A Colloquy on Poetry

An Essay By Ezra // 10/27/2008

Ezra: So my brother and I are both aspiring writers, with some limited experience.

James: Indeed. And, being homeschooled, we are for the most part self-taught.

Ezra: Yup. And that's kind of how we learned creative writing - by doing and then doing some more.

James: Sounds a bit amateurish, but I think it's the best way to learn. So, Ezra, I have been impressed with the large amount of quality poetry that you've been writing. Now, when did you begin to write all these poems? It was after I went to college, wasn't it?

Ezra: Umm... I think it started when I was a Junior and you were a Senior. I had that Brit Lit course that required me to write a poem a week for about two months. That sort of got me hooked. Of course, you've written a few lines yourself - class A stuff if I remember right.

James: Well, I've written a few poems, I guess -- I'm not sure I'd call them class A, though they were fun to write. Currently, I'm trying to write a novel, but that's for another conversation. So, I've noticed that there are a lot of poetry styles out there; you have some style variance, but you seem to adhere to older styles. What are your thoughts on different styles of poetry?

Ezra: Thoughts? Hmm. Poetry is really hard to define, you know. But I think that it's important to remember that Poetry is an Art (I disagree with the definition of poetry as a form of self expression - poetry is self expression, but not all self expression with words is poetry). I am currently reading a book entitled, How to Write a Poem, by L. J. Dessner. One of the things that the book shows is that just pure self expression does not always lend itself to good Poetry. Poetry should have some form of aesthetic value.

James: That's a good point. What kinds of things, then, would lend aesthetic value to poetry? Ones that come to my mind are rhyme and meter, similes, metaphors, and maybe something like an acrostic.

Ezra: Yup. All those things, I think, are sort of techniques or tools or building blocks that poets can use in their works. They're kind of like different brushes that an artist might use for various effects on a painting, or different instruments that a composer might use in a symphony. You know, I think it's also interesting to look at poems from a cultural perspective. I learned from talking to Aunt Kari, for example, that Japanese poetry puts a heavy emphasis on meter and the number of syllables in a line.

James: Ah, yes, like the classic Haiku. You know, something I like to do occasionally with my poems is to build them off of acrostics. I got this idea mainly from the Psalms in the original Hebrew, and John Milton in his Paradise Lost. The thing is, though, I like my poems to adhere rigidly to rhyme and meter. The result, is that writing the poem is a challenge! Trying to get the words to fit the pattern while at the same time having the ideas flow smoothly, is hard to do.

Ezra: Yup.

James: So, when you right poetry, what is usually your biggest challenge?

Ezra: Flow. Beyond a doubt, flow. Writing a poem where the words flow easily or naturally through a reader's mind is one of the most difficult things that a poet can do. Sometimes I wonder if this is why many poets gravitate toward free verse - it's a lot easer to achieve good flow when you don't have to worry about a specific format.

James: Easier, definitely. Without worrying a lot about rhyme or meter, full attention could be concentrated on flow. But for some reason, my overly-structured brain has never really enjoyed that as much as others. When I read poetry, I always appreciate a consistent pattern of rhyme and meter. I've heard many others disparage it. The great John Milton hated the idea of writing his poems so that they rhymed; it constrained him too much. But for some reason, I've always enjoyed reading it and writing it. It's difficult, yes, but I love the challenge.

Ezra: Ah, yes - difficult. But then, sometimes, it makes the poem more worth the writing in the end. Speaking of worth writing, it can sometimes be interesting to look at a person's motivation for writing poetry. Mine, for example, is that I love creating something which expresses joy or sorrow or heroism or courage or something along those lines in a way which people can relate to, but also see as beautiful.

James: I have the same motivation, but I think I place a heavy emphasis on beauty, and I usually try to accomplish this by, well, the "simplistic and child like" methods of regular rhyme and meter.

