Creative Writing 101: Insights on Writing Poetry

FOREWORD


Creative Writing 101 articles serve as one of the academic courses in the field of Literary Theory and Literature. The course, which is a fundamental guide within the scope of general knowledge compared to the technical knowledge of Literary Theory and Literature, also addresses students and the general readership alike. With this goal in mind, the author has opted to write the article in very plain and basic English to convey just the necessary understanding of Creative Writing by making the article merely an introduction.


Creative Writing 101 is mainly divided into five chapters including:

- Creative Writing 101: Into the Writer’s Creative Mind: Overview & Dynamics

- Creative Writing 101: Theorizing Creative Writing as a Discipline

- Creative Writing 101: Insights on Writing Poetry

- Creative Writing 101: Insights on Writing Short Stories

- Creative Writing 101: Insights on Writing Novels



The establishment of poetry-writing as a discipline in Creative Writing studies has been subject to multiple experimentations by scholars and poet-teachers at many levels, such as form, vocabulary, syntax, tone, and measure, to enhance the writing/compositional skills of the novice young poets soon to become professional poets. In the third article of the Creative Writing 101 series, the concern will be on elaborating the reflections of well-known poets on writing and composing better poems along with a list of some recommended books related to writing poetry, before drifting to an examination of the dynamics of writing poetry in class, serving as an instance of experiential learning method proposed and applied in poetry-writing class at American universities.


“A poem is analogous to a painting, a piece of sculpture or a musical composition. Its material is language, and often that language will be almost mosaically fitted together, with words as the pieces of the mosaic.” (O'Brien, pp. 196).

The task of composing poetry is not just a simple task as describes Morley (2007), it is rather a whole phenomenon, whereby the poet’s senses and feelings are activated while creating through words what is being visually perceived by the poet. Morley (2007) uses the instance of Wisława Szymborska’s poem “Unwritten poem reviewed” to explain his thoughts on the matter. In her book People on a Bridge: Poems, the Polish poetess Szymborska gives an insightful description of the shadow of a butterfly over her hands, emphasizing, thus, the beauty of eye perception portrayed in the shape of words.


“Nearby a white butterfly flutters in the air

with wings that are wholly his

and the shadow that flies over my hands

is not other, not anyone’s, but his very own.

Seeing such sights I lose my certainty

that what is important

is more important than the unimportant.”

(“Unwritten poem reviewed”, Wisława Szymborska)


Coupled with Morley’s reflection on the writing process of poetry, the British poet O’ Brien (2007) states that the creative process of writing a poem needs to be synchronized by many elements included altogether, such as “rhyme, rhythm and metre, refrains, the stanza, enjambment, local and extended musical effects.” (pp.187). All these elements constitute the form of the poem, and for the form to be coherent, it has to be accompanied as well by “sentence structure and rhetorical devices involving balance, contrast, amplification and repetition.” (O’ Brien, 2007, pp. 187). For instance, poetic form varies from one period to another and can be illustrated in the English sonnet form through Shakespeare’s Sonnets and also in epic poetry such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.



St. Martin’s Press. (1992). [Book Cover of The Art of Poetry Writing: A Guide for Poets, Students and Readers by William Packard]. Bookdepository.com.

https://www.bookdepository.com/Art-Poetry-Writing-William-Packard/9780312076412



The free-verse poem, in contrast to metred poems, is characterized by a deconstructed form following no “fixed patterns of metre and rhyme” (Morley, 2007, pp.205). Nonetheless, the freedom of the poetic verse at the level of form is ornamented by other components like “alliteration, figures of speech and imagery.” (Morley, 2007, pp.205), making it far more difficult to produce than formal and conventional poetic verse. The instance of D.H Lawrence's unmetred poetry referred to by Morley (2007) in accordance with the English poet James Fenton is thought to be far much better than his metred poetry. A Small section of D.H. Lawrence’s poem “Bavarian Gentians” illustrates the effect of the free verse on the reader, showing the brilliance of the poet’s mind behind the words.


“Reach me a gentian, give me a torch

let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of this flower

down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on

blueness,

even where Persephone goes, just now, from the frosted

September

to the sightless realm where darkness is awake upon the dark …”

("Bavarian Gentians", D.H. Lawrence)




Moreover, other instances of free verse poets such as Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot are mentioned by O’Brien (2007) to emphasize the idea of free verse poetry as a non-abandonment of poetic form, but rather a new way of approaching poetry through a modern and unconventional way of composing poetry.

“April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life with dried tubers.”

