set metre or end rhymes
(2) meaning you count the syllables rather then the stresses
(3) meaning the line or phrase carries over on the next
(4) meaning verses
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