"Light"

This poem wasn't written by me. I wanted to say that at the outset. Patricia Hutton is one of my very closest friends. She's a debut writer, and this will be her first time on the web. I have the honor of publishing her poetry on my site.


"Light"

by Patricia Hutton

And the Pattie said, "Let there be Light."
And the Picard said, "Make it so."
And so the Pattie went out amongst the Lights. The Lights came in Halogen, LED, incandescent, 100 watt, 75 watt, 60 watt, and 40 watt, blue hued, white hued, and yellow hued.
The Pattie chose some Lights and took them to her home.
The Pattie put new Lights wherever she found dark ones. And the Light was good. And the Picard said, "Good Work, Number One."

How Does One Make Poetry Accessible?

It's a question that Adrean Messmer no doubt asked herself as she wrote the following blog post, which is a masterful and thoroughly accessible dissection of the basic vital organs of poetry. I thought it was so worthwhile that it would be essential not merely to share it, but to mirror it. So here is the post in its entirety. See the original source here.


I originally presented this as a sort of crash course for my writing group over Hangouts. So, a lot of the examples were chosen because I knew members of Nevermore would dig them.

Robert Frost said a poem "begins in delight and ends in wisdom". Now, don't misunderstand and think that means poetry should be, like, delightfully happy. That is definitely not what I'm saying.

But I am saying it should satisfying. That's the delight. I mean, let's look at Poe. He is, IMO, the master of poetic devices. He's all about the meter and the rhyme and... everything, really. Look at this excerpt from Annabel Lee. Read it. Read it out loud. Feel how these words feel as they fall off your tongue.

Oh, and spoiler alert, I guess, for a century-and-half old poem.

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

 It just feels good to read, right?

Pretty frequently, I see people treating poetry like it's some kind of magic. It's not. I promise. No matter how arcane or wonderful something is, you can learn how to do it. Even poetry. It's all about the bass. I mean literary devices.

Let's start with my favorite.

Alliteration and Assonance

Both of these things deal with the phonetic sounds of words. Alliteration is, basically, when the consonants in a word sound the same, assonance is the vowels.

Let's take a look at Mean by Taylor Swift.

You, with your switching sides
and your wildfire lies
and your humiliation

Alliteration! We've got it with the Ss in switching, sides, and lies. We also have the L in wildfire, lies, and humiliation. And for assonance, we've got the long I in sides, wildfire, and lies.

Let's do some more. Pretend like we're in high school and see if you can guess them before I tell you. Here's a bit from Contagious by Night Riots.

Don't be, don't be so cold
Bones rust, decay, and mold
Head first, it is what it is
Youth lost, kicks us to live

We've clearly got some rhymes here. That's technically a different thing, but we're going to ignore it for now.

We have an alliterative D in don't, decay, mold, and head. There's also the T in don't, rust, first, it, and lost, but it's not as noticeable.

The assonance is pretty strong with the long O of don't, cold, bones, and mold. There's also the short I in kicks, it, is, and live.

Make sense? Sorry, I can't hear you if the answer was no. So, I'm going to assume it was yes and move on. Feel free to ask questions, though. I'll answer them as best I can.

Rhyme

There are two main kinds of rhyme-- true and slant.

Looking at the Night Riots example, "cold" and "mold" are true rhymes while "is" and "lives" is slant. So, true means it's the exact same ending sound and slant is... close.

Check out Partition by Beyonce. She's all about the slant rhyme in there.

Every girl in here got to look me up and down
All on Instagram, cake by the pound
Circulate the image every time I come around

"Pound" and "around" are true while "down" is slant.

Everyone still with me?

Imagery

Okay. This one is pretty big and easy to miss. My best friend likes to harp on this one a lot. The imagery is how you're going to convey the theme and mood of your poem to the reader. Not all poems, and certainly not all songs have much concrete imagery, but if you can work it in, you'll make the piece at least 20% cooler.

Take another gander at Contagious up there. It's all entropy and death, culminating in the line, "Youth lost, kicks us to live". The next few lines are, "I am contagious, I am breaking down. Flesh of the fathers, I am no one's fault." Literally speaking, I have no idea what they're talking about. But the picture they're painting with those descriptions evokes depression and desperation.

If they'd just said, "We're sad and it's not your fault", the song might still be musically cool, but lyrically pretty basic and boring. It's all about making the reader see something that will then make them feel something. 

