April Links Post

Things my friends have done:

  • The lovely Holly Y has also participated in National Poetry Month, with a good deal more flair and humour than I.

Things I have done:

Things strangers have done:

  • Written a rather funny article about how to write the Great American Novel. I’d write the Great British Novel but a) I’m not very good and b) it’s already been written.
  • Reproduced Rudyard Kipling’s advice on living in London, all of which is entirely pertinent in every possible way, especially the bit about not rolling in the grass in the parks.
  • In 1935, Sigmund Freud managed to display a more enlightened attitude toward homosexuality than an depressingly large number of modern politicians, as evidenced in this letter.
  • Captured beautiful photos of London’s landmarks and landscapes … in reflections in street puddles.
  • Natasha Hodgson has reviewed Battleship, thus removing any need to see it, and also making me do a small laughter-wee.
  • Speculated on Why Americans Hate the Media.

National Poetry Month: Day 30

I carry my wounds like an aphid carries her children

Perhaps all these days
laid end to end
form a map of the heart
that lived them;
perhaps all these mornings
overlaid upon each other
form a topography
of the landscape inside
the mind that woke in them.
certain, however, that
in the drooping of the day
there is no poem,
only a falling curtain.

— Delilah Des Anges

There has been this month very little emphasis on meter, and that is because despite a number of poetry courses I have never really been able to get to grips with it much outside of a partially-intuitive de-DUM-de-DUM when attempting iambic prose or the like. Trochees, spondees and so on are far, far beyond my remit.

The closest I have been able to get to understanding how the devil one is supposed to make sense of meter, and indeed a book I would recommend in general for furthering your understanding of poetry and your own skills of prosody, was How Poetry Works by Phil Roberts. In recommending one book on poetry analysis and writing which works very well for me I should I suspect also recommend a book which does not work for me at all but which is very popular and has a chatty, down-to-earth approach to helping you write your own poems, Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled.

For a continuation of this month’s activities by greater minds than mine (not hard to find), in the short analysis of poems or poetic genres accompanying anthologies of poems, one cannot go far wrong with Staying Alive, edited by Neil Astley and published by Bloodaxe Books, or Axed Between The Ears edited by David Kitchen and published by Heinemann. 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem, edited & commentated by Ruth Padel is, as one might expect, also a good way to continue learning about poetry and poetry analysis.

Have you enjoyed the poetry this month? The mini-essays? Are you merely grateful that it’s all over? Whichever, why not take a little pocket change – or a lot! – and donate to MSF.

National Poetry Month: Day 29

Sunday afternoon lament

on the pane
goes the rain
in your brain
the mounting pain
down the drain
all over again
goes the unrelenting

— Delilah Des Anges

In poetry pacing is regulated by two separate factors: the position of words on the page, and the meter of the lines. These two can interact with each other in order to further manipulate the reader’s perception of the speed of the poem.

Metrically, switching between types of meter can have a profound effect on the experience of the poem’s pace; the reader can be brought to a near-standstill, or feel acceleration in the pace of the lines towards the poem’s crescendo. This can be heightened still further by the change from long to short words, or vice versa, and long to short lines, or vice versa.

In terms of placement, line-breaks and isolating individual lines has a psychological effect on the reader’s pace; a visual species, we learn to associate the spacing out in the plane of the page with the spacing out of events in time, as typographical cheats such as increasing the kerning will demonstrate:

s l o w l y

s   l    o    w   l    y

s     l      o     w     l    y

visual trickery like this may seem “cheap” in comparison to metrical manipulation but this is only because it is a little easier to achieve!

A third means of pacing control is lexical. This should be inherent to all poems, and occurs when the poet’s word choice is determined in part by how difficult or lengthy the word is to read, as well as the semantics and semiotics of it (or indeed the euphony of it).

Al three taken in careful combination can throw the reader through the poem at precious the pace the poet wishes without any silly extraneous annotation, or any guidance from outside sources. A sign of a well-put-together poem is the ability of anyone utterly ignorant of the material to read it as it is meant to be read, in a manner identical to any other completely ignorant or utterly informed reader.

Throughout this month I will be nagging readers to donate to MSF

National Poetry Month: Day 28

insomniac’s prayer

something stirring in the shadows beneath the bed
with a bagful of pins in your swallowing throat
a loaded gun pressed like a palm to your head
each breath is an enemy soldier’s joke
as the sun flees and leaves you for dead.

night comes down with a killing blow
unstoppering thought with cruelty
until the mind’s killing fields glow
with blood and endless impiety
as the sun flees and dark grows.

when the last light’s gone
and your mind is wide,
evil suspicions won
rampaging inside:
thus fled the sun.

