Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Case For Structured Poetry

          Poems that rhyme are past their time
          Some folks would have you think,
          But I still feel such poems are real
          And not at all extinct.  - Loegel

Since this is still National Poetry Month, I am going to expound a bit on my personal feelings about rhyming poetry.

I believe that metered, rhyming poems not only produce a sound that is pleasant to the ear but also offer a challenge to the poet to work within a given structure.

A poem doesn't have to be long to tell a story or evoke a feeling.  Consider the following poem by Robert Herrick:

  Whenas in silks my Julia goes
  Then, me thinks, how sweetly flowes
  That liquefaction of her clothes.

  Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
  That brave vibration each way free,
  O how that glittering taketh me!

Liquefaction.  What an amazing word.  Add to that vibration and glittering, and in just six lines Robert Herrick paints such a vivid picture one can almost hear the rustling and see the billowing of Julia's silk gowns.

In this four-line poem by Edwin Markham, called Outwitted, we have story, contrast, conflict, and resolution, all in thirty-one words:

 He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him in!

Working within a metered structure presents a unique challenge which free verse doesn't offer--putting a given number of syllables in a line with the proper stress on each syllable.  I had to work out this problem in a Shakespearean sonnet, written in iambic pentameter.  This required ten syllables to a line and every other syllable stressed.  There was a further requirement that every other line must rhyme.  Here is part of my sonnet:

         Way deep within my lonesome, beating heart
          Rich soil awaits the fragile, tiny seed
          Which will, when planted, give my life a start,
          Fulfilling every yearning, every need.
  I could have gotten the same message across had I written:

           Down inside
            my empty heart
            rich soil awaits
            the fragile seed
            that once planted
            will give my life a start
            fulfilling my every need.

However, there is very little challenge in free verse as I'm not bound by any strict rules of structure.  It took me two minutes to compose the above stanza in free verse; yet, the original stanza took hours to get not only the right words but the right syllabic stress in each word, and then a rhyming scheme on the last syllable of each line.  Definitely a challenge.

The rhythm of a structured poem creates its own music.  Take, for example, my lilting little poem at the beginning of  this paper:

Poems that rhyme are past their time
Some folks would have you think
 But I still feel such poems are real
 And not at all extinct.

You can almost skip to its beat.

A structured poem rolls right off one's tongue.  Listen to these two lines from Leigh Hunt's poem: Jenny kissed me when we met/Jumping from the chair she sat in.  Now imagine if it were written without a specific meter:  Jenny kissed me when we first met/Jumping up from her chair.  The second version is jarring, an abomination to the ears.  Rhythm is everything in poetry.  It's cadence carries one on a wave of feelings unmatched in any other form of the written word.  The poem's rhythm can put the reader in a lighthearted mood or in a somber mood, depending on its structure.  For example, the first and last stanzas quoted here from a ten-stanza poem called Memory, by Abraham Lincoln:

My childhood's home I see again,
And sadden with the view,
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
There's pleasure in it, too.

I range the fields with pensive tread,
And pace the hollow rooms,
And feel (companion of the dead)
I'm living in the tombs.

Another poem I'm especially fond of is The Blind Men and The Elephant.  It tells a story with a moral and uses a lot of dialogue to personalize the poem.  Also, the poem was written by John Godfrey Saxe, my great, great, great, great, grandfather , born in 1778.

Another benefit to rhyming poetry is the mnemonic value of making things easy to remember.  How many of us would know how many days there are in July if it weren’t for “Thirty days hath September….?

Free verse is a fine form of poetry, of that there's no doubt.  There are times when the full impact of a poem can be felt only when presented in free verse.  However, metered, rhyming poetry not only presents a challenge to the poet to work within a given structure, but also such poetry literally sings to the reader and touches his soul.  What more can one ask of a poem? 

Now go write a four line rhyming poem and let me see what you come up with.

To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.
Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Twelve Steps to Becoming an Author

Ta Daa!!  I just received the mock up of the front cover of my new book, Twelve Steps to Becoming an Author.

Here it is!

