Me and Poetry

I have occasionally talked about my writing here, and even more occasionally about my poetry. There is a reason for this. I don’t know much about poetry, and I tend to write it off the cuff.  Sit down and pound out three double dactyls. Start writing a stanza to see if it will produce a pantoum. These are the two poetry forms I have found conducive to my messages, such as they are. As I have told you before, I write wicked double dactyls about political figures mainly. To my mind, they don’t work unless people laugh at them. For me, they’re easy to write, and I’m not sure why.

But the second form, the pantoum, is a more difficult form, and I reserve for it my more serious thoughts. It is a form that requires the repeating of lines from one stanza to the next in an ordained manner. This allows the poet to change the lines slightly to create movement toward a new or different goal. The final quatrain has two lines from the prior quatrain and two from the first quatrain. A good pantoum comes back on itself, having gone out in the world and made a connection. The great pantoum will bring the reader to a catharsis, provoking tears or joy or both to the astonishment of the poet, especially when I am the poet.

This past weekend, at my writers workshop, we looked at three of my pantoums. As one of the commentators said, they went from the personal to the local to the global in their scope. I was stunned by the comments of a man whom I respect for his writing and his analysis. This man has pointed out many of the shortcomings of my prose, and his criticisms are valid, if painful. I expected more of the same from him this Saturday, and was stunned to hear his positive comments about all three poems. He thought each was publishable, and he also said he would have extolled the praises of the third poem had he not been so overwhelmed by the first.

What I am I to make of that? I thanked him, but thought his comments were misplaced. I write pantoums almost as easily as I write double dactyls. In much the same way that my fictional characters come to tell me a story, my poems materialize before my eyes with precious little cognition involved. To the extent that I think, I may take the lines from one quatrain and place them where they must be in the next, having only to find the two lines that advance the story and change the meaning. When I am done, I go back to see if the transferred lines need some minor change to fit the poem. And I only know I am done when the two movable lines from a quatrain match the two remaining lines in the first. If they don’t work, I’m not done. That can’t be the way other poets work, can it?

He says that the fact that they come easily doesn’t mean they aren’t good. To my astonishment, he reminds me of other poets, including Shelley and Keats, who could spontaneously compose and recite sonnets and other forms of poetry, in a very early poetry slam. Heady company indeed, particularly in one still entranced by poetry and form, and not yet comfortable in the realm of free poetry.

As I have said previously, I will in all likelihood be a published poet before I am a published fantasist in light of the acceptance of my double dactyls in the 2015 Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop anthology that will be officially launched on April 3. No money, but lots of fun. And it may later in the spring be available for anyone interested on Amazon as an ebook. That requires more volunteer labor, and so its happening is more a function of someone taking the time, rather than an overwhelming need to  sell it as an ebook. The book, as well as the ones for 2014 and 2103, will be available at Phoenix Books in Burlington, or on our webpage at http://burlingtonwritersworkshop.com/

I hope you find it and enjoy!

2 thoughts on “Me and Poetry

  1. Martha Kennedy

    He’s right. Just because something comes easy DOESN’T mean it’s can’t be good. Good is good and no one who reads the work of a writer knows whether it came easy or hard; they’re just delighted, informed, amused or whatever the writer hoped to inspire — if the writer is successful in communicating. And…I think your audience (here) might like to know what you’re talking about (dactyls? double dactyls? teradactyl? pantaloons?) especially after you say you don’t know much about poetry. My degree’s are in English, and I knew this once, but I don’t remember what those things are. 🙂

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    1. bhalsop Post author

      The dactyl is a foot. Not 12 inches. DUH-duh-duh. That kind of foot. And you can find out all about these forms at the Poetry Foundation. That’s where I found them. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/glossary-terms I learned about them in a creative writing course, and somehow they took hold of me. And I write better double dactyls than the sample they have. And I don’t use “higgledy piggledy” as I make my nonsense fit the poem. And if that doesn’t whet your curiosity….

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