Thursday, April 1, 2010

Poetry Month Kickoff

What is a poem? Why poetry? I’m metrically challenged, what about me? Poetry never makes any sense, how am I supposed to understand it?

I majored in English and took more than a few poetry classes and I still bitch about this shit.

I’d like to preface this by saying that I am not a poet.


But I do write poetry.

So what is poetry to a non-poet? Unlike verse, a poem is more plastic, more like song lyrics (which is a type of poem, by the way) so each time you come to a poem or song, the meaning might have subtly changed based on what you bring into the experience. The same occurs with novels too, thought to a lesser degree, at least in my experience.

I’m not here to make you like poetry. I hate it myself, on most occasions. But as a writer, I recognize its uses. Like flash fiction or the short story, it’s a form to understand and respect. A writer can sprawl out in a novel, kind of like in marriage. You can let everything hang out and evoke strong emotions, positive and negative. You can evoke strong emotions in other forms as well; you just have to be briefer on a one-night stand. To me, poetry is a one-nighter, as well as a method of discipline. You have mesh the right words at the right time and implement them the right way. You don’t get pages to explain, unless you’re writing long line ballades or something, but we’ll get to that. Poetry acts as an exercise in brevity, in tight, condensed writing, and, most of all, in patience. So join me here for poetry month and we’ll see what kind of poetic disasters we can spin. :)

The first form I chose was one I’d never heard of. I found it on poetry base/poetry gnosis. They have more poetic forms than I’ve ever heard of, so plenty of stuff to choose from and experiment with if you don’t like my prompt. Also Poetic Asides through Writer’s Digest is a great resource.

So, since I love cows and that’s no secret, we’re kicking off poetry month with a form called Mad Cow. Closely related is Mad Calf so I thought I’d put them together for easier explanation. Both are alexandrine forms, which means twelve syllables a line. It’s a French creation and the French are as proud of it as the English are of iambic pentameter. Both are a pain in the ass, I’m not gonna lie, but worth the exercise. So, for Mad Cow, start with twelve syllables a line, with an end rhyme scheme of ababc cdede fgfgh hijij klklm mnono eieio.

So it looks like this:
The next stanza goes:
And so on.

Each stanza has five lines, with a total of thirty-five lines.

Mad calf is a shorter version, with an abcde fghij klmno eieio rhyme scheme. The syllable count is shorter as well, the lines being six syllables instead of twelve, so a half-pint alexandrine. Again, five lines to a stanza, but only twenty lines of poem.

Since syllables are so annoying, at least to this metrically challenged writer, my mad cow/calf poem might come later as a comment. But relax, have fun. Poetry can be a blast, the play with words and sounds. It’s a great exercise to get the creative juices flowing, so long as you don’t take yourself too seriously.

Happy Poetry Month! :)