Ezra: Well - I think that free verse gets a bad rap because it is often abused. A lot of people think of free verse as nothing more than sentences of prose broken up into poetry-like stanzas. But when you write in free verse, you still have to keep in mind that you are creating what should be a work of art. There are some breathtaking free verse poems out there that use such things as parallel thoughts, similes, metaphors, and stunning or unusual descriptive language to give them that "poetic quality".

James: Yes, definitely. The Psalms and other poetry in the Bible are a wonderful example of this. Hebrew Poetry is marked by parallel lines of thought, and a good thing -- if it were defined by rhyme and meter, its beauty would be lost in translation.

And yes, free verse is often abused, but I think that the worst thing is it's overused. It seems that everybody uses free verse almost all the time these days; it's the conventional way to go. Admittedly there are advantages to it over ridged rhyme and meter, but I don't like being conventional. I enjoy defying conventional wisdom. If conventional wisdom says "Newer is better," I'll probably stick with what's old. If it says, "Free Verse should be embraced," I'll probably shun it. I'm an odd sort of rebel.

Don't get me wrong; if a particular free verse poem is good, I not only appreciate it, I enjoy reading it. In fact, I'll probably post a free verse poem one of these days. It's just that I so enjoy the sounds of rhyming words and even meters, that I prefer not to abandon them in my own writing.

I suppose there is a such thing as overkill in rhyme and meter, though. You could probably find a few examples.

Ezra: Definitely. Wow - I had no idea when we started this conversation that it would grow so big. But I think that there is one more thing we should cover before we finish this off: showing versus telling. It's a phrase which is usually used in conjuncture with story-writing. However, I believe it is also an important thing for a poet to understand.

James: Indeed. What are some ways to do a good job of showing, and pitfalls of telling to avoid?

Ezra: To do a good job of showing, a poet must paint a picture in the reader's mind - a picture which makes the reader feel as if the poet were an actual eye witness to whatever is being described. And that picture should be original, too. Most of us have heard the clichés, like "deep blue ocean", or "green grass", or the redundant statements like "sorrowful tears" or "joyful laughter". These add little to the reader's perception of the poem. A person who had actually observed an ocean, for example, would probably describe it as "the dark and wild sea" or "the still and silent waters", depending on the weather.

James: That's a good way of fixing the cliché "deep blue ocean." So what would you do with "green grass", "sorrowful tears", or "joyful laughter"?

Ezra: Hmm. Well, for grass, I would just think about what the grass would actually be like. Grass can be soft, prickly, cold, warm, tall, trimmed, wet with dew or rain, or a thousand other things. The point is, part of the art of poetry is saying as much as you can in as little space as possible - so if you call grass green, you are wasting a chance to hook your reader with a more vivid description. And the same thing goes for sorrowful tears and joyful laughter: the word laughter, by itself, already invokes images of joy, so adding "joyful" to it does nothing. If, however, you use more descriptive phrases, such as "quiet laughter", or "hearty laughter", or "subdued laughter", etc, you will bring a whole new level of depth to your poem.

James: Ah, I think I understand better what you are saying, especially the point about saying as much as possible with as little space as possible. I must ask you more, though, concerning the "sorrowful tears". Context set aside, what adjective describing "tears" would you find most moving, and why?

Ezra: Ah, well, perhaps silent, or perhaps angry, or hidden, or empty, or salty, or regretful, etc. Maybe sorrowful isn't really all that bad, if it fits the context best.

James: I like "silent tears." I think that combination has the most potential.

Ezra: Why, thank you.

James: One last question, Ezra. Out of all the poems you have written, which one is your favorite?

Ezra: Wow. That’s tough. At this point, I’m going to have to say “The Broken Dance”, but there are four or five others that are close runner-ups. For those of you who don’t know, my brother and I have been working on this “colloquy” for about three months now, emailing it back and forth, and adding a paragraph each time. But because I am going out to sea soon, I am going to have to make this my last thought (even though there is still much to be said about the pitfalls of telling).

James: These are sad times. You'll be out at sea and away from communication most of the time until summer! Be sure to write a really sad poem about it. Ezra, thank you for your delightful and enlightening conversation; I hope we can have another one soon.

