Saturday, 18 May 2019

Weekly writing prompt: Playing with voice


Voice

Your weekend writing prompt is to play with voice. To create the character, grab three random character traits from this random character traits generator. Take the first three you get: that way, you're more likely to be playing outside your usual choices. (And less likely to spend the whole ten minutes clicking "Generate three character traits"!)

Then the character is going to either write a letter of apology or apologise in person to someone - written or spoken is up to you. I suggest you do this as a ten-minute free-writing exercise: once you have the character traits, just start writing. Let the voice emerge and the voice decide what they're apologising for (and whether they mean it). Have fun!


This is the 2nd of 12 weekly writing prompts in the run-up to the Summer of Writing workshops in Oxford this August: 5 one-day creative writing workshops for adults, for any level from beginners to experienced writers. There's be a new prompt each week, so you can subscribe to the blog here:

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You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get reminders. Each of the prompts loosely connects with one of the Summer of Writing workshops: this one links with Characters Unlike You, as the juxtaposition of random character traits helps you step outside your own traits. The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...

  • Saturday 3 August: Page-Turners: how to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
  • Saturday 10 August: Writing In Scenes: explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
  • Saturday 17 August: Characters Unlike You: explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters
  • Saturday 24 August: Hone Your Style: explore what makes quality prose, from angela carter’s richness to margaret atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
  • Saturday 31 August: Publishing: how to submit your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, and write synopses and cover letters
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 12 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.
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Saturday, 11 May 2019

Weekly writing prompt: thriller fairytale


Thriller Fairytale

Your writing prompt for the weekend is to write a THRILLER FAIRYTALE. This prompt is to play with writing in a different genre (thriller) and as some readymade content to go with that, grab a fairy tale: we have a plentiful stock of them and they belong to everyone. You can make it a creepy pyschological thriller or an action Dan-Brown style thriller, whichever amuses you more / is less like the way you usually write. (If you write lots of thriller stuff already, try the approach least like your usual style) Pick a fairytale you know well – fairytales lend themselves quite well to thrillers, as they have plenty of Looming Peril. You might find it fun to pick one you mostly know from Disney, to get more of a feel of subverting it.

If you're doing this as a ten-minute exercise, don't worry about getting to the end of the story; just start at the beginning, or whatever seems like the most exciting scene to write, and see how far you get. Have fun!


This is the 1st of 12 weekly writing prompts in the run-up to the Summer of Writing workshops in Oxford this August: 5 one-day creative writing workshops for adults, for any level from beginners to experienced writers. There's be a new prompt each week, so you can subscribe to the blog here:

Enter your email address:


Delivered by FeedBurner
You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get reminders. Each of the prompts loosely connects with one of the Summer of Writing workshops: this one links with Page Turners, as the thriller genre has a lot to teach us about keeping a story gripping! The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...

  • Saturday 3 August: Page-Turners: how to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
  • Saturday 10 August: Writing In Scenes: explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
  • Saturday 17 August: Characters Unlike You: explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters
  • Saturday 24 August: Hone Your Style: explore what makes quality prose, from angela carter’s richness to margaret atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
  • Saturday 31 August: Publishing: how to submit your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, and write synopses and cover letters
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 12 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Introducing... Weekly writing prompts


Pic: Weekly writing prompt

Regular little writing exercises are one of the best things you can do for yourself as a writer. When you're gunning ahead with a novel, they keep you limber and flexible, as a place to play with new approaches without pulling your novel in a dozen different directions. When you're short on ideas, they're a constant source of fresh inspiration - not so much the prompts themselves, I find, but the actual doing of them. You do the prompt because you're told to and that's the next prompt, then suddenly, in the space where pen hits paper / fingers hit keyboard, the ideas start spilling out. And when you're struggling to write - recovering from an illness or a loss, struggling with writers' block or mental health - they're a gentle, doable, constrained task.

For all those uses, they work best if you set yourself two little rules. (Creative people might hate constraints, but creativity loves them!) The first rule is simply, do the prompt. The magic is not the prompt itself: the magic is what happens when you do the prompt. Even if it's not your thing, do the prompt. Make a pact with yourself to do the prompt. The second rule is to set a timer for ten minutes, do as much as you can in ten minutes, and then stop. You can choose to carry on with it, after a wee break, but that's bonus writing. If you've done your ten minutes, you've done the prompt. The beauty of ten minutes is that it's just ten minutes, so whether you're loathe to steal time from your main novel, or have very little spare time, or are finding things overwhelming, ten minutes is always doable. The other beauty of ten minutes is that you can do a surprising amount in that time!

In the twelve weeks running up to the Summer of Writing workshops this August, I'll be giving you a writing prompt every week, on the Saturday morning, to whet your writing appetite, starting this Saturday, 11 May. If you want them popping up in your inbox, you can subscribe to the blog here:

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You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get reminders, though those are prone to the usual vicissitudes of social media algorithms. But do wave at me there, and let me know if you're having fun with the prompts, I like encouragement!



The Summer of Writing workshops are five one-day creative writing workshops for adults, for any level from beginners to experienced writers. They run in Oxford every summer, on Saturdays across August. The workshops which run are voted for earlier in the year, and this year's selection of short-listed workshops are...

