Sunday, 6 June 2021

A Poetic Daunder - Stepping Away from the Familiar

My poems don't rhyme or at least I don't usually use end rhyme or repeating patterns. I find them difficult and forced to write, a straight jacket that doesn't allow me to say what I want. 

But, a teacher friend has gotten me into the Poetry Unbound podcast and this has set me off on a new tangent. I'm also not into audio stuff much. I have struggled to focus on online lectures, audio books, music, podcasts, becoming distracted, flipping away if it's on a screen. I listened to one PU podcast because my friend was raving about the title of the poem being a sign of a great poem, so I though I'd listen to the poem at least. 

The poem read on the podcast was Hanif Abdurraqib's 'When We Were 13, Jeff’s Father Left The Needle Down On A Journey Record Before Leaving The House One Morning And Never Coming Back' and my friend was right. The title is killer, the poem even more so. The presenter Pádraig Ó Tuama has an amazing voice for reading poetry and he brings his own gentle enthusiasm for the poems he shares. So I listened on. And again on the way home from school that afternoon. I continued to pick another episode and another and another, in the mornings before work and often on the way home. 

One day after a partially tough morning with the child I support at school, I brought my lunch up to the classroom, rather than sit amongst the noise of fourth graders in the cafeteria. I needed to calm down before the next class started, so I stuck on a random episode called 'A Poem for What You Learn Alone' which seemed to suit my mood. The poem was Brad Aaron's Modlin's poem 'What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade'. It is nothing about fourth grade and exactly what I needed. I think I've heard all three seasons now, but keep going back to favourites or finding one that I that I've forgotten. 

Back to rhyming poems, I listened recently to the episode about Natasha Trethewey's poem 'Miscegenation,' written in the Arabic poetic form  ghazal. I have been struggling with a poem that skirts several issues and when I took it to my writing group a couple of people said that the stanzas didn't seem connected. One of the conventions of a ghazal is that each stanza couple should be a small poem in its own right, somewhat unconnected from the next, but that the repeating phrase or word at the end of each couplet brings them back to the overall poetic themes. 

So for my sins, I tried turning my hodge-podge poem into a ghazal. It's hard work, everything I worry about with strict styles is hitting me. Am I forcing the line to fit to those last words? Am I saying this just because I need to get that word in? Can I fudge the rules of the form to make it flow more like me? 

I'm still working on it and at the moment sticking to the form as it's used in English though I'm open to colouring outside the lines if I feel it will help my poem. After a year of not writing much due to work, it feels good to force myself to stretch my poetic self and try a new style.

Writing prompt: take something different from your usual style whether it be in a different genre or just in structure or format and break it apart, figure out how it works, its rules and see if you can adapt it to your own writing. You can attempt the style wholesale or pick and choose the bits you like. Try a villanelle or a ghost story or a ghazal. Don't force it until it hurts, but push yourself to try something new in your writing. 

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