 Special Advance Release, not yet available in bookstores!
This story is cast as fiction in an effort to give a human touch to the processes and emotions of the writing process.
In the story, Rhonda Gayetski nervously attends a “read and critique” group. Before long, an exciting new world of writing opens up to her. Follow Rhonda as she embraces the writing community and learns all she can about Point of View, deciding on a title, learning how to write an effective query letter, rejection, the latest Print-on-Demand and e-Book technologies, and the growing role of the author as book publicist in today’s world. Rhonda’s story is a step-by-step blueprint for anyone who wants to get published.

Writing tip:  Observe the world around you and record what you see.  You  may use the information in a story some day.

Where there is love there is life.
Indira Gandhi

Monday, April 9, 2012

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month so if you've ever wanted to compose a poem or a limerick, this is the month to do it!  This is part of a poem my dad wrote many years ago:

My church is a tree or trees created by God
Growing to all heights from the earth’s fertile sod.

I look at God’s garden at the oaks he has grown--
Birch, maple and fir trees come from seeds he’s sown.
What better place to pray than under a stately tree
That God planned and planted just for you and me.

As I pray to heaven through the leaves so high,
Golden rays of sunlight seems to burst from the sky
Sending down blues, greens and touches of red
Like a giant stained glass skylight overhead.

This month is also the 100th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe so I guess we could also call this National POEtry month.  Do you have a favorite poem or story by Poe?  The Raven always comes first to my mind, followed quickly by his short story, The Tell-Tale Heart.  In this spine-tingling story, the perpetrator's conscience is what does him in.  Because he feels so guilty (which he is), he figures the police can hear the heartbeat of the man he murdered whose body is laying under the floor boards right under the policemen's feet.  The thump thump thump of the dead man's heart drives him wild and he finally turns himself in to the police.  Good stuff from Poe. 

What's your favorite poem? 

See you next week.

If you cannot be a poet, be the poem.
David Carradine

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?
W. H. Davies

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Kids Plus Books = A Hug

It seemed to me that it was time I started doing something for the community, so when a notice appeared in my church bulletin that the elementary school next door was looking for volunteers in the school library, I answered the call.  Being around books was right up my alley.

I don't remember there being a library in my elementary school in the late 1940s.  And if we had had one, I expect there would have been a few of The Bobbsey Twins books, maybe Alice in Wonderland or Peter Rabbit.  Maybe even The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries and perhaps a few reference books.

Two weeks ago I walked into the elementary school in La Mesa, CA to start my volunteer duties.  The room was open and airy, a rug covered the floor in the reading area, large bean bag chairs and stuffed animals provided comfortable places to curl up for reading.  Along one wall was a bank of computers and next to them were tables and chairs filled with kids busily writing stories on laptops.  At any given time, there were at least twenty kids in the library engaged in reading or writing, some of them opting to spend their recess time in the library rather than on the playground. 

The librarian has made this room a welcoming haven for the kids.  A journalist herself, she is teaching this future generation how to make a newspaper as well as teaching them to write their own stories.  The shelves are filled with books that appeal to today's kids.  The books are more mature and message oriented than I remember from that age (assuming I can still remember anything from that long ago!).  The kids in this school have a thirst for books unlike anything you can imagine.

My first two weeks there, I was put to work shelving books which gave me a good idea of what the kids are reading now.  This last week, I was at a table stamping and applying bar codes to the new books that had come in.  By the time I was done, I had over a hundred books ready to be shelved so the kids could check them out.  One boy, maybe fifth or sixth grade, was sitting at a laptop composing a story.  Whenever I glanced over at him, I caught him looking at me.  We started smiling at each other.  He looked at the stack I had completed and asked the librarian, "Did she do all those books?"  The librarian said, "Yes, she sure did."  Kids gathered around to read the new titles, looking forward to being able to check them out. The boy got up from his chair, came over and gave me a big hug!  They say you don't get paid for volunteer work, but I got paid this week, in a BIG way.   

My new book, Twelve Steps to Becoming an Author: A Writer's Guide, will be perfect for this new generation of readers and writers when they get just a little older. 

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it - Mother Theresa

Travel Tip:  Visit a library.  You just might be amazed.