(The Burial of the Dead, "The Waste Land", T.S. Eliot)


The instance of a small section of T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land” echoes the explanation of O’Brien (2007) when attempting to approach T.S. Eliot’s ideology of Poetry as having a communicative purpose before aiming at being grasped by the reader. In this way, it is important for the poet, according to O’Brien (2007), to play the role of the poet as a reader and not only the poet as a writer, for reading as many poems as possible is considered to be one of the best exercises to do. Morley (2007) advocates the practice of reading poetry out loud— reading other poets’ poems and personal poems, too—up to five poems to be read on daily basis before being able to read any other poet’s collection over a week with no limitation to one single language or one single literary era. The more various and diverse the poems are, the better the poet’s outcome will be while composing. In fact, such exercise for novice poets will pave the way for the betterment of their poetic composition as it will be enhanced by measure, giving another time dimension to their written output, which is thought “to regulate, therefore to institute or control time, to stop time, or to shield objects from the effects of time.” (Kunin, 2007, pp. 221).



Oxford University Press. (2007). [Book Cover of Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes]. Bookdepository.com. https://www.bookdepository.com/Oxford-Dictionary-Rhymes-Oxford-University-Press/9780192806888



To give an illustration of the importance of the measurement of the poetic form by time in contemporary poetry, Challis (2018) explores one of the British poet Sean O’Brien’s poem noir, entitled “Hammersmith”, whereby imagination is examined by “matters which seem separable from each other in the waking world, such as historical and political facts and actual places, and the forms and locations they assume in reverie, personal impressions and memories, the known and the dreamed, merge, shift and re-combine.” O’Brien plays with time by quickening it through the use of long sentences before shortening time again through the use of shorter sentences, emphasizing its impact on one’s past, one’s present moment, and one’s consciousness.


“Oh loneliness, your name is Hammersmith.

The river fills again, the barges wake and shift

On skating blackness. Now would be the time

To find her coming to the dance

Among a crowd of other girls, the time to know

This room, the empty stairs, the empty street,

The high tide of the gale,

As an annunciation…

(“Hammersmith”, Sean O’Brien)


The poem noir becomes, thus, the embodiment of the dark reality of the poet’s world, a poetic version of the Film Noir, as describes Challis (2018), treating common people who find themselves driven to experience particular situations, most of the time inspired by criminal themes, leading thus to an identity crisis and a requestioning of the self that may trigger personality change.



Greene, R., Cushman, S., Cavanagh, C., Ramazani, J., Rouzer, P., Feinsod, H., Marno, D., & Slessarev, A. (2012, August 26). [Book Cover of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics: Fourth Edition]. Https://Press.Princeton.Edu. https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691154916/the-princeton-encyclopedia-of-poetry-and-poetics



As a reaction to the frustration and struggle of his Creative Writing students expressed throughout the compositional process of writing poems in class, the American poet Jake Adam York proposed to experiment with a well-known method already used by psychologists and neuroscientists in the learning process of language, and which enhances the learning of composing high-quality poems. York (2008) explains that the task duration varies from five up to nine hours and the work has to be done in a media lab, where audio and video editing equipment will be used by Creative Writing students, for they are invited to record themselves uttering and reading words from poems they are still composing and look at the sound variations of language through “a continuous stream of sound with peaks and valleys and silences of various degrees.” (York, 2007, pp.25). In these terms, what students are supposed to learn from such poetry-writing exercise is to feel and experience the words through a phonotext in order to be able to explore language while composing their poems, highlighting thus, “its sonic and its graphic, not just its semantic – dimension.” (York, 2007, pp.23). After the experience of poetic composition at the lab, York (2008) returns with the students to class, where the following task is to compose without the audio, but rather with the use of other reading materials, such as texts of the writer Tristan Tzara. The students are free to cut, search for and play with words, found already in the texts, as far as they help them complete their poems. Such experiential exercise of poetic composition proposed by York aims to boost the creativity of the students, inciting them to be further stimulated to write and compose.



Oxford University Press. (2006). [Book Cover of The Poetry Handbook by John Lennard (2nd Edition)]. Amazon.co.uk. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Poetry-Handbook-John-Lennard/dp/0199265380



All things considered, the poetry-writing discipline as part of Creative Writing studies is still experimented to find suitable practices of the poetic composition both taught and learned in class. The challenge for such discipline is to promote better poets, who are gifted writers predisposed initially to become professional poets, and so to keep on searching for novel pedagogic methods for such areas of expertise. No matter how advanced the Creative Writing students are, there are certain rules within the discipline of poetic composition to stick to and bear in mind, that of the poetic form and language, going hand in hand together to construct good poems regardless of their genres—poem noir, free verse poem, sonnet, epic poem, and other poetic genres. More Insights on poetry and poetry-writing are at the core of recommended readings, such as The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms [2nd edition] (2007) and Writing Poems by Michelle Boisseau, Robert Wallace, and Randall Mann [7th edition] (2008).



