Primary

Primary

At a field trip
to a local factory
that once produced
World War II fighters,
quickly launched
from the broken runway,

we stood around,
in pairs, exposed
holding hands.

I could not keep attention
on the director
or his potted history.

Oliver moved closer.

There was a growing
feeling like the upward
flight of a football
kicked out of the park
on our Sunday knock-around
or those airplanes
taking off

from tarmac, long decayed,
between conception and birth,
impossible to smooth over.

 

Modern Poem

Modern Poem

I was chatting to Shadows
last night.

I came to the conclusion
that a good modern poem
should be like a friend
telling you a thought
or a story.

There’s no reason
to adopt a poetic voice;
good poetry is good poetry.
It doesn’t need
to announce itself
as such.

Trilogy

Trilogy

When R2 deserts and says bye bye,
a farmer finds out he’s a Jedi.
He becomes a crusader,
but when facing Darth Vader,
his mentor turns into a dead guy.

Luke’s suffering friends make him feel low,
when Yoda’s instruction goes so slow.
Oh what a palaver –
Darth Vader’s his father!
He loses his hand and Han Solo.

Luke’s powers have really no equal.
So he combats the Emperor’s evil.
The baddies give in.
We watch Luke and friends win,
and wait years for a terrible prequel.

VersePerfect – Review of Free Writing Suite for Poets

There’s something deeply personal about the packages you use to write.

They’re a bit like your home, or that comfortable chair, or the restaurant which you go to because it reminds you of that unforgettable kiss you had with the crush that never worked out. They’re things you grow to understand as you use them more and more until you become so familiar with their ways, they become as good as writing on your favourite pad with your most comfortable pen.

Writing is as personal as it gets. It’s the way we choose to express ourselves to the world. It’s not surprising that we invest ourselves and get attached to the tools we acquire, even if they’re only computer programs.

So I want to tell you about the love I have for one that I use, one that’s functional, faultless and free.

VersePerfect is offered primarily as a rhyming dictionary.

For that purpose it’s the best I’ve come across by a mile. But it’s much more than that, it’s a fully integrated productivity suite for writers of song and verse.

The main area is a text editor where you write your poem. If you’re writing free verse, that’s most of the clever functionality you’re going to need. It’s when it comes to writing in form that VersePerfect comes into its own.

As you type your words, the program automatically searches out rhymes for them and displays the results in small panels to the right of the screen.

Not only does it do this with normal words but also with phrases and proper nouns (which can come in very handy when writing comic verse) and also a list of context words, which give thesaurus like results but in relation to commonalities of theme (thinking about that now, it would be dead handy for verse libre). And all this in a free package.

As an aside, someone asked me the other day, “Yeah, but isn’t using a rhyming dictionary cheating?”

It’s not cheating, no more than using a dictionary, thesaurus or – in the case of poets – the must-have dictionary of etymology.

In writing comic verse, it’s extremely handy to have rhymes to aim for because you can hunt out words which lead you to greater humour. When it comes to more serious verse the best use of a rhyming dictionary takes a 180 degree turn and allows you to eliminate rhymes you know you don’t want to use.

So far good, but where VersePerfect really shines is when writing form poetry.

Built into the program are the recipes for all major forms: sonnets, sestinas, terza rima, villanelles and so many others are just a click away. The brilliant thing is, it shows you the required rhyme structures and syllable counts just to the left of each line, and even displays how many syllables you currently have – outstanding.

You can see all this in action on the villanelle which I am currently editing.

There’s a lot more on board, too many features to go into in all honesty, but highlights are: a spellchecker; hyperbolic thesaurus (a truly novel way of looking at and finding related words); internal links to Wikipedia, Wiktionary, translation services and a gamut of online dictionaries. It also has some example form poems which should help you get going if you want to try your hand at one.

All of this has made Verse Perfect my go-to poetry writing software for more than ten years. It’s a little known treasure that deserves much more love. If you write verse in any form, it really is a must-have.

It becomes your personal writing room, replete with a shelf full of books that are invaluable to both the developing and craftsman poet.

And did I mention, it’s free? It was written by a team of people lead by inspirational author, Bryant McGill. It runs natively on Windows, and also on Mac with the help of WineBottler.

To pick up a copy, Download Verse Perfect (via softonic).

Summary

  • Full productivity suite for writing poetry and lyrics
  • Integrated form poetry charts
  • Text editor with spellcheck
  • Native, comprehensive rhyming dictionary
  • Internal links to countless online reference books
  • Hyperbolic thesaurus
  • It’s free

Painting of a Nude

painting of a nude

i long to see you naked
having just woken
without your makeup

supine on your single bed
with arms raised
you only sigh
and close your eyes
at my arrival

and ask me for a coffee

you’d be the subject
of a modern painting
in a French gallery

while viewers stop
stand and watch
to see you hiding
nothing

but tonight you are drunk

measuring yourself
against a score of suitors
who cannot eclipse you

in the morning
you will be dressed
in those clothes
that don’t exactly fit
so i will sigh
and long to see you naked

Thanks to @tinypaleokitchen who produced the amazing artwork.