  • Saturday 3 August: Page-Turners: how to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
  • Saturday 10 August: Writing In Scenes: explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
  • Saturday 17 August: Characters Unlike You: explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters
  • Saturday 24 August: Hone Your Style: explore what makes quality prose, from angela carter’s richness to margaret atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
  • Saturday 31 August: Publishing: how to submit your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, and write synopses and cover letters
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 12 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

Friday, 29 March 2019

NaPoWriMo: 15 tips for writing a poem a day


After years of eyeing up NaPoWriMo when April was the busiest time of the year for me, I finally got the chance to try it last year - and it was transformative. No amount of study or trying could ever teach me as much as the simple practice of writing a poem every single day, regardless. At the end of the month, I couldn't bear to stop, so I mentally signed up for another month. Then another. Then another. After seven months, I realised it may as well be a year - but then I'd be stopping just as the next NaPoWriMo started, so let's make it a year and a month. After a full year of writing a poem a day, and agog with excitement for the fresh NaPoWriMo, here are the 15 best tips I've learnt:

1. A poem a day doesn’t mean a great poem a day

It’s a chance to try out new forms with doggerel, experiment with technique, explore new ideas in free verse. If you try to write a great poem a day, you'll be trying to make it "good", which means sticking to what you know and not taking risks, which means you're not learning anything, just repeating your existing skills. Drop your standards! Write a rubbish poem practising a particular technique, trusting the results will show up in future poems. Write doggerel when you try out a new form, because you can only understand what the form does by taking it for a spin, and next time you use it, you'll have a feel for it. This is the strongest lesson I've learnt from writing a poem every day for a year - and every time I've tried to make them good, I've started stagnating. Every time I relax again, I improve. Permission to write rubbish granted.

2. Don't save a prompt or content idea to write a good one – have a go

It's so tempting to save an especially enticing prompt - but it'll do you and the prompt no good if you build it up in your mind as a Special Prompt, worthy of a Good Poem. That'll stymie every line, when you finally work yourself up to try it. Write it now. You can always have another go at it as another poem-a-day. You can use the same prompt every day for a week, if you want. Like the special soap, special cheese, special notebook: just use it.

3. Feel free to cannibalise your poems

Yesterday's poems aren't sacred or engraved in stone: you can remix and mash-up however you want. If yesterday's strict form stopped you from exploring the idea in the way you wanted, rewrite it as free verse. Or if today you're trying a form, cherry-pick the best bits from yesterday's free verse. Nab six lines from a previous poem to start you off on your first sestina. Nothing is sacred.

4. Try new forms

Writing a poem a day is a fantastic chance to learn heaps of new forms, each of which teach you something and challenge you in a different way. Tiny forms will teach you economy of language. Sestinas will teach you to go with the flow and let go of control. Rhyme-and-metre forms will teach you musicality of language. Even if you remain a free-verse poet afterwards, you'll learn heaps.

5. Switch between rhyme-and-metre forms and free verse

Writing with rhyme and metre is brilliant for your musicality; free verse is brilliant for poetic language and devices. Switching between the two regularly allows them to feed off each other, so you can bring more of that poetic density into your rhymed poems, more of that assonance, alliteration, internal rhyme, and rhythm into your free verse.

6. Some poems are just exercises – the results show up later

Again, you're not writing a great poem a day: but the other poems are valuable too. In my first NaPoWriMo, I spent one day writing doggerel around the idea of "one sound": heavy syllables only, so all one-syllable nouns, verbs, adjectives; as much rhyme, assonance, and alliteration as possible. It was fun to try and it produced a rubbish poem. A couple days later, the results turned up in Aphrodite II, dense with heavy syllables which was exactly what the subject matter needed. I only made the connection when I typed them up at the end of the month. But if you don't let yourself write the "rubbish" poems as exercises, you don't reap the results.

7. Some poems are just to keep the habit

Some poems have no particular value except that you're keeping going. Yes, that was a boring mile of concrete highway you just drove down, but there are other interesting places to come, and if you'd stopped, you wouldn't get to those. Keeping momentum has its own value.

8. Find out what kind of poem you write when you’re knackered, fluey, tipsy, light-headed, stressed, hormonal…

All the usual conditons when you'd dismiss the idea of trying to write a poem? Now's your chance to try them out. Sometimes the poem will just be about how tired you are or fluey you are; that's fine, and it falls into one of the categories above. Sometimes, you'll be stunned that despite your state, you can still step through the magic door into poetry land, and come back with something that pleases and surprises you.

9. It’s fine to write a quickie

Some days you just don't have much time. That's fine. There are heaps of quickie forms and they have plenty to teach you. If you only have 5 or 10 minutes, dash down a haiku, an elevenie, a nonet, a cinquain... Here's a selection of eight lovely quickie forms, for when you need them.

10. It’s fine to crowdsource a poem from a group

If you're at a barbecue, a wedding reception, a family do, a pub night, and suddenly yelp "WAH! I haven't written my poem!" you can always crowdsource it. Get everyone joining in to help you. Pick a form they might know or which is easy to explain - limericks, haiku, and elevenies are all great for that. It still counts as a poem a day.

11. It’s fine to use a fresh double-page spread in your notebook

You don't have to decide in advance if this poem will be Worthy of a full clean double-spread. Let it have one. I often use one side for brainstorming rhymes and jotting phrases, if it doesn't run over two pages. And it's okay to leave a page empty: you can use empty pages to rewrite clean copies of poems you’ve reworked heavily.

12. Type up your poems at intervals, not immediately, not too rarely

It's useful to have a time-lapse before you type up your poems, as you get a fresh perspective on them. Often ones you felt were rubbish turn out stronger than expected, or problems you were wrestling with are suddenly easier to resolve. Typing up a whole month or more of poems can be overwhelming though: the task becomes a bit too big, but it can also be too much emotionally. About once a fortnight works well for me, which is also a chance to select which ones to show my fortnightly writers' group.

13. Write down & collect new forms, new prompt types, and ideas for poems

Often writing a poem will give you a bunch of fresh ideas or lines for the next day's poem, or things crop up during the day, and you think you'll remember... I never can. Jot ideas in the back of your notebook, and when you find prompts or ideas on websites or social media, save them. You can screengrab them, bookmark things on Twitter, and save things to a collection on Facebook.

14. Don’t share your poems with your friends / family as a matter of routine

If you have a willing audience, it's so exciting and tempting to read them every fresh poem hot off the press - but that quickly becomes an expectation, for you as much as for them, and each poem has that audience in mind. Not sharing a poem also becomes very marked. Leave yourself the freedom to write poems you might not want to share.

15. Have fun with it!

It's a challenge, not a chore. Have fun with it, take it seriously enough that you wrest the time from each day, don't take it so seriously that it stresses you. This is play, and you're in for a mad exhilirating delight.

