Artists do it all the time: they copy master paintings to learn how to achieve particular approaches and effects. So why not writers? I suppose we might be concerned that we’ll lose our own voice; that we’ll be a parody of another poet, that we won’t be original. And yes, there’s the risk of all those things, but think about what we might learn about form, language, sound and image by using a poem we admire as a model; what we might gain in the long term will surely outweigh the risk of any temporary absence of authenticity.
Here’s a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins:
A Nun Takes the Veil
I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow.
And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.
Manley Hopkins uses full end-rhyme (go/blow, fail/hail, be/sea, come/dumb) yet the rhymes don’t dominate the poem because of the structure of abba and cddc, the rhythm of the longer 3rd line in each stanza, and some enjambment: notice that there’s no punctuation at the end of the 3rd line in the 1st stanza so there’s no heavy pause on hail and we can read across to the next line and come to a stop at the end of that.
I also like the repetition of I have (I can feel the personal incantation in those lines), while his wonderful alliteration asks to be read aloud over and over again: notice the use of s and f and l which unify the poem so it becomes a tightly crafted song, or a prayer, or even a spell.
My challenge to you is to write a poem using this one as a model. You’ll need to have:
1. two four line stanzas rhyming abba, cddc
2. a longer third line in each stanza
3. a short phrase that’s used in each stanza
4. some alliteration to add music to the poem, but not deafen it!
5. at least one enjambed line
However, don’t resort to the inverted syntax that Manley Hopkins uses to accommodate the rhyme. To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail would be more naturally expressed today as To fields where no sharp and sided hail flies and it’s important that our poems sound like contemporary poems, not parodies of earlier traditions.
And of course the other important thing is to write about something that will be served by the form and rhyme I’m asking you to use. I mentioned ‘song’ and ‘spell’ above and you might like to explore those ideas: what could be celebrated in a short song, what kind of spell could you cast? But these are only suggestions; feel free to work with whatever feels appropriate to you.
As we’re quite close to the end of the month, I won’t be choosing April’s Prize Poem until the end of the first full week in May, so you have until 9th May to post your poems to this or any other prompt.