Blue October pretty regularly kills it in the imagery department, so check out this verse from Come in Closer:

Come dancing with devils
need not know their names
and we'll waltz like an army
for the fear of our pain
Our souls become useless
as the day they were born
in the rusted arm rocking chair
away from your storm

Again, if you look at the words literally, it's basically nonsense. Like, okay, these people are going to waltz with some random devils because if they don't someone will hurt them? And it renders their souls useless? But they're sitting in an old rocking chair (or maybe the souls are) while a storm rages somewhere in the distance.

If you listen to the whole song, there's a distorted voice near the end that says, "You cheated on me with another woman". I think, with that knowledge, it's pretty easy to read those lines to be more like temptation, ruin, and impeding consequences.

But you know what? Here's the part where poetry is kind of magic. With the imagery, maybe, for you, it isn't about the temptation of adultery. Maybe it's about running away, addiction, dealing with a difficult decision... the possibilities are endless. And what's even cooler is that it can change.

When I first listened to Come in Closer, I was playing a character in a World of Darkness game that prophesied to blah blah blah, whatever. The song felt like it was about him. Later, when life was kicking me in the shins, the song started to feel like it was telling me to just get out already.

There are so many examples of wonderful, evocative imagery that I could talk about this for hours. Sometimes I do, much to the chagrin of everyone I know who doesn't care about the deeper meaning of pop music. But whatevs.

If we don't want to be stuck on this for days, we should probably move on to...

Meter

A lot of the examples I've used so far have been songs. In a song, a singer can manipulate the words and warp the meter to be whatever they want it to be. But there are still some great meterists out there.

Like The Barenaked Ladies on Who Needs Sleep?.

My hands are locked up tight in fists
My mind is racing, filled with lists
of things to do and things I've done
Another sleepless night's begun

Okay, so now you might wondering wtf meter is. The easiest way I can think to explain it is this: meter is the rhythm of the words, formed by the stressed and unstressed syllables. When you look up words in the dictionary, you see something like this: an·oth·er - əˈnəT͟Hər. That not only shows you how to pronounce each letter, but also where the stress on the word is.

I'll admit, I didn't look up each of these in the dictionary to find out exactly where the accented syllable is. I just read it out loud and marked where it felt right. If you're completely new at meter, you might want to check, get a little comfortable with it. This should be about right, though.

My HANDS are LOCKed up TIGHT in FISTS
My MIND is RACing, FILLed with LISTS
of THINGS to DO and THINGS I've DONE
anOTHer SLEEPless NIGHT'S beGUN

What we have in Who Needs Sleep? is called iambic. That means it is one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed. Iambic is the most common. It's how most people tend to speak naturally. It's easy to get into and easy to identify. There is a name for pretty much every combination of stressed and unstressed you can imagine. I'm not going to get into that because I want to do other things with my life and no one is paying me for this.

Not all poetry has meter. Those pieces are called Free Verse. However, meter is kind of like salt. Not everything needs it, but it's almost never a bad idea to add it. Even most cake and cookie recipes call for salt.

Robert Frost was kind of a master of this.

The WOODS are LOVEly DARK and DEEP
but I have PROMisES to KEEP
and MILES to GO beFORE I SLEEP

Poe also killed it.

ONCE uPON a MIDnight DREARy while I PONdered WEAK and WEARy
OVer MAny a QUAINT and CURious VOLume of FORgotten LORE

And, even One Direction can be pretty good at it...

WE're ONly GETting OLDer BABy
and I'VE been THINKing aBOUT you LATEly
DOES it EVer DRIVE you CRAZy
JUST how FAST the NIGHT CHANges

There's actually a pretty cool dissection of Night Changes by 1D on this podcast I really dig called Switched on Pop. I'd love to talk about the fact that there are no rhymes and what that means, but they already said a lot of it and I feel like this post is already running long. Which might be okay, except that my brain is starting to vibrate and I can't really tell where I should end sentences anymore and we still need to talk about the fact that...

Everything You Do is a Deliberate Choice

So, this is always true in writing, but especially so in poetry. One of my professors once said that poetry is telling a story in the least amount of space possible. Every word, line break, and piece of punctuation means something.

There's this Emily Dickinson poem called Wild Nights. I got into a pretty heated discussion with a classmate about it. I read it and immediately thought, "Oh, well, this is clearly about sex". But my classmate, she was of the opinion that Dickinson would never write about that.

