Category Archives: Extracts

Poetry & Experimentation

I’ve never really understood the appeal of poetry. Controversial for a writer, but there’s a case in point to be made here. Arguments that have been levied against poetry are the fact that is places emphasis when selecting words on their ability to be sonically pleasing, rather than accurate. A good way to grasp this concept is in lyrics of songs.

“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain,” – My Fair Lady – Frederick Loewe & Alan Jay Lerner

You can see how the words for this lyric are chosen for their similar sonic qualities. The repetition of “ain” in the lyric is sonically pleasing, but since the selection of words has been made by this characteristic, and not accuracy, then it can be said that accuracy in language is forsaken for repetition of sounds. Thus, we see the original message that might have sought to have been conveyed lost to prose. Does it the rain really stay mainly in the plain in Spain or have these words been arranged simply because they fit nicely together?

This is the problem with poetry. It inherently distorts truth in favour of couplets that aim to sound beautiful when spoken. As such, poetry is something for it’s own sake, whereas other forms of literature, such as prose are not so.

My idea for writing is to create suspension of disbelief, that is to be able to make a reader feel that what they read is real despite knowing they might be holding a fantasy book. To do this, I must always try to be accurate in my sentence construction rather than be playful with language. As a consequence, I am a not much of a poet, and my attempts at rhyme always fall with mixed result. Instead, I’ve tried to create a form of narrative poetry that mirrors practices of Anglo-Saxon poetry, which counts a number of stresses per line (usually four) rather than syllables.

“Listen!
Howls echo across the face
Of gnarled bark and dark-leaf pines,
Every nook and cranny shakes,
His hearty resonance thus spake;
Oh! The wolf, carnal king
Chief of red-tongue eaters,
Shiver at his tremulous call;
The ravenous appetite for succulent flesh.

I’ve placed the stresses in bold for you to see what I mean. For reference, the “listen” line is paying homage to the Anglo-Saxon word “Hwæt” that opens Beowulf, and has been interpreted as a command to listen, as if the story is being told aloud.

As in some lines, you can see that two words combined by a hyphen count only as one stress. This again draws upon the fact that Anglo-Saxon used many compound words, and Beowulf uses many of these.

The main consideration is that the stresses are the important words, usually nouns and verbs. In this way, the piece hopefully pushes the image behind the words more than trying to introduce a rhyme. The problem with fixed forms of poetry and rhymes in general is that they again demand certain words to fit, so you must either add or remove information when composing a piece that way. While this verse might not sound sonically pleasing, it stresses key information held within the verse rather than playing on words for the sake of it.

Still, all poetry to me remains something tedious. I’m too much of a novelist. Fitting a story to the language feels the wrong, when it should be the other way round. The language must fit the story. I think there is a consideration to be made here, and a reason why poetry isn’t so prominent in the commercial sphere of writing. We just have to look at the best-selling books on the selves to realise that there are no poetry collections there. I don’t think in a fixed format because my aim with language is totally opposite to that of poetry. For me, words must strictly adhere to the plot and should not step above plot or narrative action by being selected for their own qualities as words, rather than their qualities as words that match what I am trying to convey. As such, I find it impossible to try and be a poet, because I naturally lean to being an novelist.