I’m not posting many poems now. There are three reasons for this:
* I’m not writing so many now as I did, say, a couple of years back.
* By posting my old poems here bit by bit, I’ve got up almost to the present with the poems I think are best. I could go back and post poems I don’t think so much of, but that doesn’t greatly appeal.
* I want to hold back a few good new ones as possible competition entries (not that I’m a great admirer of poetry competitions).
Instead I want to post more ABOUT my poetry. This has gone down well in the past. Now I’d like to try to be a bit deeper and more systematic. I might post now and then about other poets’ writings too.
For a start, I’d like to look at why I write some poems in regular form, some in irregular (“free verse”) form and some starting irregular but beginning to rhyme as they proceed.
Regular rhyme and rhythm can create a dreamlike state. They probably arose out of rhythmic chants at rituals and before battle. At football matches today you can still hear rhythmic chants aimed at uniting those on one side and intimidating or ridiculing those on the other before and during battle. Although rhyme and rhythm are the most familiar tools for this partial hypnosis, the repeating of images or words can have the same effect. Consider the repeated cries of a Fascist crowd: “DUCE, DUCE!” or “Sieg Heil!”
That example points to the dangers of dream-creation, but rhythmic chanting is also used in the most peaceful religions.
At worse, though, rhymes can be predictable, trite, even a little ridiculous, especially if the rhyme seems forced or – perhaps even worse – as soon as you read the last word on one line, you know what its rhyming partner must be.
So let me look at an example of where I think rhyming and regularity work effectively in my poems:
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DEATH AND THE MAGICIAN
One day the magician came to me and said,
The fish are leaping in the yellow stream
The oak has turned into an acorn small
And I saw Death in dream.
And I saw Death in dream, he said,
And Death was very kind
He showed me where the roses grow
Though I’m old and blind.
I’m old and blind and lame, he said,
The sea is out of sight
The shell is empty on the shelf
Through the woken night.
The night is all around, he said,
It closes hour by hour
The voices make me fear, my friend,
Should a proud man cower?
But should a proud man cower, my friend,
I think perhaps he should
The wine is turning sour, my friend,
But the bread is good.
The bread of death is good, my friend,
The bread of life is fine
And now I’ve understood, my friend,
Will the starlight shine?
And will the starlight shine, my friend,
And will the starlight shine?
Now let us touch the vine, my friend,
And we will drink the wine.
copyright Simon Banks 2012
I wrote this deliberately imitating ballad form and imagery. Ballads use a lot of repetition, but sometimes with slight changes which move the action on.
The second and fourth lines rhyme throughout. This is a familiar structure. The first verse has longer lines than the rest: the first three lines have ten syllables (assuming “magician” is elided or slurred). The fourth line though has only six syllables and this marks a change of mood and increase of intensity. From then on the poem becomes a kind of incantation and I have seen what an effect it can have on people. For the remaining verses the first and third lines have eight syllables, the second six and the fourth six or five. These variations help to avoid monotony.
The first line (after the ranging first verse) ends repeatedly with “he said” and then with “my friend”. The latter appears first ending the third line, but then is repeated at the end of the first and third lines. This is another form of repetition. The first and third lines contain internal rhymes – rhymes that don’t come at the end of the line such as “good” and “understood”. “And will the starlight shine?” is said twice in succeeding lines of the last verse. The rhythm is regular. Words or images are repeated in the body of the poem – bread, wine and starlight, plus arguably water.
The repetition increases as the poem nears its end, conveying a sense of realisation, or completion.
Don’t try this at home, kids…this kind of method could fall horribly flat. It needs mystery and emotional intensity to work. Very few of my poems are structured anything like as tightly as this one. But then no other has had such dramatic effect every time I’ve read it aloud.
Next time I’ll go on to look at irregular and semi-irregular poems and why that can work too.