If you want to join in with NaPoWriMo this year, one of the best sites for prompts is NaPoWriMo.net (open site), which always gives a quality example and features a participant each day. You can also get daily NaPoWriMo prompts from Writers' Digest (written by Robert Lee Brewer), and Poetry Potion offers daily prompts year round. Also look out for the #NaPoWriMo hashtag on Twitter. I'll be sharing my progress on my personal Twitter account, @m_d_kerr and also retweeting some prompts on my Writers' Greenhouse Twitter account, @writersgreenhse.


Friday, 1 February 2019

Meddle with a san san poem


For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, starting in Feb 2019, I’m sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

Love your imagery? Use it to the max! “San san” means “three three” in Chinese – three images, each repeated three times, across just eight lines, plus a rhyme scheme of abcabdcd.

The san san is a lovely variation on the repeating forms - instead of repeating exact phrases or lines, it repeats the imagery, which can be reworded and reused however you please. Each image appears three times, in any order. With just eight lines, that's rapid repetition! It also has a rhyme scheme of abcabdcd. When I'm writing, I break that down into abc abd cd, to help me keep track, and sometimes write it with those line breaks as well. Later, when I type it up, I remove the extra line breaks. Here's an example san san:

Rosebay Willowherb


Arms overflowing with twirls of seed-head froth
as white as the hair of the man who stopped me, said,
“In the blitz, that purple grew in the rubble, throughout,”
arms overflowing with memory, voice like a moth,
“It grows in purple cones in summer – our dread
couldn’t survive the flowers.” November’s white
seeded the broken places, a growing shout
of purple and arms overflowing in white nights.

Here it is again with the imagery in bold and colour-coded, and the line breaks added to help you see the rhyme scheme:

Rosebay Willowherb


Arms overflowing with twirls of seed-head froth
as white
as the hair of the man who stopped me, said,
“In the blitz, that purple grew in the rubble, throughout,”
arms overflowing with memory, voice like a moth,
“It grows in purple cones in summer – our dread
couldn’t survive the flowers.” November’s white
seeded the broken places, a growing shout
of purple and arms overflowing in white nights.

As you can see, you can repeat the words or not to repeat the image: "arms overflowing" is repeated exactly; "purple" interchanges with "purple cones"; and the white seeds are "seed-head froth of white", "white seeded" and "white nights".

Have fun with it!

Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of others.

The Meddling with Poetry course starts this week, on 6 and 7 February 2019 (Wednesday and Thursday courses running in parallel) and explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here. You can also find lots of other fun forms to play with on my poetry advent calendar.


Friday, 25 January 2019

Meddle with a sonnet


For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, starting in Feb 2019, I’m sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

14 lines, a shift or twist about 2/3 of the way through, and some kind of a conclusion. That’s it: the rest, contrary to the school rules, is up to you! Various types of sonnets have their own rhyme schemes or metres. You can pick whatever type you want or go freestyle.

At school, most of us get taught The Sonnet as a completely fixed form, to be rigidly obeyed, never to be meddled with... so it comes as quite a shock to discover you can meddle with almost every single aspect of it!

If you ever felt frustrated or cross or like you didn't get sonnets at school, read on, because you were probably right, and I'm here to vindicate you. And then when you're feeling thoroughly vindicated, set you free!

*

The rules we were taught went something like... iambic pentameter (de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM), rhyme scheme abab-cdcd-efef-gg, something about a twist or whatnot, wraps up in the final couplet. And that's the Shakespearean sonnet. And then we were given Shakespearean sonnets to look at, to admire how well he did it and work out What He Was Trying To Say, and sat there scratching our heads, because even if we could get through the thickets of Shakespearean English at that age, he didn't really seem to follow the rules...

And you know what? School-You was right! Let's look at one of the most famous Shakespearean sonnets. (I've broken it into stanzas so it's easier to analyse.)
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me prov'd,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.
So let's assume we've already got past the stuff like tempest=storm, and bark=ship, and "the remover" is death not Vanish, and all that, and start analysing the form.

Rhyme scheme: finds / minds, fair enough. That rhymes. love / remove? Nonsense! Then the teacher starts talking about "visual" rhyme because it looks like they should rhyme and that's... a thing, apparently? That's even good enough for the final couplet, prov'd / lov'd? If School-You was angry and sceptical, you were right. And what about come / doom? They don't rhyme and they don't even look the same! So much for the rhyme scheme, Shakespeare.

Next up: metre. If you're a native English speaker, you use English rhythm perfectly, naturally. And then you're told this sentence
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
is iambic pentameter: de-DUM x 5. In which case, I'd need to put the stress like this:

Let ME not TO the MARRiage OF true MINDS
which is clearly the speech of an alien. Honestly, just try saying it out loud like that. Anyone with the faintest grasp of English will, quite naturally and correctly, put the stress like this:
LET me NOT to the MARRiage of TRUE MINDS
or even this
Let me NOT to the MARRiage of TRUE MINDS
And then you end up thinking that you don't understand metre, because you can't see how that's iambic pentameter (hint: it's not) and rhyme doesn't even mean anything anymore, and then you're told to write a sonnet "following the rules" when apparently even Shakespeare couldn't get it right.

Here's the thing: Shakespeare's sonnets often don't rhyme and aren't iambic pentametre – but they used to, and they once were. The language changed. The way we pronounce words changed, and the way we stress things changed. There's no such thing as visual rhyme. (Well, there is now, but only because people made it up because they misunderstood.) The words that look like they rhyme? They used to rhyme! (Later, other poets came along and thought, 'Oh, those words look like they rhyme but they don't, so that must be okay,' but they were wrong. I'm looking at you, William Blake, with your eye / symmetry.) Mostly this is because of something called The Great Vowel Shift which was a huge change in English pronunication and no-one really knows why it happened. As for the metre – I believe that was iambic pentameter once, and everyone's still frantically embarrassedly pretending it still is, but it's clearly not.