Image Sources


Greene, R., Cushman, S., Cavanagh, C., Ramazani, J., Rouzer, P., Feinsod, H., Marno, D., & Slessarev, A. (2012, August 26). [Book Cover of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics: Fourth Edition]. Https://Press.Princeton.Edu. https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691154916/the-princeton-encyclopedia-of-poetry-and-poetics


Oxford University Press. (2006). [Book Cover of The Poetry Handbook by John Lennard (2nd Edition)]. Amazon.co.uk. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Poetry-Handbook-John-Lennard/dp/0199265380


Oxford University Press. (2007). [Book Cover of Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes]. Bookdepository.com. https://www.bookdepository.com/Oxford-Dictionary-Rhymes-Oxford-University-Press/9780192806888


St. Martin’s Press. (1992). [Book Cover of The Art of Poetry Writing: A Guide for Poets, Students and Readers by William Packard]. Bookdepository.com. https://www.bookdepository.com/Art-Poetry-Writing-William-Packard/9780312076412



References


Challis, J. (2018, October 24). Permanent Afternoons: The Underworld in the Poetry of Sean O’Brien. Https://Wildcourt.Co.Uk. Retrieved November 24, 2021, from https://wildcourt.co.uk/features/permanent-afternoons-underworld-poetry-sean-obrien/


Challis, J. (n.d.). The Poem Noir. Https://Poetryschool.Com. Retrieved November 24, 2021, from https://poetryschool.com/new-courses/the-poem-noir/


Corbett, B. (2013, October). People on a Bridge (Poetry) by Wislawa Szymborska. Http://Faculty.Webster.Edu. Retrieved November 24, 2021, from http://faculty.webster.edu/corbetre/personal/reading/szymborska-people.html


Greene, R., Cushman, S., Cavanagh , C., Ramazani , J., Rouzer, P., Feinsod, H., Marno, D., & Slessarev, A. (Eds.). (2012). enjambment. In The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (4th ed., pp. 435–436). Princeton University Press. Retrieved November 22, 2021, from https://cloudflare-ipfs.com/ipfs/bafykbzaceah6fu4uxxtnp5pbdtjjbhrgwi3ycnj4etf22ctgi7kb4rw27dqpg?filename=%28Princeton%20reference%29%20Ramazani%2C%20Jahan_%20Feinsod%2C%20Harris_%20Slessarev%2C%20Alexandra_%20Rouzer%2C%20Paul%20F._%20Cavanagh%2C%20Clare_%20Greene%2C%20Roland_%20Cushman%2C%20Stephen_%20Marno%2C%20David%20-%20The%20Princeton%20Encyclopedia%20of%20Poetry%20an.pdf.


Greene, R., Cushman, S., Cavanagh , C., Ramazani , J., Rouzer, P., Feinsod, H., Marno, D., & Slessarev, A. (Eds.). (2012). form. In The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (4th ed., pp. 497–499). Princeton University Press. Retrieved November 22, 2021, from https://cloudflare-ipfs.com/ipfs/bafykbzaceah6fu4uxxtnp5pbdtjjbhrgwi3ycnj4etf22ctgi7kb4rw27dqpg?filename=%28Princeton%20reference%29%20Ramazani%2C%20Jahan_%20Feinsod%2C%20Harris_%20Slessarev%2C%20Alexandra_%20Rouzer%2C%20Paul%20F._%20Cavanagh%2C%20Clare_%20Greene%2C%20Roland_%20Cushman%2C%20Stephen_%20Marno%2C%20David%20-%20The%20Princeton%20Encyclopedia%20of%20Poetry%20an.pdf.


Kunin, A. (2007). New Poetries. In S. Earnshaw (Ed.), The Handbook of Creative Writing (pp. 211–228). Edinburgh University Press.


Morley, D. (2007). Writing Poetry. In The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing (pp. 194–214). Cambridge University Press.


O’Brien, S. (2007). Introduction to Poetry. In S. Earnshaw (Ed.), The Handbook of Creative Writing (pp. 183–198). Edinburgh University Press.


Poetry Foundation. (n.d.). The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. Poetryfoundation.Org. Retrieved November 24, 2021, from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47311/the-waste-land


The Poetry Archive. (n.d.). Bavarian Gentians by D.H. Lawrence. Https://Poetryarchive.Org. Retrieved November 23, 2021, from https://poetryarchive.org/poem/bavarian-gentians/


York, J. A. (2008). Let Stones Speak: New Media Remediation in the Poetry Writing Classroom. In G. Harper & J. Kroll (Eds.), Creative Writing Studies Practice, Research and Pedagogy (pp. 21–35). Multilingual Matters Ltd.




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Neyra Behi

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