Saturday, December 20, 2008

Have a Wonderful Christmas Holiday and New Year

Just a brief note to say I'm off to Chamonix in the French Alps and will be back at the end of the month. Looking forward to log fires, lovely food and wine and cosy chats, and trying to ignore the mounting hysteria as I think about ski-ing for the first time in 22 years!

Wishing you all kinds of warmth.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rewarding the Reader

The main post for December is rather more open ended than you've been used to. Take a look at the following:

... a willingness to trust is the one thing the reader may give the writer for free, and it is based on nothing the writer has done but on the reader’s whole relationship with literature. But the dark side of the willingness to trust is suspicion. If the poet does not reward this trust in the first few moments of the poem, he or she is in trouble, because the longer the poet takes to reward it, then the harder it will be to keep it. Stephen Dobyns, from Best Words, Best Order

Readers tend to access poems in stages, however small and fleeting, and, at times, unconscious.

1. They notice the size and shape of the poem without reading the actual words.
2. They estimate the effort required to read it.
3. They consider the title.
4. They read the first few words, the first line.
5. They enter the whole of the poem.

It's probably after 3. that a reader begins to be nudged forward in a willingness to trust the poem and the poet, or grows more suspicious.

So what is it that a reader looks for, or expects from a poem? Here's a list of points I've identified, and how and where they might be located in a poem:

to feel: the presence of emotion
to think: the presence of ideas
to feel anchored: the physical setting
communication: language and image
music: rhythm, rhyme, patterns
tension: the form, the dramatic development, pacing

The degree that a poem is successful is the degree to which some, or all, or these elements are made important to the reader, and if we want to reward a reader, and encourage them to 'stay', then at least one must be made important as soon as possible, either in the shape on the page, or the title, or in the first line or two. Although the balance between rewarding the reader but not answering their questions too easily is sometimes difficult to find. We want to satisfy them, in some way, but also make them want more.

When you post your poems in response, perhaps you could add some brief notes about how you feel you've attempted to reward the reader, the things you consciously considered.

I'm sure you all have poems in process that you can work on but if you need a fresh start then here are some ideas:

Write about the last day of your life.
Write a poem that starts in one place and ends in another - physical, emotional, intellectual.
Write about 'home'.

Monday, December 08, 2008

November Prize Poem

What I'm enjoying so much while reading your poems each month is becoming more and more familiar with your individual voices. It's difficult to say definitely and precisely what a poet's voice is, what ingredients go towards identifying and differentiating one poet from another, but the personal choices we make with regard to all of the following play a part:

subject matter

And it's rhythm and rhyme that, for me, are a major part of one poet's work, rhythm and rhyme that always feel well chosen for the subject matter and form and drive the poem forward without ever dominating it. It's not a formal use of a metre or rhyme scheme, more an organic development that adds a wonderful musicality to the poem and increases the reader's enjoyment. Congratulations, Linda W, for:

November rain

Fireworks soon fizzled and the month set in
to unrelenting gloom. Lights on at four pm
in library and living room. Black-bellied clouds
ached for relief, and then the rain
began, slanted stripes turning to angry spots
on window panes.

People in the street leaned
into umbrellas, coat collars a makeshift screen,
while their feet pulped wet leaves and water seeped
into the crevices of shoes,
set them shivering
soaked them through

from toes to hair. But some
recalled the fetid air and scorching sun
of long dry days, when with upturned faces
they prayed for the bliss
of cooling, healing rain
like a lover’s kiss.

Linda W

There's so much to enjoy about this poem but a few things that struck me as particularly strong were the rhythm and weight of 'unrelenting gloom', the break at the end of this line: People in the street leaned/, and the long syllables and assonance in:

while their feet pulped wet leaves and water seeped

Al Alvarez says, in his book The Writer's Voice, '... feelings - not the grand emotions aspired to, but the altogether subtler sense of being emotionally awakened - are expressed less in imagery than in movement, in the inner rhythm of the language.'

This isn't something I've fully explored in my own writing, but I 'feel' it here in Linda's poem and I'm sure other readers will too.

Congratulations again, Linda. Please email me with your postal address and I'll send you your prize, this lovely Desk Calendar, 'Une Année en Provence', for 2009.

Thinking Christmas Presents?

Or even a poetry treat for yourself? Then I can really recommend this desk Haiku Calendar for 2009 from Snapshot Press.

Here's one of the haiku published in it:

autumn rain
a baseball card softens
in the bicycle spokes

Chad Lee Robinson

I can just hear the 'clatter' as a boy goes past on his bike, but that was the summer and now the season has changed.

And on top of having a daily dose of poetry you'll be supporting a small publisher whose books are of outstanding quality.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Just checking in... say I'm reading the November poems and will be posting the Prize Poem soon.

Does anyone else feel surprised that it's December already?! Where did the year go? Or is that just me sounding old? No need to answer that question :-)

To keep you going until the next prompt, try some free writing starting with the following phrases:

This time last year...

This time next year...

And, of course, please post any poems that emerge.
I'll see you soon.
Lynne x