So! Tl; dr: There is such a thing as a Shakespearean sonnet, which does follow those rules, but Shakespeare's sonnets don't anymore because the language has changed. And that's not the be-all and end-all of sonnets! Prepare to be set free...

*

So far I've counted up 28 sonnet forms, and I'm sure there's plenty more I've yet to find. The rhyme schemes vary wildly and they don't even all use rhymes. Iambic pentameter? Pfft! In the sonnet history, that's a modern upstart; the original and older sonnet forms didn't use that, and plenty of the newer forms don't either. We can see it as a phase we went through, in the middle. Ten syllables, at least? Nope: the world's yer oyster. Go wild. Write very short lines, if you want. Or even longer ones.

The only things all the sonnets have in common, the kernel of what-makes-a-sonnet-a-sonnet, are these:
  • 14 lines
  • some kind of 'twist' in the argument (the pivot, also known as volta) about two-thirds of the way through
  • some kind of conclusion (from the neat tie-it-up-with-a-bow rhyming couplet to the slightly vaguer gestured-at suggestions of conclusions in most contemporary sonnets)
That's it. All the rest are variations that people made up. You can copy their variations if you like them, you can make up your own, you can do completely as you please. If you're worried it's not 'authentic', then relax. The first sonnet form was the Sicilian sonnet, which was invented circa 1200 AD. It rhymed abababab cdcdcd, it had no particular metre, and it was supposed to be about courtly chivalrous love. So if 'authentic' is 'going with the original form', then Shakespeare, Petrarch, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Pushkin, Tennyson and Elizabeth Barrett-Browning were all writing inauthentic sonnets, so you're in bloody good company!

I happen to love writing Shakespearean sonnets (though I'm starting to play more with other ones) and pretty rigorous iambic pentameter, so the example is a Shakespearean sonnet, which really does follow "the rules", but you do you! (And because I live to let other people copy my homework, if you want my summary of sonnet forms, just email me on megan@thewritersgreenhouse.co.uk and I'll happily send it to you.)
TThe empty post-box down the broken drive
was weathered tin. The gravel cut my feet.
You wrote me daily, bringing me alive –
you touched me, then. Each moment, incomplete
without you, stung. I needed you. At night,
I dreamt of hands which crossed the world to touch
in matrices of meaning, gloves of light &ndash
we wrote so many letters. Bore so much.
The future came. My hands, in blind despair,
through emails, Facebook, website stats pursue
your ghost with data gloves, but clutch at air &ndash
and I have no address to write to you.
I'm lost in losses time and I forgot.
The world moves on, but I, my love, cannot.
Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of others.

The Meddling with Poetry course starts in February 2019 and explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here. You can also find lots of other fun forms to play with on my poetry advent calendar.


Friday, 18 January 2019

Meddle with a roundelay


For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, starting in Feb 2019, I'm sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

Meddle with a roundelay poem: Take repetition to the max - every pair of lines gets repeated! You have 4 stanzas of 6 lines each, rhyming ababab. The last two lines of all the stanzas are the same. Plus, the middle two lines of each stanza get reused as the first two lines of the next stanza.

There are lots of lovely repeating forms, but this one really goes all out - without being too tricky either. You have four verses of six lines each, rhyming ababab. The lines repeat in pairs: the last two lines of all the stanzas are the same (that's the refrain). Plus, the middle two lines of each stanza get reused as the first two lines of the next stanza. I like to draw this kind of thing out for myself in colour:


ORANGE a
ORANGE b
RED a
RED b
REFRAIN a
REFRAIN b

RED a
RED b
PURPLE a
PURPLE b
REFRAIN a
REFRAIN b

PURPLE a
PURPLE b
BLUE a
BLUE b
REFRAIN a
REFRAIN b

BLUE a
BLUE b
GREEN a
GREEN b
REFRAIN a
REFRAIN b


It also uses a set metre of DUM-di DUM-di DUM-di DUM-di. (If you're feeling grand, you call that "trochaic tetrametre" because DUM-di is a trochee and "tetrametre" means there's four of them.)

Here's a thoroughly joyous roundelay I wrote. The previous day's copla real hadn't captured what I wanted to say at all, or the energy and enthusiasm, so I cheerfully cannibalised it and rewrote the same thoughts as a roundelay, which I was much happier with. Back to the joys of spring, this time with vigour! (In the last line of each verse, I shortened the metre ever so slightly, leaving off the final "di".)

Feel the suckling sap that rises
tiny flowers, bluebells ringing
soft as sky in shy disguises.
All the world is juicy, springing
thick with life and wet surprises:
taste the juice in everything.

Soft as sky in shy disguises,
all the world is juicy, springing
green and thrusting. Life advises
us to whisper bees – the stinging
thick with life and wet surprises:
taste the juice in everything.

Green and thrusting life advises
us to whisper bees, the stinging
sweet as greedy weeds, whose prize is
sunlight. Like a dewdrop singing,
thick with life and wet surprises,
taste the juice in everything.

Sweet as greedy weeds whose prize is
sunlight, like a dewdrop singing,
like the hawthorn tantalises,
we are rising sap and clinging
thick with life and wet surprises.
Taste the juice in everything.
Go forth, sing, and roundelay!

Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of others.

The Meddling with Poetry course starts in February 2019 and explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here.


Friday, 11 January 2019

Meddle with a Pleiades poem


For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, starting in Feb 2019, I’m sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

A starry seven-liner, named for the Seven Sisters star cluster. Pick a one-word title, and start each of the seven lines with the same letter as the title.

A simple, flexible form with a perfect touch of constraint: a one-word title, seven lines, and every line starts with the same letter as the title.

The Pleiades is the Seven Sisters star cluster, hence the restriction to seven lines, one for each sister. It's a recently invented form Craig Tigerman came up with it in 1999. (And had the wisdom not to name it the Namregit. Richard Wilbur, take note!) Hortensia Anderson then came up with another requirement: as one of the Seven Sisters is so pale that it's almost invisible, each line should be just six syllables. (She's a haiku and tanka poet, so tiny syllable restrictions are right up her street.)

