Formal Fluency: Poetcraft I
|Apr 1, 2012
Of course, you can write a poem on just about anything, but that doesn't always mean you should. Who wants to read an ode to a bowel movement, or an epic poem discussing a woman's breasts?
As with all creative endeavors, there are things that make poetry--or at least poems--more and less meaningful. Willow Hambrick, a literacy coach whose clarity is in no way compromised by her role as a middle school educator, summarizes three things communicated by (or with) any meaningful poem: clarity; complexity; and astonishment. (Just scroll down to the bottom half of page three. For the purposes of this mini-contest, we're ignoring everything else there.)
Clarity seems straightforward enough. "The purpose of all writing is to communicate effectively." Who could argue with that?
Complexity, too, is fairly simple--if you'll pardon the oxymoron. A poem should evoke complicated reactions, should be something the reader can relate to, and, ideally, should be possible of interpretations on more than one level.
Astonishment is a bit more subtle. This is what really drives a poem, a sort of "Aha!" moment that takes the plugged-in, relating-to-the-poem readers and stands them on their heads. Note that you don't want a "twist for twist's sake" kind of astonishment. What you want is not to get people to say "How clever this poem is!" but "How come I've never noticed that before...?"
Astonishment needs to be subtle, and outward-looking--you want to astonish readers with the reality on which the poem is based, not with your poem itself. Hambrick points out a couple of ways poets can accomplish this, such as "meta" moments, dramatic pauses, and line endings. Juxtaposition, or contrast, plays a big part as well.
An epic poem about breasts might turn out to be a powerful monument to a woman who's fought through breast cancer, for instance. That poem about a bowel movement might take on new meaning if it provided an interesting contrast--although I'll admit I'm at a loss to think how.
Although clarity, complexity, and astonishment still have more to do with the "how" than the "why" or the "when," they're important to consider when crafting poetry, as they show how we can make that "why" more apparent to the reader, and--especially in the case of astonishment--suggest what kind of occasions are actually worth writing a poem about.
Ultimately, poets can use these techniques to take us where we don't expect to go, and that is the essence of poetry. It's not rhyme, it's not meter, it's not clever word-play. These are just techniques used along the way.
Winners have been announced! Log in to see them.
|$10 cash via PayPal
Entries must be received before midnight of Sunday, April 1st (UTC time), and winners will be announced within one week of that date.
Entrants should read read the last half of Hambrick's "The Poem as Craft" (the section that starts with "the most meaningful poems communicate...") before participating.
Part of our mini-contests is sharing what you've learned: although it's not required, we'd appreciate it if you come weigh in on the group discussion thread here
Only one entry per member, please. Multiple entries will all be disqualified.
Work must have Public visibility on Scribophile until winners are announced.
Winners must have a valid Paypal account, or we won't be able to send the prize money!
To enter the contest, post your work on Scribophile and check the box that says "Enter this work into the FF Poetcraft I contest". Your work will automatically be considered. The checkbox will be visible until the contest deadline, which is in UTC time.
Entry is free, but you'll need karma points to post your work. You can earn karma points by writing critiques of work by other members.