Comments

For some reason, I feel

For some reason, I feel oddly overwhelmed. :/ I think I often feel that way when writing tips are given...

Aside from that, however, I really liked reading this. I hope you post "The Broken Dance", Ezra. If it's your favorite, I definitely want to read it. :)
**********
"Weddings? I love weddings! Drinks all around!" -Jack Sparrow

Anna | Mon, 10/27/2008

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief

Ditto

Poetry is so hard to explain, and break down into context.
You guys did a great job. It helped me look at poetry differently...
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates?...Morons."
-Vizzini

Clare Marie | Mon, 10/27/2008

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve." -Bilbo Baggins [The Lord of the Rings]

Good thoughts

Especially on the free verse stuff. I don't like free verse particularly, and it annoys me that most publications nowadays only want free verse. Boring...
I tend to stick with mostly typical a-b-a-b or similar rhyming schemes.
So what meter and syllable count does haiku require?
*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
The successful writer of a Fairy Story makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter
~JRR Tolkien

Heather | Mon, 10/27/2008

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
And now our hearts will beat in time/You say I am yours and you are mine...
Michelle Tumes, "There Goes My Love"

Very interesting, I enjoyed

Very interesting, I enjoyed reading this too. I hope you guys write some more stuff like this, it's informative and fun to think on.
Many points you mention I applaud - such as the "green grass." One thought I had was that the different forms of poetry is useful for getting across different purposes. When I write a poem, I set out with a story or thought or emotion or purpose that I want the reader (and/or myself) to better understand. So, sometimes a certain form fits it one purpose over another (eg. maybe more structured verse for conveying an old- or other-worldly element, haiku for that lovely surprise descriptive element, free verse for more interpretive/modern elements or emotions, etc.) I've always loved Dickinson for her short, almost child-like, innocent verses for conveying deep spiritual contemplations of death and life; and likewise adored Tennyson's more flowery but still structured poetry that explored medieval legends.
I think art is difficult to define within poetry because it is much more a linguistic/intellectual than visual/emotional tool. I mean, it is art, but it is also a tool. Interesting to think about.
And ppppllllllbbbbbb :p for making me feel old with your other post Ezra! ;) lol, post-graduate. I shall forever be a student at heart ;) I hope you are able to have some writing time while you're at sea Ezra, I shall be sad not to read anymore Ellyra's song for awhile.
And James, whats this novel you're working on? ;)

Christa | Mon, 10/27/2008

I've read little bits and

I've read little bits and pieces of James' novel - it's extraordinary.

And I'm only 1.5 years from post grad myself ;)

Ezra | Tue, 10/28/2008

"There are no great men of God. There are only pitiful, sorry men whose God is great beyond measure." - Paul Washer [originally Jonathan Edwards]

I'd like to read that, too.

I'd like to read that, too. :)
What's it about?

**********
"Weddings? I love weddings! Drinks all around!" -Jack Sparrow

Anna | Tue, 10/28/2008

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief

Good points all of them. I

Good points all of them. I think that poetry is very good for your mind. Not that story writers are stupid, but I think that poetry makes your mind work harder. All round, very good!

"Inconceivable!!"-Vizzini

The Brit | Wed, 10/29/2008

I would definitely agree -

I would definitely agree - actually, I think that writing poetry helps with story writing skills. No writer should be entirely devoted to just the one or the other.

Ezra | Wed, 10/29/2008

"There are no great men of God. There are only pitiful, sorry men whose God is great beyond measure." - Paul Washer [originally Jonathan Edwards]

True

Yes, it all helps to round and make a better writer. I wish I could write more stories, but for some reason it's actually harder for me. I think it has something to do with frustration and lack of patience. After I start a story I always think later that it is pointless and isn't going anywhere. I want to write some books that are really making a point and getting out there. This is something I can do for God and also enjoy. I just wish I knew more.

"Inconceivable!!"-Vizzini

The Brit | Thu, 10/30/2008

You should try short stories

You should try short stories - that may help a little.