I like playing with both variations. In this example, I've used the six-syllable limit:

Perpetual

Plain-song echoes in old
porous stone. Wilting weeds
plead. Thistles fly where once
prayers flew. Roof gone, sky stark,
peel back centuries: the
Passion, or passions, all
places die, immortal.

Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of others.

The Meddling with Poetry course starts in February 2019 and explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here. You can also find lots of other fun forms to play with on my poetry advent calendar.


Friday, 4 January 2019

Meddle with a quintilla poem


For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, starting in Feb 2019, I'm sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

Meddle with a quintilla poem: A Spanish five-liner with plenty of rhyme. You have five lines, each with 8 syllables. Use 2 rhymes throughout, and don’t end on a rhyming couplet. That gives you lots of possible rhyme schemes: ababa, abbab, abaab, aabab, or aabba. Just don’t end aa or bb!

Another nifty quickie: just five lines, each of 8 syllables, and two rhymes throughout but you can't end on a rhyming couplet. That gives you lots of possible rhyme schemes: ababa, abbab, abaab, aabab, or aabba.

Here's a draft quintilla I wrote about the hodag, using its name as an acrostic. Merriam-Webster's lovely blog introduced me to it, and it's described as "a mythical animal reported chiefly from Wisconsin and Minnesota, noted for its ugliness, lateral horns, and hooked tail, and reputed to be outstanding in both ferocity and melancholy." This one's rhyme scheme is a b a b a.

Howls tear the trees; it lashes
out in horned despair, its tail
dragging, hooked, the sap from gashes’
aromatic pine. A trail
glistens where it slumps in ashes.

And if you put two quintillas together, you get a copla real. (Both stanzas use the same rhyme scheme.)

Off you go quintillering, copla-realing if you fancy it, and beware the ferocious, melancholic hodag and the forbidden final rhyming couplet.

Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of others.

The Meddling with Poetry course starts in February 2019 and explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here.


Friday, 28 December 2018

Meddle with a katauta poem


For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, starting in Feb 2019, I’m sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

This is basically a haiku but it’s in love (or written to a lover) and you can have 2 extra syllables if you want them. Line 1: 5 syllables. Line 2: 7 syllables. Line 3: 5 or 7 syllables.

A katauta is very much like a haiku, but it's written to a lover, and you can have two extra syllables if you want them:

Line 1: 5 syllables
Line 2: 7 syllables
Line 3: 5 or 7 syllables

On its own it’s considered ‘incomplete’: it wants a katauta in reply. Two or more katautas talking back and forth, in lovers' conversation, make a sedoka and if your lover doesn't obligingly respond to your katuatas with katautas of their own, you get to write both halves! You can also let a katuata stand on its own and then that ‘incompleteness’ becomes part of it.


Haikus also have a bunch of other conventions, which katautas don't particularly need to follow: a seasonal reference (a kigo); a 'cutting' or juxtaposition of images (a kiru); a degree of ambiguity, provoking thought rather than explaining; lines being self-contained fragments; and focusing on a single moment. Using some of these can be useful though – the ones that I think suit katauta is keeping each line self-contained to a degree, focusing on a single moment, and sometimes something seasonal or from the natural world.

Here's an incomplete katauta that I wrote for my students, after teaching, for my poem-a-day. (Yes, I sometimes write love poems for my classes. I really love teaching!)

Tiny lights sparkle
in a waft of sandalwood
under my skin, when I teach

Feel free to reply, to turn it into a sedoka! Or try out a katauta of your own, for someone – or something – you love.

Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of others.

The Meddling with Poetry course starts in February 2019 and explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here. You can also find lots of other fun forms to play with on my poetry advent calendar.


Friday, 21 December 2018

Meddle with a nonet poem


For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, starting in Feb 2019, I'm sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

An elegant quickie that tails away to a vanishing point. The first line has 9 syllables, the next 8, then 7, and so on down to 1.

If the rubliw is a brontosaurus (starts small, gets much much bigger in the middle, and then gets small again), then the nonet is a ticeratops (starts big, gets smaller and smaller, then stops). The first line has 9 syllables, then 8, then 7, then 6, and so on, all the way down to 1. It's an enormously satisfying little form and the dwindling away lends itself to all kinds of subject matter.

Having a selection of these tiny forms is also a huge help when you're mad-busy with Christmas prep / wiped out with flu, but still want to poem! Here's one I wrote in November, with hectic flu but still wanting to keep up my poem-a-day practice:

Water-wall slams, translucent turquoise
splinters silver, barrels, roaring
white and golden grains churn, flung
forward, rush – their arches
stretch flat, simmer with
bubbles, strain to
touch – pause – stroke
the wet
sand.

Have fun with it!

Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of others.

The Meddling with Poetry course starts in February 2019 and explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here. You can also find lots of other fun forms to play with on my poetry advent calendar.


Friday, 14 December 2018

Meddle with a Rubliw poem


For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, starting in Feb 2019, I'm sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

Like a Brontosaurus, this poem is thin at one end, much much thicker in the middle, and then thin again. The first line has 2 syllables, the next 4, then 6, then 8, then 10 – then it goes back down to 8, then 6, then 4, then 2.

The rubliw is another handy little short form, like the elevenie, but with no constraints other than the number of syllables on each line. Limiting your syllables, rather than the number of words or rhyme or metre, does interesting things to your writing - try it out and see for yourself. It was invented by Richard Wilbur, based on the cinquain – that's the one that goes 2–4–6–8–2.

Here's a draft rubliw I wrote to try it out, based on a delightful snippet of folklore:

Bramble
flowers; berries
harden to red nubs, swell
and glitter black between the thorns:
soft and plump to the lightest tug until
Old Michaelmas Day: the devil’s
piss wizens and sours
fruit to gnarls on
bramble.

By the way – if you're wondering how to pronounce "rubliw", I thought it was Welsh and have been going with "rooblee-yoo". I've just realised it's his name, Wilbur, backwards. Numpty.

Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of others.

The Meddling with Poetry course starts in February 2019 and explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here.


