Last night, while reading a book on writing poetry, I discovered that in this beautiful poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, he had placed exactly five stressed words per line. I checked it for myself, and was amazed. It had never struck me before, the difference it makes, and I now want to go back to my old poems and see if what I consider my better ones, have a similar discipline in the stressed words. I have a feeling they will.
After reading two chapters of the book, I felt almost obliged to do some writing, and this is what I came up with.
I happen to write poetry for unsuspecting hearts
and tug them quite unknowingly down half forgotten roads.
Will my words remind you of what you were and weren't?
What you left behind you, or what you left unsaid?
(written on 6 August 2009, 11.20 p.m.)
Another thing I learnt yesterday from this book, was that in English, words tend to be either Latinate (e.g. residence, embrace) or Germanic (e.g. house, hug) and that there is a different flavour to each: the Latinate can sound more philosophical or highbrow, the Germanic more familiar and comfortable. Looking at my poem now, I'm wondering now if the first part is more Latinate and the second part Germanic.
I've never studied poetry this way before - as in looking at form, technique, metre. I find it fascinating. Perhaps good poetry needs to be more than personal expression and fancy words, to be an art form. A lot of my earlier poems - and perhaps most people's early poems - are an outpouring of teenage angst: all expression, but very little technique, that keeps them from becoming really good poems.
I used to think that a poem was a poem and that once you wrote it down, that was it. Then a friend and fellow writer shared this gem with me: poems, like any other form of writing, do need need editing and refining. That made a difference in the quality of the poems I presented (thank you, Rory!) and now, with this new book and what I learn from it, I hope to go further. Could it be that the challenge of structure, of fitting the rights words into the right places - without sacrificing expression - is perhaps what makes some poems stand out, and others remain in the pages of a teenager's diary?
I'm excited by all this! So you may see some of my older poetry reworked and re-presented here on the blog. And, I hope, more and more new poetry. If you like what you read, send your friends this way, share my work with others. That's the whole point.
And if you have written poetry, scrawled in an old school notebook, dig it out! You may find that an old, possibly somewhat embarrassing piece of poetry is really just the seed of something greater. And write on, write on .. keep writing. You don't need to wait for angst before you pick up your pen.