Poetry: here’s your Sunday sermon.

Memento Mori: The Cosmic Edition

Okay, listen. We don’t have much time.
You’re dying.
So am I.
Soon the rot will devour us both.
The sun will explode and swallow
Everything you ever said
That was slightly stupid:
Galaxies will rise and fall
The civilisation that remembers
If you passed that exam
Is already on the wane.

We’re dying.
There is no time to be furious
Or pensive, or alone.
It is important that you listen
Before time turns out
On this flicker of light within,
This tiny shout against universal entropy,
Your momentary stand in the dark.

Please, before we are ashes,
Then a sea of lukewarm atoms
Paralysed a few degrees above the absolute –
While you still can:

The end is coming
And it has one hell of a beat.

–Delilah Des Anges (2013)

(I wrote this in bed this morning after catching up on Professor Jim Al-Khalili’s Light & Dark: Light on iPlayer last night, and contemplating this morning the feasibility of a tattoo reading “existential horror you can dance to”; the latter I think should be given further consideration, as I already have an enormous list of tattoos I wish to get and it does nothing but grow).


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 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

National Poetry Month: Day 18

Found Poem

I found this poem nestling in the dirty cracks between the seats of a bus it read you are alive until you’re not and then you’re dead a perfect piece of poetry I thought and would have said had I not been travelling alone with only the music in my headphones to keep me company on my way home a perfect piece of poetry which summarises neatly all the words in my poems which so often defeat me when I’m trying to arrange in thought and word and deed in what becomes an unthinking empty screed of rhyming words upon a page it sums up without taking an age and this is what I read

you are alive until you’re not
and then you’re dead.

— Delilah Des Anges

The concept of “found art” is well-known as a convenient get-out for those of us who really cannot draw or paint and “found poetry” occupies a similar conceptual space; the idea that poetry is created naturally by accidental combinations of words in overlapping adverts and graffiti or in the accretion of notes in the margin of a text.

In this particular poem (where I’ve abandoned the usual structural device of shorter lines, end-stopping, or drawing attention to rhyme with any other method, but rather left it as a chunk of rhythmic prose) the idea of a found poem is toyed with – the “found poem” in question does not exist – as the central platform for the rest of the work, but it is not a found work.

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

National Poetry Month: Day 17

New Savagery

Our first foolishness was to adopt
the god of a desert tribe
to rule a land of green forest,
wind-raked moor, and
infinite coastline;
we should have worshipped a fish
hurtling upstream
for eternities,
not listened to an old man
whose dissipated sons
can only bicker and divide;
we should have made sacred
the colours of our mud:
black loam, grey chalk downs,
red sandstone, and the moorland’s
thin brown.
We ought have touched only
our skies full of clouds
and knelt only to sow, and to raise up
our fallen children.
Now we sow blood for the world
and make sacred
the hue of wars
in deserts.

— Delilah Des Anges

One of the great challenges of writing both prose and poetry can occasionally be the task of keeping them out of each other. When you are in the habit of writing rhythmically for poetry, it can quite easily seep into your prose as a matter of habit; thinking in beats is a hard habit to shake, as are bursts of alliteration or internal rhyme. However, these tics in prose can be surprisingly useful if you are writing a specific genre: fairytales. Far from being distractions or sounding unnatural, the sing-song intonation that accompanies poetry (often iambic pentameter works best for this) carries over to fairytales in a very organic fashion and makes the story pleasing to repeat; a great feature retained from the fairytale’s origin as an oral story.

There may be occasions when writing a story when it becomes apparent that what is actually necessary is to turn it into a poem because the cadences and rhythms are too poetic for the subject matter in prose; this occurred with Shots in the Dark. Originally a short story, it was reborn as a narrative poem after a friend read it over and said she could “see the poem lurking in the prose”.

Conversely, there are times when what is intended as a poem takes on a life of its own and characters, bursts the boundaries of poetic tropes and forms and demands to be written as a story. The important thing is listening to what form a piece of narrative wishes to be presented in, because if you force it, the end result will not be as good.

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