Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Why Your Poetry Fails - Part II

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #18
    In Part I of this series we saw how doing one thing (in that case, DUM-de/trochaic rhythms) many times and then doing the opposite (a de-DUM/iambic rhythm) can create a sense of closure or arrival, especially if the latter happens to be the piece's base cadence (i.e. an iambic word in an iambic poem). 

    G[r]eeks would call this "diaeresis" but we won't sweat the terminology.  We're not trying to pass an English exam.  We're trying to win contests, audiences and acceptances, edging out nefarious competitors who have been "eating our lunch" with these Machiavellian black op tactics.


    Paragraphs, strophes and stanzas allow us to compartmentalize our writing into subtopics.  Poetry has other ways to bracket and highlight phrases or sections.  The most obvious of these is the line.  What are some of the less salient segmentation methods?

    Note that with diaresis it was the ending that mattered, not the beginning (e.g. the first trochee).  Suppose that starting point did matter.  This could have the same effect as either parenthesis (i.e. opening and closing brackets) or, if rhythmic, a dramatic rocking motion.  For example, we encounter iconic phrases such as:

Do you feel lucky, punk?

Go aheadMake my day.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #30
    Do you hear that DUM-de-DUM (aka a "cretic" or "amphimacer") cadence, especially in the second example?  You can add drama to strategic points in your writing by incorporating this simple "rocking" rhythm, as the "Dirty Harry" screenwriters did.  As Margaret Ann Griffiths did in "Studying Savonarola", where she uses ominous amphimacers like "say you burn" or "say you die" before ending the poem with the word "unconsumed". 

    Consider this soundbyte:

   "Black and white, wrong and right."

    Here the bracketing is done not only rhythmically, through cretics, but thematically as well.  Each DUM-de-DUM "foot" addresses a different subject:  in this example, [black and white] distinctiveness and [wrong and right] evaluation.  Notice how the rhyme of "white" and "right" helps cement this bracketing.  We'll see more of this in a moment.


Earl the Squirrel's Rule #13
    This delineation of topics--these opening and closing brackets--can be accomplished using sounds as easily as rhythms.  More than one sound will have to be repeated in order to capture the ear's attention.  Even that may not be enough.  As we'll see, we may need to put a little spin on our sounds.

    A palindrome¹ involves text that is the same read backwards or forward.  "Race car" is a typical alphabetic/textual palindrome.  Before the advent of writing palindromes would have been sonic:  the same sounds in forward and reverse order:  e.g. "clucks" (phonetically:  "kluks") and "skulk" or "aisle" ("il") and "lie" ("li").  Indeed, these reversed phonemes (a fancy term we nerds use when tired of saying "sounds") can form opening and closing brackets even without forming entire words.  We return, as always, to our example poem, DPK's "Beans":

September came like winter's
ailing child but
left us
viewing Valparaiso's pride. Your face was
always saddest when you smiled. You smiled as every
doctored moment lied. You lie with
orphans' parents, long

As close as coppers, yellow beans still
line Mapocho's banks. It
leads them to the sea;
entwined on rocks and saplings, each
new vine recalls that
dawn in 1973 when
every choking, bastard weed grew wild.

     Note the instances of "li" (as in "lye") and "il" (as in "isle") in the first stanza:  "like winter's ailing child" encapsulates and highlights the foreboding setting.  The rest of the "li" and "il" words are "important":  "lie[d]" is repeated [in a way we'll discuss in a subsequent installment] and, as with "lied" and "pride", the "il" sounds are in rhyming words (e.g. "child", "smiled") including those that end both stanzas (i.e. "reviled" and "wild" form perfect closing brackets).

     Isn't it amazing the detail and lengths these swine will go to for such miniscule advantages?

     A few final cudgels:

  1. Before dismissing poems others deem noteworthy take a closer look.  If it's by a master of the craft like Derek Walcott or Margaret Griffiths you may be missing something. 

  2. Yes, I have been told that it is possible to design entire Creative Writing courses without mentioning "Beans" or "Studying Savonarola".  No one has explained me why in hell they'd want to, though.

  3. Let me stress yet again:  It isn't important that the judge/editor/audience recognize any of this gobsmacking 007 gadgetry:  diaeresis, cretics, bracketing, palindromics, etc.  Indeed, it might be better if they didn't!  We're talking about magic, where science meets wonder.  Only the performer needs to know the trick.


¹ - As a matter of accepted nomenclature, [alphabetic/textual] "palindromes" will refer to phrasing or words with symmetrical letters while [sonic/phonetic] "palindromics" can describe symmetrical sounds.

Series Links:

  1. Why Your Poetry Fails - Part I - Diaeresis

  2. Why Your Poetry Fails - Part II - Brackets

  3. Why Your Poetry Fails - Part III - Judges and Editors

    Your feedback is appreciated!

    Please feel free to comment or ask questions below or, failing that, mark the post as "funny", "interesting", "silly" or "dull". 

    If you would like to contact us confidentially or blog here as "Gray for a Day" please use the box below, marking your post as "Private" and including your email address;  the moderator will bring your post to our attention and prevent it from appearing publically.

    We look forward to hearing from you.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments and questions are welcome.