— Delilah Des Anges

Other poems to read today:

Sleep in the Mojave Desert, Sylvia Plath

The Man With Night SweatsThom Gunn

Slumber-SongSiegfried Sassoon

To His Mistress Going To Bed, John Donne

Throughout this month I will be nagging readers to donate to MSF

National Poetry Month: Day 27

Line Jumper

Drayton Park is a dreary place
but not the one to quit the race;
the trains have stopped (never on time)
for a fatality upon this line,
and gloom settles upon every tired face
as one more soul enters death’s embrace
by jumping the line at Drayton Park
and taking the express train into the dark.
Delilah Des Anges

Throughout this month I will be nagging readers to donate to MSF

National Poetry Month: Day 26

He Wishes His Beloved Were Dead

WERE you but lying cold and dead,
And lights were paling out of the West,
You would come hither, and bend your head,
And I would lay my head on your breast;
And you would murmur tender words,
Forgiving me, because you were dead:
Nor would you rise and hasten away,
Though you have the will of the wild birds,
But know your hair was bound and wound
About the stars and moon and sun:
O would, beloved, that you lay
Under the dock-leaves in the ground,
While lights were paling one by one.

— W. B. Yeats


She wishes her lover were living

Were you but risen warm and living,
and new light birthing red in the east,
You would come to me, and be forgiving,
And I would stir that inner beast;
And you would growl with violent features,
Forgiveness rescinded for those living:
Thus you would keep us both a-bed,
though you are the fiercest of God’s creatures,
So know your hands were gripped and slipped
from round the earth and air and sea:
O would, fair foe, that you’d read
Of the tortures through my body’d ripped
while new light birthed above me.

— Delilah Des Anges
One of the more effective ways to dissect a poem is to pastiche it or parody it. It helps a remarkable amount with any kind of writing, in fact: in an attempt to produce a credible replica in terms of style or pacing or in the case of a poem, rhyme, rhythm, and theme – or to invert it – it is necessary to study it. It is a little like tracing over a picture and changing some of the features.
In He Wishes His Beloved Were Dead, there is a more complex pattern than appears at first glance, and in attempting to adhere to it line by line it becomes clear. The first four lines are standard quatrain: abab, but the next four break into daed, and the remaining five are fgefg. This overall pattern, ababdaedfgefg, is not so simple – and there is further complication! The first f line has an internal rhyme – bound and wound – and the closing g line also encapsulates a variation on the first of the two lines: And lights were paling out of the West, becomes, While lights were paling one by one. 
With this complexity it is impressive to be able to create a sense, an argument, while stepping still to the tune of the rhyme scheme. Trying to recreate it makes it a little easier to appreciate how difficult it must have been to write, even if you, like me, aren’t the biggest fan of Yeats.

Throughout this month I will be nagging readers to donate to MSF

National Poetry Month: Day 25

Some of the carcasses I saw

Pity brown feathers which line
the pine-needled pathways of Alfred’s wood;
their breast is lining now the belly
of the smelly feral cat who is up to no good.

On rocky beach in middle sector Wales,
between the shales and pebbles lies a hulk
of a porpoise lost on the hostile land,
his planned route unfit for his bulk.

And bloated waxy pale like uncooked dough
we didn’t know he was a man to begin:
but his beard in the water waved like trees,
like our knees as we knew he’d been done in.

— Delilah Des Anges

Throughout this month I will be nagging readers to donate to MSF

National Poetry Month: Day 24

Today’s News

Fortune to be made from forests of the future
When two immovable objects collide
Only one survivor found
Smuggled into the country
Star footballer reveals all
My affair with Royal member
Warnings of hard times ahead
Amazing artifact fake, says expert
Dog saves child from wolves
Mother sentenced to 12 years
Manager goes ballistic
Urban poverty on the rise
And we fell for it
Terror Threat
Fortune to be made from forests of the future
And we fell for it.

— Delilah Des Anges

Throughout this month I will be nagging readers to donate to MSF

National Poetry Month: Day 23

All Apologies

Layout is not an area of poetry construction that I’ve paid much attention to in the decade and a half since I switched from writing them all in wine-coloured A4 exercise books to typing the sods into whatever word-processing software happened to work on whichever computer I was borrowing at the time. It didn’t really occur to me until very recently, watching the snippets of Richard Siken’s poetry pass by me on Tumblr like literary detritus on a flooded river of nonsense, that in order to preserve the precise formatting one could simply make the poem into an image.

I wrote this one at work, which meant that the only image manipulation software I had access to was MS Paint; logically I could just have written the thing in Word, taken a screencap, and pasted that into MS Paint, but I was at work and therefore all of my logic circuits were occupied trying to work out what the hell the students wanted (I work, currently, at a University in an admin role). So I wrote this into MS Paint, fiddled with the font repeatedly, and ended up back where I started with Arial. Font-fiddling is one side of unformatted straight-to-screen writing that I generally neglect because one never knows which fonts someone will have installed.

Making a poem into an image is quite useful if one wishes to be didactic about how it is viewed, because everything down to the font face is under one’s control, but as anyone using a screen-reader to access this page will be able to attest, it does decrease accessibility somewhat.

Throughout this month I will be nagging readers to donate to MSF

National Poetry Month: Day 22

communication disordered

let me kiss the words out of you
i will replace them all with “mine”.
i will put a curse on you with my mouth
so that for the entire day all you can say
is how much you want me. has it started yet?
i will touch you on the mind and teach you
to speak your thoughts straight into mine
and i will send you my words in a brown envelope
so that i can be silent in your presence
and let you speak for me.

— Delilah Des Anges

Throughout this month I will be nagging readers to donate to MSF