Have I mounted the mountain of poetic titans?
Is my skill so vast, that my own mind I frighten?
Have I reached the heights of Byron and Shelley?
Will wicked awe, make me poetry’s Machiavelli?
My roaming poeming is and shall likely remain rather mediocre, but practising it did improve my prose, and therefore I’m glad I write rhymes from time to time. Feel free to stick around as I ramble a bit on my experience with poetry.
So how did I improve? The clearest manner in which I’ve bettered my writing is that I now possess a larger vocabulary. I’m a cheese-eating Dutchman, which I’m very glad of, but not being an English-speaking native does mean that there are some gaps in my English vocabulary. My approach to poetry helps me here.
To me poems are like puzzles. When I sit down to write them, I know the feel of what I will write, same as you know what a puzzle should look like when you’re done with it. The hard part is finding the correct pieces to finish that puzzle. This inevitably sends me on a mad goose chase around the internet’s many online dictionaries to find words that fit what I want to stay, and the manner in which I wish to say them. Along the way I’ve picked up a handy set of English words, which tends to be useful for a writer. For example, my Dutch mind would never have thought of using the word ‘ebullience’ had it not been for my rhyming.
Another handy dandy benefit is that I see various forms of rhyming sneak into my prose every now and then. Personally I find that a piece with good use of assonance, consonance, alliteration and other forms of rhymey flow tends to read better.
For example, a quick read through a short story I wrote some days ago brought me this: “Ida magically managed to make it vanish.”
Don’t worry, most of my flow is more subtle than that. I promise you that not all my writing reads like it was written by an 80s MC, though that would be quite amusing.
The most important lesson poetry has taught me, however, is that it is alright to divert from the norm. Simply because you write a certain way does not mean you need to stick to it dogmatically. Your paragraphs can contain poems, your words can be strange and your chapters can be as short as one sentence. Writing is a fun free-for-all, and you’re allowed to structure your work and portray your story in any creative fashion you wish. This realization was invaluable to me and made writing so much more liberating and frankly fun.
While I enjoy waxing poetic immensely, it is for now simply an exercise to improve my main writing. As such, my attitude towards poetry is that it is better to write ten poems than to write one poem ten times. The highest value I wish to obtain through poetry is a broad and diverse set of experience. I use my poetry to learn how to write certain scenes with a minimal amount of words, or how to portray what I feel in ways that look appealing. My goal is not to write a perfect poem, but to improve my way of writing them. As such, I don’t put too much value on any individual piece of writing, but simply write them, post them and move on to other things. What I’m trying to say in less wordy words is that editing is time intensive, and that it is alright to half-ass things depending on the purpose behind what you’re writing. If your writing is experimental in its essence, there is no shame in cutting corners and staining the paper. Write, finish, repeat.
In regards to my prose I wouldn’t take this position, as it is my main creative target. Prose is my goal and it is the type of writing I wish to excel at. On the other hand, my poetry is to me what a sandbox is to a toddler. A seemingly silly, but very important playing field in which I can try creative things and see if they work. My blog then is a place where I can throw rhymes around and build little poetic sand castles. Sometimes I even find playmates there.
And if my anecdotal evidence does not convince you to try out poetry yourself, I will have to bring out the big guns. Think about this: Good old Leonardo DaVinci would have never drawn the Vitruvian man, or painted the Mona Lisa, had he not dabbled in both art and medicine. Instead of doggedly chasing a single bone, Leo simply munched on whichever bone struck his fancy, and can you say it didn’t work? The best things come about through diversification. Oncology might still be in the dark ages had it not been for research done in the dye industry…. Well there I go rambling. Let’s continue, before it’s too late.
Place food in a container, and I promise you that a crafty crow or a sneaky racoon will find a way to get it out. Obstacles drive creativity for both animals, and us two-leggers. Place an object in front of us, and we’ll be forced to think creatively. The best part is that it doesn’t end there. From a single spark of creativity, more creativity spills forth.
My advice is to occasionally add some obstacles to your writing, simply to force your brain to approach things differently. For inspirations, why not follow my flailing example and write a poem with only one vowel? Or perhaps a character description where each word starts with the same letter?
Rules are fun. Breaking rules is even more fun.
By adding obstacles you add additional rules to your writing, but I also think you should try doing the opposite. Why not intentionally break the rules from time to time? Writing is as rigid or as loose as you make it to be, so play around with the settings sometimes. For one of my poems called ‘Fomorian of the Faeroes’, I chose to change the traditional AABBA format of limericks to AABBB. I also threw all the other limerick rules out of the window, because why not be a rebel while I’m at it?
Quick and Dirty
Before you (yes you) go off to wax poetic like no-one else before, I have some quick tips to help you out. These won’t surprise many of you, but they bear repeating.
First of all, open www.rhymezone.com. People have already compiled lists of words that rhyme with each other, and while these lists aren’t complete, you will certainly find value in them. Throwing open the rhymezone or the thesaurus can feel like cheating sometimes, but we’re writers not athletes. Cheating is allowed.
Secondly, don’t forget about near rhymes. Sometimes a word you wish to use simply doesn’t have a full rhyme to suit the scene. In those instances, or whichever instance you’d like, throw in some near rhymes. For a poem called ‘Cthulhu’s cat’ I rhymed Arkham with rotten. It’s not a perfect rhyme, but it gets the job done just fine.
Final tip is to simply let go. If my meandering rambling should teach anyone anything, than it is to just have fun and spend some time on simple experimental writing. See what works, experience what doesn’t work and have a good laugh if things really don’t work.
If you already have written some poetry, what are your experiences with it? And if you haven’t, will you give it a try? Please let me know in the comments below.
You can find me on Writtenfood where I publish short stories and poetry from time to time. I am also working on Mobster Yuppie, a mafia fiction set in ’80s New Jersey, and a whole load of short stories in a Dark Fantasy that has far too many elves in it.