A Guide to Poetry: Ouroboros

And we come at last to the end of the poetry guide. But, because of the nature of blogging, where the newest posts are typically read first, it’s also the introduction. (I’ll be sporadically posting the updated, final versions of the poems I composed on the fly in a series of anthology posts, too.)

As I’ve said before, the guide was for myself, more than anything else, as I can only seem to properly learn something pragmatically! However, I hope other people find it useful. It’s not hugely extensive – I’ve focused mainly on Western forms, with the exception of the ghazal, as I’m finding Indian and Japanese rhythms harder to adapt to – when I have a better grasp on them, I may come up with a sequel.

One thing that’s come through in the feedback is I should have had a word on what syllables actually typically are stressed and unstressed. It’s not something that speaks for itself, and newcomers to English scansion are likely going to find it as difficult as I did. So, a general rule of thumb:

– Nouns are stressed. “Ball”, “game”, “Pete”, “fridge”.

– Action verbs are usually stressed. “Run”, “play”, “throw”, “catch”.

– Linking verbs, if you like, are usually unstressed. “Be”, “is”, “was”, “do”.

– Conjunctions are unstressed. “But”, “and”, “or”.

– Prepositions are unstressed. “By”, “on”.

– Pronouns may or may not be. This is all about context but, to be honest, nobody is going to jump on your back if you use them either way. You can treat them like jokers in a pack of cards if you’re having trouble.

– For words with more than one syllable, you’ll have to sound it out. For example, the word “castle” has two syllables, and it’s pronounced “CAS-ul”, so the stress is on the first syllable. Otherwise you’d say it “cas-TEL” or something. Sometimes there’ s a primary and a secondary stressed syllable, and an example of this can be found in the world itself: “SIL-la-bul”. Whether or not you stress one or the other or both will depend on the overall context and metre of the poem.

For a more scholarly and learned guide to stress, one would be well advised to read Dr Johnson on the subject.

What have we learned, children?

Whether or not we’ve been conditioned to recoil from mathematical impositions upon poetry or not by some kind of “art is subjective” meme, it seems to me that amateur, alternative or underground poetry is usually characterised by a lack of metre and form. Free verse now seems the default for a lot of people.

Which I generally think is a shame. The metres and forms discussed below are the result of thousands and thousands of years of experimentation. Why would we want to get rid of them?

Especially when the result seems to have been uniformly shit poetry. Generally, the thing I’ve picked up from constraining myself to a scansion, even a lose one, is that keeping to a framework narrows your options and forces your brain to come up with something better. The framework slices off cliche and cuts down on laziness. It’s very much like a workout for your mind. There’s nothing inherently wrong with writing in free verse, but you should learn the rules before you decide whether or not you want to break them instead of being the 10,000th Bukowski wannabe.

Bukowski, incidentally, made sure he had a rich and studious knowledge of poetry, a knowledge that far outstrips my own, before he wrote in free verse. That’s why the people who inspired him are incredible; he himself is very, very good; and the people he inspired… well, I wouldn’t piss on them if they were on fire, and neither would he.

So, without further ado, here is the Guide to Poetry in its (thus far) entireity:

A Guide To Poetry

1. Foot, Metrics, Prosody and Scansion

1.1 General Overview

1.2 Anglophonic metrics

1.3 Romance Languages

1.4 Classical languages

2. Verse Forms

2.1 Sestina

2.2 Villanelle

2.3 Pantoum

2.4 English Sonnet

2.5 Rondelet

2.6 Italian Sonnet

2.7 Pushkin Sonnet

Experimental Intermission

3.1. Iambic pentameter stanzas

2. Verse Forms

2.8 Terza Rima

2.9 Ghazal

2.10 Sea Shanty

2.11 Sapphics


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Laurence Thompson

Laurence Thompson is an English writer. He is almost certainly drunk.

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