Sunday 12 June 2011

Reading the meter

Since completing The Genie Within, I've done my usual thing: absolutely nothing. I become so utterly involved and engrossed in a project that when it's done it's almost impossible for me to immediately switch to something else. So it has been for the past week or so, although when I say 'nothing' I really mean that I've not been writing any more poetry. Instead I read a book and bought several more, most of which will be forever neglected on my shelves - I buy far more books than I will ever read, and in fact reading one of them is a major achievement for me. I read all day, but usually I graze on short article 'snacks' from various blogs and news sites.

While doing 'nothing' I do, however, take plenty of notes because I find that I'm constantly coming up with new ideas and fragments of story which may or may not be useful. If all of those fragments became full-blown poems/stories I'd have written half a dozen books by now - this year. But of course that's not how these things work. I make notes, notes, notes until one day one of those notes flicks a switch and turns into a poem.

Today might be one of those days when that begins to happen, so I thought it might be interesting to document when and how it happened. It's sometimes difficult to know where ideas come from, although often I'm looking at an image and something simply presents itself. This is why I visit the DeviantArt site so often. It is my primary source for inspiration, simply because there is such a vast quantity, ever-increasing, of strange and unexpected pictures. But this idea didn't come from there. It just popped up and jabbed me in the brain, as if from nowhere.

First, some background:

I like to experiment with meter. I have never studied poetry, and in fact came to it only relatively recently, but I know that my own poems don't get started until I've identified the correct meter and rhyming scheme for each one. In fact I've abandoned poems after as many as a dozen verses because the meter was either too inflexible or just gave the poem the wrong tone. You can't write a horror story with a 'jolly' meter, and you can't write a comic piece when the meter reminds you of a dirge.

The Genie Within has, in each stanza, 7 lines with 15 syllables, followed by an 8th line with only 11, which is used to summarise or emphasise the first 7. Without knowing how to describe the meter (de-dum-de-dum-de-dum is the extent of my powers!), I just know that it felt right and worked well. It seemed to be perfect for the type of story I was writing. A sample:
Seven times the turning seasons thawed the winters into spring,
And to threads of fleeting sanity his mind could scarcely cling.
Thus, encumbered with the madness of a decomposing world,
He returned before the priestess, his barbarity unfurled.
In his eyes were all the cancerous depravities of man,
And his deviant delirium began.
Castles of Carboard, my previous poem, was even more unusual: 9 lines in total, the first line not rhyming with anything at all which is something I've never tried before. The syllables for each line are as follows:
9 --- 9 / 6 / 6 / 9 --- 6 / 6 / 9 / 9
So the lines were divided into that non-rhyming line, followed by 4 lines in which the first+last and middle-two lines rhymed with each other, ending up with two couplets of different length. And it worked perfectly for the story, because for some reason the final line seemed (to me at least) to underline the whole verse with melancholy, which is exactly what I was looking for. Again, I find it hard to know why that is the case. Sometimes I used the last line to reverse everything which had gone before in the previous 8 lines - just when the girl in the story thinks things are improving, the last line brings her back to reality. Here's a sample:
The beach is their pebble-strewn playground
Skipping stones out for miles ’cross the waves
Fair and young, grey and old,
Their adventures are bold,
As they splash in the pools, in the caves.
A warm hand holds her tight
As the day turns to night,
And a crimson sun sets on the sea.
And the flames fade to ash and debris.

For what will be a new poem if it goes beyond this initial stage, all I had were a few words: 'blood and stones and finger bones' and I couldn't tell you where they came from. They just rolled around in my head and eventually I wrote them down, added to them and found this weird couplet, whose meter and rhyming scheme is unusual to say the least:
She rose from a place of blood and stones and shattered bones,
    decayed remains, corroded chains and twisted trees
A night where the wind’s uncanny breath, born out of death,
    blew tortured sighs and frigid cries, with bitter breeze
While writing the second line I was myself so confused by the meter and the positions of the rhymes that I had to divide the thing up into much shorter lines, so:
She rose from a place
  of blood and stones
  and shattered bones,
  decayed remains,
  corroded chains
  and twisted trees

A night where the wind’s
  uncanny breath,
  born out of death,
  blew tortured sighs
  and frigid cries,
  with bitter breeze
It does seem to be much simpler written out like that - it's as if each line is a verse in itself, with a non-rhyming line (5 syllables) followed by two 4-syllable rhyming couplets, and a final 4-syllable line which rhymes with the next verse (actually, the next line when they are put back together).

I don't know how far I'll be able to take this poem. I usually experience some difficulty with ultra-short rhymes (4 syllables in this case) and these two lines are, on reflection, really no more than lists, so it will be interesting to see if I can add a narrative in future lines. Of course I can always add lines which don't follow the same meter/scheme, which may shake things up a little. Oh, and it might help to think of a story for the poem - as I'm writing this I don't have one at all!

While I can't foresee this being a long poem, that is no bad thing. I need to broaden my skills, so a short piece will be just the thing. In fact this overly-long blog will almost certainly be longer than the poem itself, so perhaps I should finish here.

A day later, as I suspected, I have a definite problem: I have no story! I've written more, but the more I've written doesn't have any attachment to anything. I have the beginnings of a character but I don't know who she is and why she exists. So, like many of my ideas, this one is being filed away for now, until I find some place for it/her at some undetermined point in the future.