*Insert maniacal laughter.
Today is all about poetry. Not everyone is a poet, or enjoys reading it, but I think in general, poetry is either over or underrated. Like most art forms, it’s all about personal preference – what works for some, may not work for others.
Formal analysis of poetry is possibly one of the most boring aspects of English that we’re subjected to in school. I know that for a long time, I ignored poetry because of it.
Being older now (and probably more boring rather than wiser), I really love the genre and read a wide variety of different poems. Writing them is a slightly different story though, as none of my English poetry lessons stuck!
While we may not all enjoy writing poetry, it does have its uses, particularly – believe it or not – in novel writing.
That being said, I’m always trying to improve various aspects of my writing skills, and I think that one of the benefits in being able to recognise styles of poetry is that it gives me a greater ability to recognise when words don’t quite fit or are unnecessarily repetitive in my other forms of writing. Another advantage to poetry, is that it deals almost exclusively with the use of language. What I mean by this is that while poets write poetry for different reasons, or to convey separate meanings, the use of stressors, rhythm, and word definition is often very deliberate. This is a great skill to develop for novel writing, because it gives you a far wider range of characterization and world building to draw on.Imagine, for example, that you’re writing a modern-day romance novel. It’s set in South Africa, but the MC is actually from a non-English speaking country. The knowledge of stressed syllables in English that you’ve developed from reading and/or writing poetry, becomes quite useful in developing conflict between the characters based on verbal misunderstandings because the MC will stress sounds differently.
When you stop to think about what poetry is, one of the most obvious expressions of poetry is in music. And I don’t personally know any writers who aren’t influenced at some point or another by a song or lyrics that resonate with them.
Which brings us to today’s poetry form – the Lyric Poem.
Wikipedia defines it as:
“…a formal type of poetry which expresses personal emotions or feelings, typically spoken in the first person. The term derives from a form of Ancient Greek literature, the lyric, which was defined by its musical accompaniment, usually on a stringed instrument known as a lyre. The term owes its importance in literary theory to the division developed by Aristotle between three broad categories of poetry: lyrical, dramatic and epic.”
Much lyric poetry depends on regular meter based either on number of syllables or on stress.
Before getting into meters and how they work, I want to share an article from teachingenglish.org that looks at the difference between stressed and unstressed syllables:
A stressed syllable combines five features:
It is l-o-n-g-e-r – com p-u-ter
It is LOUDER – comPUTer
It changes pitch, normally raising slightly.
It is said more clearly -The vowel sound is purer. Compare the first and last vowel sounds with the stressed sound.
It uses larger facial movements – Look in the mirror when you say the word. Look at your jaw and lips in particular.
Take a look at the link above, and then see if you can identify the stressed syllables in the following words:
As we spend time with poetry, we’ll explore the different meters and how to achieve them in your own poetry. Today, I’d like to share my personal favourite lyric poem and invite you to share your own if you have one. It’s one I studied at school, and I have had it memorized ever since. It’s best enjoyed by reading it aloud.
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud – William Wordsworth
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
Next week, we’ll take a closer look at meters starting with one of the most common in poetry – iambic pentameter.
Do you struggle to hear the stressed syllables in the words? Is it easier when you say them out loud? Share your favourite lyric poem in the comments – I’d love to read them.