Hello. I'm Donn Taylor, here again to talk about poetry writing and ways to achieve the "higher voltage" that distinguishes poetry from most prose. We've talked about putting strong words in emphatic places, use of images, and a little bit about figurative language. On my last blog we began talking about ways to organize a poem. Those ways are infinite, of course, so we'll confine ourselves to some of the most common, and we'll deal only with lyric poetry (poetry that expresses the poet's thoughts or emotions). As before, I compare a short poem to a paragraph: it has a main idea that may be stated or unstated, and everything in the poem points to or develops that one idea.
Last time, we talked about organizing a poem around a single striking figure of speech. A poem can also be organized around an analogy, often moving from concrete to abstract, as in this poem by Walt Whitman (1819-1892):
A noiseless patient spider,
I marked where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Marked how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launched forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you, O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the
spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need to be formed, till the
ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
The physical quest of the first stanza becomes an analog of the intellectual or spiritual quest of the second. We should also notice the placement of emphatic words in emphatic places, and the use of rhythm and sound repetition to dramatize the stated actions.
However, a poem's analogy need not move into abstraction. The poem may simply draw the analogy between two human experiences that have something in common, as in this poem of mine:
WALLFLOWERS (© 2007)
She warms the cushioned chair along the wall,
This dowager with hands that knit or twiddle
Aimlessly. Her sad and ardent eyes
Seek out, vicariously, the vibrant young
Twirling within the dance with quickened pulse,
Immersed in their vital here and now. Her heart
Quivers to music as it did before
In warm-breathed summer days’ expectancy,
Feeling the slide of dance shoes on the floor,
Strange hand upon the back, awakening touch,
And racing blood at chance caress of cheek,
Tomorrow’s promise glimmering beyond….
Warming the softness of my cushioned chair,
Seek out on video our vibrant young
In foreign lands—Iraq, Afghanistan—
Steadfast in peril, proud in sacrifice
And service. Idle now, vicariously
I watch, clutching the poignant memory
Of days of usefulness that come no more.
This is only one of many ways to develop a poem. We will look at more of these ways in future blogs.