Ezra | Thu, 10/30/2008

"There are no great men of God. There are only pitiful, sorry men whose God is great beyond measure." - Paul Washer [originally Jonathan Edwards]

Yeah

Yeah, but I like to talk and short stories don't allow me to do that! Oh well, I guess I'll just have to get over it! Do you have a suggestion for a story? I'd like to know if you do.

"Inconceivable!!"-Vizzini

The Brit | Thu, 10/30/2008

About that Novel

Wow, seems I joined this conversation a bit late. A couple of you asked about the novel I'm working on, and there's been some discussion of writing stories. Well, I am indeed working on writing a story. It takes place in a fictional fantasy world that is much like our own (other than the fantasy elements). I've developed much of the story and much of the world (including geography and maps); but actually writing the story has been a challenge, due to the fact that I've never written a good tale before, and I'm trying to perfect my writing style. I'm also a terrible perfectionist; I'll write something and not be satisfied with it. But I am working on it, nonetheless. And when I've made significant headway, I hope to start posting it here.

James | Thu, 10/30/2008

<><~~~~~~~~~~~~><>
"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle

Yay!

I can't wait to read it! I love fantasy. And you're a really good writer, so any novel you write will most likely be wonderful too. :)

And I can't ever write short stories either... the only relatively short writing I've ever done (poems don't count) is The Villain's Guide, and a creative writing assignment for school. (I have loathed the assignment ever since...)

**********
"Weddings? I love weddings! Drinks all around!" -Jack Sparrow

Anna | Thu, 10/30/2008

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief

I'm glad you agree. Short

I'm glad you agree. Short stories are just too, well, short.
I would say something about the novel, except I haven't read much of your stuff so I don't know what to look forward to. What ever it is, though, I'm sure it's going to be great.

"Inconceivable!!"-Vizzini

The Brit | Thu, 10/30/2008

To Ezra

What do you think about writing a story about a woman who went mad after her husband and daughter died. She carries the daughter's doll around and sits silently in a rocking chair. Then someone finds out that it was actually her who killed them by accident. It all sounds absolutely terrible, but I like psychiatric studies and I thought it might be fun to write. Please, tell me what you think.

"Inconceivable!!"-Vizzini

The Brit | Thu, 10/30/2008

Hmm. That is creepy.

Hmm. That is creepy. Interestingly enough, however, it sounds allot like short story material. Short stories usually don't have much time for character development, but as such can focus on making powerful points - which would fit a psycho analysis kind of story. Read the open boat by Stephen Crain; it's a good example (I think). You still get a feeling of character depth, because writing a short story is the art of inferring a lot with few words.

Ezra | Thu, 10/30/2008

"There are no great men of God. There are only pitiful, sorry men whose God is great beyond measure." - Paul Washer [originally Jonathan Edwards]

Okay

Okay, that sounds right to me. I never really had gone any farther with this story other than to think about it. I will attempt to write it, then I'll ask for you correction.
Open Boat? That sounds vaguely familiar. I wonder where I've heard of it. Oh well, I'll read it anyway if it's about psychos. I have never actually done much research on the subject, but I need to.
Hey, I'm confused, what part of the military are you in? I read something about the merchant marines, but I am ashamed to say I don't know what that is.
I thought at the end of this thing you said that you were going somewhere. I'm confused. Would you explain.

"Inconceivable!!"-Vizzini

The Brit | Fri, 10/31/2008

I guess I left the wrong

I guess I left the wrong impression about the open boat - it's not about psychos, but rather about the struggle of four men on a life raft in the Mediterranean. It's a really good example of subtle but pungent characterization. I am assuming that if the mad lady you mentioned is going to be the central character of your story, she will also have to have a side to her that the reader can identify - a struggle, I guess.

As to the Merchant Marine Academy, it's sort of the "red-headed stepchild" of the service academies. It's allot like the Naval Academy, but smaller, and with some other key differences. We are required to sail for a total of 300 days before we can get our commission, diploma, and sailing license. I'm about to head out in order to complete that requirement. I'll be joining my ship in Singapore in about two weeks.