 

Poetry Editing 101 – Session Two: Resolving Emotional Abstractions

Welcome back to the poetry workshop.

Last time we spoke about the process of creating poetry with multiple drafts and editing rounds. This time we’re going to begin looking at abstractions in our poems and how best to deal with them.

It’s no accident this is the first actual editing topic on the list. Awareness of the problems abstractions cause, and the beneficial effects that editing them out can produce, can make the most substantial improvements to our work.

One of the most ubiquitous pieces of advice given across all forms of creative writing is: show, don’t tell. In prose, it’s important because it enables us to tell a story in the most dramatic way possible. But it’s also particularly true of poetry.

Packing and Unpacking

Abstractions are clauses and words which deliver an idea rather than an image.

In poetry, concrete writing (the inverse of abstraction) is preferable. The best way to demonstrate this is with an example. Take these lines:

You make me angry so often
I’m at the point of giving up.

So what can we say about these two lines? They’re both blanket, abstract statements, keyed in on emotional triggers which the reader is supposed to apply to the persona (voice of the poem). To me, these two lines read like the work of the angst-ridden fifteen year old I once was, and I know that if I leave these lines unedited, they’re going to turn off a good percentage of my readers.

Imagine if someone you knew randomly came up and said those words to you. It’s a hassle. It’s something you have to deal with. It’s certainly not a good indication you’re about to experience a conversation that will bring you either enjoyment or beauty. It’s the exact opposite of what we want to achieve from our writing. It will turn readers off when what we want to do is turn them on.

Identifying these abstract emotional statements and queuing them for rewriting is an essential process of the editing. Hate, anger, fear, frustration, jealousy – any time you see a word directly describing an emotion you should highlight it right away, ready for reworking.

In my mind right now, I hear an anthology of poets (that has to be the proper collective noun for a group of us, right?) saying, “But poetry is all about feelings and expression.” Well, yes and no. Themes and ideas like this are absolutely the meat of confessional poetry, but what we need to look at is the best way these themes can be deployed.

I might write:

I was angry.

…the reader will know the persona (the voice of the poem) was angry, but it will mean very little to them and pass them by, as it’s the least dramatic way to deliver this idea.

Are these lines doing the best job they can of making the reader feel and understand this emotion? What if there were a way of communicating this idea so that the reader generated and applied the emotion we want them to feel, all by themselves?

So how do we write it better?

One of the things poetry does well is to manipulate and subvert the critical faculties of the reader. The effect is at its weakest when we’re telling the reader how the persona feels, and at its most powerful when we’re showing them.

If I write:

My nostrils flared
as I pounded
my fist
on the table.

…the reader gets to deconstruct that image themselves and supply the emotion to the persona, making it experiential and extremely dramatic. And because we’ve done it in this way, the reader won’t write it off (as they used to with my angsty juvenilia) and abandon our poem after the first few lines.

That’s the real difference between telling and showing, between abstract and concrete.

So let’s go back to our first example and see what we can do with it.

You make me angry so often
I’m at the point of giving up.

We could be quite literal and show the persona in their frustration and defeat:

I glare at your words
as I grip my wrists.
Then shake my head as it falls
into my calloused hands.

Note that there is no mention of direct emotional words here whatsoever. Yet these lines are brimming with the feelings of the persona. Delivering them this way, you force the reader to unpack the image and provide the emotion. Then it’s too late for them to do anything about it but live out the experience of your words.

Or we could use tropes (similes, metaphors and the like) to further subvert the critical faculties of the reader:

Your taunts are as constant as gravity;
I am the dulled heat of a collapsing star.

In both cases we’re taking away the chance for the reader to deflect an idea they might otherwise reject, or take issue with, and simply handing them an image. This, they’re only able to reject once they’ve unpacked and thought about it, by which time, it’s too late. They’re stuck with an analysed image to which they have embedded the emotion.

This has given you just one of the dark arts of poetry. I’m not giving all my secrets away, at least not yet, so I’ll end this session with an example of a poem which perfectly achieves the concrete delivery of emotion: Morning Song by Sylvia Plath.

Next time we will be delving further into non-emotional abstractions and the how and why of resolving them in the editing process.

Before you go, please take a moment to give me a follow. It’s a great way you can help support the series and the blog. If you have any comments or questions about this lesson, or just want to say hello, feel free to post a comment below.

For now, go write!

Damian.

Swanage

Swanage

Terraced houses line the hills
down to the sea, where flights of gulls
circle, then land along the pier,
and the children sing Frère Jacques.

In summertime the tourists come,
letting their naked babies swim
close to the shore, amidst the foam,
and burn in the blistering sunlight.

Chip shop wrappers litter the road;
holidaymakers drink in the shade,
abusing the locals with drunken taunts,
forgotten the following morning.

Interlopers head for home;
Autumn frees this parochial town,
sweeping the valley with red and brown
like a wreath at a funeral service.

Out of season, winds blow cold;
rifts in the golden sand are healed.
Evenings close in; the light is dulled
and the children sing Frère Jacques.