Wild nights - Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile - the winds -
To a Heart in port -
Done with the Compass -
Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden -
Ah - the Sea!
Might I but moor - tonight -
In thee!

Okay, sure. Whatever. Maybe it's a poem about reckless abandon on a little boat called Eden and then mooring... in... uh, thee. Which is clearly the dick--I mean dock. Right?

But seriously, for my classmate, this really was just a poem about a boat. And that's fine. That's what she saw. For me, though, this poem is bubbling with excitement. The exclamation points and the em dashes make it feel breathless and urgent. Sure, maybe that's because the narrator really loves rowing. Maybe the em dashes are meant to show the exertion of that very family friendly activity. But there are twice as many as exclamation points as there are stanzas.

When you're working with something as compact as poetry, everything must serve a purpose. Which sounds hard, but it's really just the same as writing. When you're doing prose and you want to describe the setting, you're also setting the mood for the scene. If you can write a scene, you can write a poem.

Eureka! On Poetry

I was about to try to write a blog post, and then I get this bang. Right in the face! And then I wrote the first poem I’ve written in years. I need to write more poetry, if for no other reason than to practice my prose.

I honestly do feel that there’s a lot that poetry can teach prose writer. Of course, prose doesn’t need meter or stanzas, but even practicing these can help you write better prose. Far more than flash fiction, poetry values conciseness. Every word has to punch imagery and visceral experience into your gut. Every word has to make the text come alive for you. But when you write prose, it becomes easy to forget that imagery and metaphor that paints a scene into something vivid. Without it, prose is airy and bland.

Mastering meter means adding a rare element to your prose: musicality. Musicality modifies the tone of any prose piece, much like a musical score modifies the tone of a movie. Becoming aware of it can help you to add a next layer of meaning to your story. There’s a reason that Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta respects the letter V, and it’s not just because it’s in the title. It’s the character’s soubriquet, it’s the Roman numeral representing the number five (for fifth of November and the room that V was kept in), and it means virtuous vengeful victory. It also looks like the outline of an arrow, the point directed down towards the people. The people are both the target of totalitarianism’s arrow and the direction where the true power in the state lies.

Just imagine—your piece of literature could be the subject of this level of academic scrutiny! All you have to do is acquire the invaluable ability to alliterate adeptly.

Practicing poetry-writing can help you develop good habits. For example, you’ll step into a new scene immediately concerning yourself with setting and how it affects the emotional mood of the scene. You’ll focus on using words that add to the mood that you’re trying to create (e.g., “The prince rode a stallion”—not mustang—“into the ballroom," but "the prince rode his mustang over the cliff."). You’ll learn to use consonance to modify the mood when something different happens (e.g., from “the princess lowered her head in greeting” to “the knight’s dagger clinked against his belt buckle when he ripped it from its sheath.”). You’ll do this all the time, and not for only a few sentences while you’re specifically trying to make a point!

Clearly, I want to follow my own advice—and I have in the past! But I want you to do it too! I’ve seen it do wonders for others’ writing. And if nothing else, you learn more about the most ancient form of writing known to man (aside from tax records and vulgar graffiti).

Take a course online, like one from The Great Courses. This one, “Lives and Works of the English Romantic Poets” with Dr. Willard Spiegelman, is a good start and a study of one of the most influential periods in history of English literature. Then take a college course and go further! Or, just look stuff up on YouTube or Wikipedia. Educate yourself.

Until you get there, I’ll start you off with “Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins.

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

"To Consummate an Elegant Heartbreak"

Breathe, but do not heave.
It is impolite to heave.
Cry if you must, but do not sob.
Sobbing is bad form.
Eat moderately; do not indulge.
Gluttony is a hateful thing.

The heart may some time feel
As if it would burst from the chest.
On such an occasion it is good
Simply to lift the right hand
Placing the fingertips lightly upon the breast
And uttering a modest sigh.

Remain aloof; do not rage.
The rabble are the sort who rage.
Write a poem; do not whine.
Poetry unveils a moderate elegance.
Restrict the arms; do not flail.
They are savages who flail.

The mind may come to hold
That love’s a silly thing to entertain.
Love is indeed a pleasant toy
To hold but once and cherish well,
But once one’s loved and also lost
It proves unwise to love again.

Carry the self blithely; do not pine.
It is utterly maudlin to pine.
Sob if you must, but not in company.
Emotion is a ghastly thing.
It is best hidden away in loaded words
And discarded for the sake of propriety.