Ezra | Fri, 10/31/2008

"There are no great men of God. There are only pitiful, sorry men whose God is great beyond measure." - Paul Washer [originally Jonathan Edwards]

Oh, people stranded at sea

Oh, people stranded at sea is always fun. For my school literature, I had to read Pride and Prejudice, because Jane Austen did a lot of characterization on the people she is writing about. I wrote a paper on Mr. Collins for it, and it was so much fun. I like to laugh at stupid people, which is a terrible thing to say.
On the mad lady (I need to give her a name, we can't just keep calling her "mad lady") I think I need to do a little perspective work.

Your going to Singapore?! Say hello to Jack Sparrow for me! You are going for 300 hundred day?! Whatever for? What do you do after that?

"Oh. Oh, yeah. It sounded like an absolute BURK asking a lot of dumb questions." 101 Dalmatians (Horris)

The Brit | Fri, 10/31/2008

Hopefully submarines with

Hopefully submarines with the navy - but that's hard to get into.

Ezra | Sat, 11/01/2008

"There are no great men of God. There are only pitiful, sorry men whose God is great beyond measure." - Paul Washer [originally Jonathan Edwards]

I couldn't do submarines, I

I couldn't do submarines, I would get claustrophbic. Why did you choose the Marchant Marines? Why not the Army, or the regular Navy?
Also, when are you leaving?
I know this is really random, but how do you feel about Sarah Palin? I like her stands and the fact the she's done all these things, but I don't really like the way she puts herself across. I think she's just so cheerleader-ish (yes, I just made up that word.
I really like John McCain, of course he has his faults too. I think it's sad though, because he is going to get so run down if he becomes President. Look at what it's down to Goerge Bush.

"....So we're all men of our word, really, except Elizabeth who is in fact a woman." Captain Jack Sparrow

The Brit | Sun, 11/02/2008

I'm just training with the

I'm just training with the merchant marines (it's better training). Then I'll be going Navy when I graduate.

I'm not a big fan of McCain, but his foreign policy (among other things) is worlds better that Obama's.

Ezra | Mon, 11/03/2008

"There are no great men of God. There are only pitiful, sorry men whose God is great beyond measure." - Paul Washer [originally Jonathan Edwards]

....

Navy is good. My brother tried to joy the Army or Marines (he's in really good shape--huge arms) and they said they couldn't take him. He was born with something wrong in his ear that limits his hearing (he probably wouldn't want me to tell you that). It's really wierd too, because sings beautifully, and has perfect pitch. It made him so sad, and he is still depressed about it. He had been counting on going in the military forever. I can understand why they turned him away-it would be dangerous for others, but it still seems a shame.

You didn't answer me about Sarah Palin or when you're leaving!

Guess what! I have to play a boy for a church canatata.

"....So we're all men of our word, really, except Elizabeth who is in fact a woman." Captain Jack Sparrow

The Brit | Mon, 11/03/2008

What's the youtube thing? Is

What's the youtube thing? Is it a Sarah Palin video or something?

"....So we're all men of our word, really, except Elizabeth who is in fact a woman." Captain Jack Sparrow

The Brit | Tue, 11/04/2008

It's a debate - check it

It's a debate - check it out.

Ezra | Tue, 11/04/2008

"There are no great men of God. There are only pitiful, sorry men whose God is great beyond measure." - Paul Washer [originally Jonathan Edwards]

Oh! You mean the one with

Oh! You mean the one with Biden? I go look at in a minute. I'm hungry.

"....So we're all men of our word, really, except Elizabeth who is in fact a woman." Captain Jack Sparrow

The Brit | Tue, 11/04/2008

So...

... I've taken forever and three days to get around to reading this, but I finally have read it in its entirety.

Inspiring. :)

I'm off to write a poem.
-----
“The venerable dead are waiting in my library to entertain me and relieve me from the nonsense of surviving mortals.”
- Samuel Davies

Kyleigh | Tue, 05/12/2009

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