Thursday, October 12, 2017

Some Thoughts on Poetry

I'd never have thought I'd say this, but... I'm enjoying poetry.

I've never enjoyed poetry because I'm a literal thinker, which makes it hard for me to understand imagery. Additionally, the poetry that I had been exposed to before coming to college was sappy and sad, and I didn't like that.
Right now, I'm taking a class on how to write poetry, and it has made me think about poems in a way that I never have before. Learning about how technical poetry is, reading a variety of poems, and writing my own poems have helped me enjoy poetry for the first time in my life.

Poetry is much like prose in that you have to think about what you write, use specific and concrete language, and the first draft is never perfect. Poetry requires just as much revision as stories, articles, papers, or blog posts. I would say that writing poetry is even more complex than writing prose.
Just like it takes a soprano years of practice and technique to make a Puccini aria sound as easy to sing as Old Mcdonald Had a Farm, it takes a poet years to master form (or lack thereof), meter (or lack thereof), and literary devices (such as simile, metaphor, synecdoche, synesthesia, and other types of imagery).
Because poetry is so specific (especially if you are writing within a certain form or meter), every word is carefully picked out and placed in its appropriate spot so that there are enough syllables in a line or so that a rhyme will be perfect.

Form refers to a specific type of poem, such as a sonnet or a ballad. My favorite forms that we've learned about are pantoums, sestinas, and villanelles because they feature repeating words and lines; if you change the meaning of a word or line slightly, your poem can go in a completely different direction than you had originally intended!
The villanelle, for example, contains five tercets (five stanzas of three lines each) and a quatrain at the end (one stanza of four lines). The first and third line of the first stanza repeat alternatively in the the following stanzas, and then both of them are repeated in the quatrain. The most famous villanelle is Do not go gentle into that good night by Dylan Thomas. Check it out, and you'll see the form!

Poems can also be written in a certain meter. Meter refers to how many syllables are in each line of a poem. The most well-known meter is iambic pentameter. An "iamb" is a pair of unstressed-stressed syllables, such as "the dog" or "predict." An iamb equals one "foot." "Pentameter" means that there are five iambic feet per line. There are many more types of meter, but I won't list them all (unless you really want me to).
When reading a poem, you can do something called "scansion," which means that you are examining a line and figuring out what meter it is in. Then, you write a dash above unstressed words and little u's above stressed words. It looks like this:

I love the technical side of writing, so form and meter have been right up my alley, but my poetry class has also been learning about modern/freestyle poetry, which doesn't necessarily stick to a certain form or meter. It's much looser and relies more heavily on imagery. I enjoy writing poetry because I get to play around with words and sounds and syllables.

Here is the first poem I wrote in class. It's an epistle (which is a fancy word for "letter"):

A Letter Home
By Abbey Stellingwerff

If you sniff, the air is sweet here.
Sweet and warm.
Comforting like clean laundry or cookies.
A scent like cyclamen upon the wind,
with a snag of cow.

If you listen, it sounds of bugs;
They buzz like that out-of-tune piano.
Cicadas clatter all the day and night;

If you sit and watch the weather,
storms arrive.
Leaf-strained wind hugs strong like a long-lost friend.
A boom-crash! across the Midwestern Plains;
thunder smothers me.

If you eat, prepare to eat well:
sweet corn—butter drips down face and fingers—
meat and potatoes. All American.
No yucca fries here.

If you look up, foreign faces
smile at you.
Friendly farmer's salute hides a headache
caused by a fixed world of red-checked flannel.
Pick-up trucks abound.

Distance destroys disagreements.
I recall
only the memories that make me smile:
laughing and walking and talking and you.
Love from, your daughter.