Friday, 7 December 2018

Meddle with a coupling poem


For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, starting in Feb 2019, I'll be sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

Like someone else’s words? Use their lines and write your own new lines in between each of theirs. You can do this with articles you’ve screengrabbed, fiction snippets, other poems, whatever you fancy.

Like someone else’s words? Use their lines and write your own new lines in between each of theirs.
You can do this with articles you’ve screengrabbed, fiction snippets, other poems, whatever you fancy. Part of the pleasure is twisting or enriching the meaning of the original lines, playing with or against them and toying with the grammar, especially when sentences run across lines. This is a very new form, invented by Karen McCarthy Woolf.

A quick note on copyright: the person who wrote the original words owns their copyright. If you want to share your poem (online or by publishing it), you'll need to get their permission or pick words that are already out of copyright (in most countries, that means where the author has been dead for more than 70 years). Alternately, you can do a double-coupling poem: write your lines in between theirs, then remove their lines and write your own new lines between yours.

For variation, you can also try a hidden coupling poem, where you pick a poem which you haven't read and cover it with paper. Reveal the first line, copy it out, then write a line yourself, then reveal and copy out their second line, and so on. It's a thrilling way to work, not knowing what's coming next, but a word to the wise: get someone else to pick the poem for you and check its length and suitability. I chose a poem from the index of a book based on its title and that it was out of copyright – it started out well enough, and then I found myself trapped in swathes and swathes of lyrical pastoral description! By the tenth line rhaposidising about mountain scenery, while I tried to add stuff in between, I was losing the will to live.

In this example, I'd screengrabbed three quotes from an article on fugue states which had struck me deeply. The words not in italics are from "How a Young Woman Lost Her Identity" by Rachel Aviv (2 April 2018, New Yorker), reproduced with her permission.

Fugue


dissociative fugues are organised and
I can still drive, as if this metallic blue momentum were
purposeful, operating according to some
enduring physics, though even my hands have lost
internal logic. The person’s thinking is
smeared around a conversation under a tree,
dominated by a “single idea, that
escapes her fingers, trying to reach him, which
symbolizes or condenses (or both)
the event horizon around this singularity, which swallows
several important ideas and emotions,”
nimbused by bereft light particles, partnerless now. Read what
Lowenstein writes.

Furious sun fought air conditioning. I think by then I had driven
for several hours. “I had lost the ability
to park, to decide turnings, but I stopped,
to understand categories,” she said. “I
sat in a deli. I didn’t know what food I liked. I
no longer had a chronological measure
of selves – if that self had gone, the singularity had eaten all
of time. I no longer experienced myself
but thought, once, I had eaten sundried tomatoes
in a specific place. I didn’t have an
idea beyond that, but ordered some.” No-one

understood why someone might forget
her own mouth, or how to move in time, might lose
her identity during the storm. “There
I sat, immobile, with the sundried tomatoes. I knew I
was a lot of trauma,” she said softly. “It
spilled from me, in Hawking radiation. I
cracked things wide open.” A man
had vanished; this anti-particle self appeared.

If you want to give it a go, check your own screengrabs folder for inspiration (remember you'll need the other person's permission if the poem goes public) or try an out-of-copyright poem or book - here's a helpful starter list of poems in the public domain.

Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of others.

The Meddling with Poetry course starts in February 2019 and explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here.


Friday, 30 November 2018

Meddle with a fold poem


For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, starting in Feb 2019, I'll be sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

Lovely repetition and light rhyme make a flexible, flowing form: 11 lines, with all the odd lines rhyming, and the end of line 1 repeated at the end of lines 5 and 11.

A fold poem uses a bit of repetition and very light rhyme (only every second line rhymes) which makes it a wonderfully flowing form to write.

It has 11 lines, and the end of line 1 repeats as the end of lines 5 and 11. (That can be one word, a phrase, or most of the line, as you wish.) All the odd lines rhyme (1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11) - but because 1, 5, and 11 are the same words anyway, you actually only need four rhymes total. Here's what the form looks like:

1   ~~~~~~ refrain      a
2   ~~~~~~~~~~~    *
3   ~~~~~~~~~~~    a
4   ~~~~~~~~~~~    *
5  ~~~~~~ refrain       a
6   ~~~~~~~~~~~    *
7   ~~~~~~~~~~~    a
8   ~~~~~~~~~~~    *
9   ~~~~~~~~~~~    a
10 ~~~~~~~~~~~    *
11 ~~~~~~ refrain      a

refrain is the repeated bit; a is the lines that rhyme; * means no rhyme. As with any poem that uses repeated lines, you can play with twisting the meaning, or just use it as obsessive repetition

The fold peom was invented by Gillena Cox, who also specifies that there must be a reference to nature (as with haiku) and how it affects you as the poet, moments that are "special, simple and exactly". I take that specification with a pinch of salt: I write more than enough about nature as it is and I think the form is more flexible than that.

Here's the first fold poem I wrote, about choosing a perfume. The repeated bits are underlined and the rhymes are in bold - and yes, there is an invariable reference to nature, but that's more because it's me writing than because I was obeying that requirement! Anyway, is perfume distilled and bottled still nature?

Inhale: English oak and hazlenut,
cedarwood and juniper, cedrat,
amber, oud, and bergamot – the glut
drags you, gasping, country after country,
but… English oak and hazlenut
is home. Your skin says yes and welcomes in
its pheremonal counterpart to rut
in glee upon your wrist: it knows you well,
your smell of onion, sandalwood, and slut,
your lazy warm delight, your greenish gown,
a spell of English oak and hazlenut.


Have fun folding your own poems, with absolute freedom to ignore any rules you wish!

Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of others.

The Meddling with Poetry course starts in February 2019 and explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here.


Friday, 23 November 2018

Meddle with a wreathed poem


For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, starting in Feb 2019, I'll be sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

Instead of rhyming the words at the end of the line, each end-word has a rhyme somewhere in the next line. That’s it! You can combine this with any other form of poetry as well – wreathed sonnets, wreathed golden shovels, etc.

