Poetry Rock

I’ve never really been able to do poetry, although I’m quite good at writing song lyrics. I have no idea why I just don’t get how to write a poem.

It may be in part because I don’t understand what differentiates poetry from lyrical prose or plain lyrics. Songs I understand – there is a form to follow. You need to follow rhyme and scansion – even if you can cheat a bit and use half rhymes or assonance, and you can mess about a bit with the length of lines by stretching or compressing words or lengthening bars. I can sort of do lyrical prose as well by working with the rhythms of a sentence and the imagery. But when does that stop and poetry start – especially with free verse.

I am always in awe when I see performance poets in particular – my friend Olly Watson is brilliant at it. I can recognise that when he tells a story it is a poem – even when he uses a structure that on paper would be more like prose. I just can’t do it myself.

Perhaps it is an OuLiPo thing that allows me to write lyrics and not poetry – the constraints of the form are actually freeing rather than restricting – or perhaps it is just that my brain is hardwired for patterns. The structure is less obvious when I write prose, but it is always there. I always have an overarching plot, story arcs for the characters, threaded metaphors and allusions, and a number of set pieces I want to place in the correct pattern. A lot of the stories also place within a meta pattern as a close up on a single part of a larger body of work – a bit like those photo puzzles where you have to identify an item from a small element.

The songs are part of that too – I mention in the novel I’m revising at the moment that the lead character is writing a musical based on the Pied Piper of Hamlin and the Comedia Del Arte canon but set against the backdrop of municipal corruption on Tyneside in the 70s. The novel itself is set against the same background and one of the songs I would use if I ever get round to writing said musical is featured. Others pop up in other stories – never miss a chance to reuse something you’ve done in another context. In the same way stuff I’ve done for writing exercises has made its way into larger works, and I’ve often used bits of the same  research to inform stories with radically different settings, genres and feel.

But poetry…I wish I could do what James Branch Cabell did and hide whole poems inside his novels by punctuating them as prose. One to think about.

3 thoughts on “Poetry Rock

  1. NegativeCharge

    Poetry is a strange and slippery beast… I write it, and write it almost as naturally as breathing, but I’m never sure it’s any good, because, as soon as I try and explain what makes poetry “good” – or what makes poetry at all – all my knowledge of it disappears – kind of like when Phaedrus tries to define “Quality” in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. You know what it is, but you can’t explain what you know. If it’s any comfort, I’m the reverse of yourself – I can write poetry, but not song lyrics – I’ve tried, but it just doesn’t work. Horses for courses, I guess 🙂

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    1. timandersonuk Post author

      I wish I could write poetry. Perhaps I just need to develop the mental muscles to do so by practice. The only poem I ever wrote in a burst of inspiration was a haiku about the Archers radio serial called The Zen Archers.
      Across Ambridge air
      A blast from Gabriel’s horn
      Their target – the Bull

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      1. NegativeCharge

        That’s pretty good 🙂 I’ve recently got into abstract art – outside of writing, I have no artistic talent at all, but am finding that, by doing one piece per day – even if it’s just a sketch – I’m ending up, at the end of a week, with one or two pictures I don’t think are completely awful, which is an achievement. I think the key to anything is letting go of the idea that you have to be visibly successful at anything you attempt – i’ll never have a gallery exhibitions of my artwork, but if I can end up with a handful that i think are okay, that’s good enough.

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