Instead of rhyming the words at the end of the line, each end-word has a rhyme somewhere in the next line. That’s it! You can combine this with any other form of poetry as well – wreathed sonnets, wreathed golden shovels, wreathed anything really. If this is your first wreathed poem, then try it out on its own first, before combining it, or if you're combining it with another form, pick one you already know well.

In this example, the end-words rhyme as well (a b a b a b a b a b), but they don't have to. I've marked the end-words and their matching rhyme in the next line in bold colours.

The balsam bobs. The narrowboat’s paint flakes.
Blackberries glisten, where bramble snakes its way
through the hawthorn, and pray for lips. A breeze rakes
the trees’ reflections; breaking through leaves, a ray

wobbles on ripples. A spider’s ballet makes
geometry of sun and waits for prey.
The hops and hay ripen while the lakes
give up their geese. It takes its time, decay:

while leaves fray, twigs brittle, and wasps hold wakes
by drizzlelight, mud cakes the memories of May.

I've used some half-rhyme in this (makes / waits, rakes / break) and also, because the rhyming word is in the middle of a line, you don't have to rhyme the whole word, just the heavy-syllable bit (rakes / breaking).

Try it out with some free verse, enjoy the freedom it brings to rhyming, and have fun!


Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of others.

The Meddling with Poetry course starts in February 2019 and explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here.


Friday, 16 November 2018

Meddle with a cinquain poem


For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, starting in Feb 2019, I'll be sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

Cinquain is Fancy French poetry-speak for a fivey, each line longer then the last one short. Line 1: 2 syllables. Line 2: 4 syllables. Line 3: 6 syllables. Line 4: 8 syllables. Line 5: 2 syllables.

This is a concise, and wonderfully versatile little form, which also has some delicious variations. ("Cinquain" is basically Frenchified poetry-speak for a "fivey".) It's super simple: no rhyme or metre requirements, and just 5 lines, which steadily increase in length, then abruptly jump back down:

Line 1: 2 syllables
Line 2: 4 syllables
Line 3: 6 syllables
Line 4: 8 syllables
Line 5: 2 syllables

For example...

I walk
the Erl-King's wood
of beechmast, berries, ripe
decay, and golden pools of sun
that lie.

You can use iambic metre (de-DUM) if you like, as I did, but you don't have to.

Then you can also spin it through all sorts of fun variations, if you don't feel like stopping at just one. You can write a cinquain "chain", where the last line of one cinquain is the first line of the next. You can also write a "cinquain swirl", which is a bunch of them linked together, sharing the two-syllable line as the last/first, and the two-syllable line is the same each time.

Here's a draft cinquain chain I wrote, from the prompt "falls to the soul" (a snippet from Pablo Neruda's poem, "Tonight I can write the saddest lines"). In each stanza, the last line becomes the first line of the next stanza. Right at the end, it ties in a circle by using the first line of the poem as the last line.

Frost-dark
falls. To the soul
tiny stabs of light are
constellations, a sparse dot-to-dot
promise.

Promise
five dots can make
the big dipper, nineteen
are somehow Orion, and that’s
the sword.

The sword
of Damocles,
hanging by a horse hair
above the throne, mocks what you wished
on stars.

On stars,
we pin such shapes,
wildly drawing contours
of beasts and gods, between dots, on
frost-dark.

And here's a draft cinquain swirl I wrote a couple of months ago, to try it out. It's very similar, but the two-syllable line is shared between each cinquain.


Silent
cowled figures haunt
the pool and wrap the wind
in their cloaks. Empty deckchairs lie
silent.
Deserted tiers
rise under curved clay tiles
where windows stare blankly over
silent
terraces. Chairs
line the long glass table
past which leaves scud, awaiting the
silent
feast of unseen
guests. The cowled figures wait.
Clouds swell. Only the wind is not
silent.


Start with a cinquain or five, try it out, see how it feels, and then chain or swirl to your heart's content!


Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of others.

The Meddling with Poetry course starts in February 2019 and explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here.


Friday, 9 November 2018

Meddle with an ekphrasis poem


For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, starting in Feb 2019, I'll be sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

Meddle with an ekphrasis poem: Choose a picture or a work of art that you like and describe it, in a poem – any style, any length. For added fun, you could play with matching your writing style to the artwork’s style.

Ekphrasis simply means describing an artwork in a poem – usually visual art, a painting, a sculpture, etc, but you could equally describe a piece of music or a dance, if you wanted. It's a lovely form when you want to write, but aren't sure what to write about. You can write in free verse (no set rhyme or metre) or use it to write in another form, like a sonnet, a sestina, or whatever you fancy. Depending on the artwork you're using, you might write a narrative which the picture suggests, about the person in a picture, or a description of the scene. Matching your writing style to the artistic style can be a fun extra challenge, to stretch your writing in new directions - to copy a loose flowing style, or a stark bold one, or whatever the picture suggests.

Don't feel like you have to stick to Fine Art or established art - photographs, 3D art, digital art, graffiti, use anything you fancy. Bookmark pictures you like on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, so you have a collection to dip into. I follow Helen Warlow on Twitter, who posts several pictures a day from a cross-section of artists and styles, and a bunch of artists I like on both Twitter and Facebook. Fantasy art and 3D / digital art can also give you a doorway into wonderful worlds and story-poems.

The most famous ekphrastic poem is probably "Ode on a Grecian Urn" by John Keats ("Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness..." etc) – which, incidentally, he published anonymously and the critics hated. The example below was written about Henri Rousseau's painting, "The Dream", taking its very bold stylised lines and colours as an exercise in writing only in heavy syllables. The painting's below the poem.

Greens: lime, fern, moss, jade;
leaves limned, strong lines rise,
spike, spread, splay: soft blade,
rich light, thick white skies.
Blue blooms burst; bold birds
perch, peach; deep-shade eyes
peer past full fruit; words
drown; gold flesh curves, thighs
heaped, breasts ripe; apes play
brass notes, sharp fierce cries;
stems stand; horns curl; day
stops, struck here: warm, wise.

Henri Rousseau, The Dream.

Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of other contemporary poems.

The Meddling with Poetry course starts in February 2019 and explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here.


Friday, 2 November 2018

Meddle with a triolet poem


For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, starting in Feb 2019, I'll be sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

Meddle with a triolet poem. Like your first two lines? Just keep using them!
FIRST LINE
SECOND LINE
new line, rhymes with first line
FIRST LINE
new line, rhymes with first line
new line, rhymes with second line
FIRST LINE
SECOND LINE

The triolet is a fabulously compact repeating form, where the first two lines make up most of the poem. If you've got two good opening lines, why not make the most of them?! Part of the fun, too, is seeing how much you can shift their meaning around each time they're repeated, by using words with two meanings, or with the different lines that lead in, or by punctuating them in different places. That said, the lines can also be repeated for the sheer force of repetition, the insistence of it.


FIRST LINE a
SECOND LINE b
new line, rhymes with first line a
FIRST LINE a
new line, rhymes with first line a
new line, rhymes with second line b
FIRST LINE a
SECOND LINE b

The rhyme scheme is a-b-a-a-a-b-a-b, but because of the repetition you actually only need 3 a-rhymes and 2 b-rhymes. For the metre, people often use iambic pentameter, but you don't have to. Here's an example:

At the prod of a finger, a sea anemone closes.
It can’t unfurl its tentacles till danger has passed.
It tickles so lithely at tides, one hardly supposes
at the prod of a finger, a sea anemone closes.
The rockpool is tight and clenched, where just before. roses
were laughing and loose in the water – then sealed, aghast
at the prod of a finger. A sea anemone closes:
it can’t unfurl its tentacles till danger has passed.

It's also known as a French medieval rondeau, and is part of a group of repeating forms that all have almost the same name and slightly different lengths and patterns: the rondeau, rondine, roundelay, roundel, rondeau redoublé...! So if you find repeating lines fun, there's a ton more out there to play with.

Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of others.

The Meddling with Poetry course starts in February 2019 and explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here.


Saturday, 27 October 2018

Meddle with a golden shovel poem


For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, starting in Feb 2019, I'll be sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

Meddle with a golden shovel poem. Have a favourite quote or lyric? Write it down the right side of the page and use those words as the last word in each line of your poem. See where it goes – it might surprise you.

A golden shovel is a lovely form of free verse - no rhyme scheme or set metre (rhythm) and a great form when you're not sure what you want to write about or what exactly you want to say about something: the quote gives you something to riff off and explore, and the end words shape your thoughts. As you write each line towards its end word, you follow the flow and discover what you want to say. It was invented by Terrance Hay.

Here's one of my golden shovels. Read the words down the right-hand side for the original quote. (The title and the quote are from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry - you don't need to know the story to enjoy the poem, but it's so delightful that I've put it at the bottom of the post, under the poetry course pic. He died in 1944, so it's out of copyright now.)

Drawing #1

Orchids grow so high in the jungle, if you didn’t know then
you’d say they didn’t exist, waxy-lined – not you, though; you and I
understand how the furtive petals splay, out of sight; we would
never betray the dark pink secrets of its lapping labellum, never
expose the dappled shadows of its soft throat to careless talk.
Those who can’t dream their eyes up through the humid canopy to
where they peachly, whitely, redly lick the air think that
all truths are down to earth, punchable facts and grids. A person
like that needs the word “epiphytic” to believe anything about
roots that live off air, dangling and loosely draped like a boa
around an outstretched branch. Such people cling to facts like constrictors
till they still the delicate pulse. Perhaps they just don’t know or
perhaps they’re angry that orchids elude them in the hot wet air. Primeval
things are always the hardest to prove, deep in forests
where perhaps we used to fly. We can’t explain or
convince such people. We can only climb lianas, through the orchids, towards stars.


Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of others.

The Meddling with Poetry course starts in February 2019 and explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here.


The Little Prince

Chapter One

Once when I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book, called True Stories from Nature, about the primeval forest. It was a picture of a boa constrictor in the act of swallowing an animal. Here is a copy of the drawing.
boa constrictor swallowing an animal

   In the book it said: "Boa constrictors swallow their prey whole, without chewing it. After that they are not able to move, and they sleep through the six months that they need for digestion."
   I pondered deeply, then, over the adventures of the jungle. And after some work with a colored pencil I succeeded in making my first drawing. My Drawing Number One. It looked something like this:
Drawing Number One 
 
   I showed my masterpiece to the grown-ups, and asked them whether the drawing frightened them.
But they answered: "Frighten? Why should any one be frightened by a hat?"
   My drawing was not a picture of a hat. It was a picture of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. But since the grown-ups were not able to understand it, I made another drawing: I drew the inside of a boa constrictor, so that the grown-ups could see it clearly. They always need to have things explained. My Drawing Number Two looked like this:
Drawing Number Two 
 
   The grown-ups' response, this time, was to advise me to lay aside my drawings of boa constrictors, whether from the inside or the outside, and devote myself instead to geography, history, arithmetic, and grammar. That is why, at the age of six, I gave up what might have been a magnificent career as a painter. I had been disheartened by the failure of my Drawing Number One and my Drawing Number Two. Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.
   So then I chose another profession, and learned to pilot airplanes. I have flown a little over all parts of the world; and it is true that geography has been very useful to me. At a glance I can distinguish China from Arizona. If one gets lost in the night, such knowledge is valuable.
   In the course of this life I have had a great many encounters with a great many people who have been concerned with matters of consequence. I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have seen them intimately, close at hand. And that hasn't much improved my opinion of them.
   Whenever I met one of them who seemed to me at all clear-sighted, I tried the experiment of showing him my Drawing Number One, which I have always kept. I would try to find out, so, if this was a person of true understanding. But, whoever it was, he, or she, would always say:
   "That is a hat."
   Then I would never talk to that person about boa constrictors, or primeval forests, or stars. I would bring myself down to his level. I would talk to him about bridge, and golf, and politics, and neckties. And the grown-up would be greatly pleased to have met such a sensible man.

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