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Senile Tips on the Craft

Saturday, 25 February 2023 at 12:57

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  Senile Tips on the Craft 1

When you write a new poem go through the verbs you've used and see if you can use something more dynamic than the verb "to be." See if you can do something more than simply state.

Senile Tips on Craft 2

Somebody warned against the injudicious use of adverbs. However, the wonderful Kit Wright, with whom I share a birthday and with whom I had lunch two months ago, manages to make an extraordinary light poem where adverbs are all important.


The Orbison Consolations

Only the lonely
Know the way you feel tonight?
Surely the poorly
Have some insight?
Oddly, the godly
Also might,
And slowly the lowly
Will learn to read you right.

Simply the pimply
Have some idea.
Quaintly the saintly
Have got quite near.
Quickly the sickly
And prob’ly the knobbly
Look deep into your eyes.
Rumly, the comely
Will understand.
Shortly the portly
Will take your hand.

Early the surly
Dispraised and panned,
But lately the stately
Have joined your saraband.
Only the lonely
Know the way you feel tonight?
Singly the tingly
Conceive your plight,
But doubly the bubbly
Fly your kite…
And lastly the ghastly
Know the way you feel tonight.

Senile Tips on Craft 3

If a poem doesn't seem to work leave it in your notebook and go back to it. One poem I wrote in 1975 and found it filed away last year. I recalled the feelings of dissatisfaction that I had with it and the place where I began to compose it my head on an excursion with a class of eleven-year olds to playing fields in Raynes Park next to a pair of gasholders. It didn't seem so bad and a little bit of editing my "I think ..." "I feel ...", in fact anything that referred to an unnecessary first person, improved the poem no end. I edited the title, too.
So you don't have to wait nearly fifty years, but perhaps fifty days will give your poem a different lustre.

Senile Tips on the Craft 4

I use full rhymes occasionally, but I always look for an opportunity to slant rhyme either with consonance or assonance. They both create a musical element to run through a whole poem which I hope acts at a subliminal level to bind a poem together more than a narrative can. Moreover, such rhyme can push a reader towards feeling new relationships in meaning.

Senile Tips on the Craft 5

Line in a poem for me is equivalent to a sentence or a fully formed phrase. It's the ostinato for a whole poem and doesn't have to be the first or last line, but establishes both the rhythm (not metre) and the sound pattern of a whole poem.
From time to time over the last fifty-four years I've written poems where eac hstanza consists of just one sentence and a number of my poems have only one sentence. It's a useful way of accumulating tension and building towards an emotional climax.

Senile Tips on the Craft 6

Poetryis a formal art. Nevertheless, poets are strongly attracted to the random and irrational, especially weird belief systems; the phases of the moon, the White Goddess, Wicca, Roman Catholicism, High Anglicanism, the Kabbala and so on. I will confess to dabbling in astrology and can cast and interpret horoscopes. Part of me concedes that it's all complete bollocks and part of me finds, pace Yeats, that it's useful for generating metaphors. So my tip is for poets to live double lives. Be absolutely sceptical, yet intensely curious about what seems to have no basis in fact with the rider that you have no truck with evil such as racism and never advocate "the necessary murder."

Senile Tips on the Craft 7

Try writing a poem where there are stanzas consisting of one or two sentences only.The mechanical tasks of making sure there isn't excessive enjambement in your phrasing, that each line on its own makes sense and organizing the individual sounds I find impart a rhythmic energy to the poem and advance the argument of the whole poem.

I'm copying the poem I posted yesterday as an example:


The yarrow, the bulrush, the burdock
the long-stemmed wheatgrass, a single iris
leaning like one of the paparazzi
for an exclusive front page shot
line the path either side of a girl running
as though she might be dreaming she escapes
the applause of a crowd round the centre court
at Wimbledon or tiers of calculating eyes
intent on catwalks in Paris or Milan
or the fans held back by bodyguards
from the red carpet at an Oscar ceremony.

Ten years from now those long legs will turn heads
on the Nevsky Prospekt, in Harrods’
or the lobby of the George V hotel.
But now she runs because supper has been called
or to see a new litter of kittens
in a shoebox or Pappa has come home
from the city with jokes, chocolate,
some gloves Mama tries not to look pleased about
or a silly hat for her that she’ll pull faces under
and no thought for the future except that it’s a word
that belongs in school and a boring grammar lesson.

Senile Tips on the Craft 8

Poetry, like music, depends on repetition. Listen to a symphony, Tchaikovsky is a straightforward and often tedious example, and count how many repetitions there are of the main theme in the first movement. Listen to a pop song and bore yourself silly doing the same. Listen to your little grandson banging a drum as did John Fuller and close your study door and write the poem.
Rhythm is inventive repetition. Refrains, metre, rhyme, puns, alliteration, assonance, stanza forms are obvious examples of inventive repetition. Household pets repeating a trick they've learned to confirm their bond with you do it. Even educated fleas do it.
So when going through that beloved first draft look out for ways you can be inventively repetitive. It strengthens what you wish to communicate in a poem,not necessarily overtly, but subliminally (as your readers don't notice at first) like the roots of what you've planted in your garden in November.

Senile Tips on the Craft 9

Ezra Pound's famous haiku-like poem bears out the point I made in the previous Senile Tip and demonstrates another.

"The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough."

Apart from the repetition in the alliteration of the unvoiced and voices plosives 'p' and 'b,' there is a significant organisation of vowels and consonants in terms of how harmonious the mouth of the speaker of the might look especially in the second line the internal rhyme of "pet .." and "wet"stretches one's lips into what could look like a smile twice and is overlapped by the lip rounding required to pronounce "w" and the closing vowel in "bough." It's quite symmetrical and could be pleasing for the listener to watch. There's also facial harmony in poetry.

Senile Tips on the Craft 10

After what looks like an almost satisfactory poem why not see if it can be made even more satisfactory by seeing if it can be organised into regular verses? It might mean one or two run-ons into a following verse, but it is pleasing to the eye. Peter Redgrove once told me that if a poem looks good on the page then the chances are that the poem is good. Make sure, though, that either the first or last verse or both are self-sufficient. Visual neatness is not always a sign of an OCD personality.

Senile Tips of the Craft 11.

When you've got what you think is a reasonable poem, with a killer last line and having murdered that lovely bit of distracting alliteration, then it's time to truly craft a poem. Poetry is a formal art and if there is a rhyme scheme or stanza pattern you should try and see if it can be achieved. Couplets are often there begging to stalk down the catwalk. A sonnet is longing to kick aside that unnecessary line.

Senile Tips on the Craft 12

If you can construe the sense of your poem exactly in prose, then it's verse not a poem (a thing made.) A poem is both a semantic construct and a musical composition and the latter quality entails that it communicates more feeling than can be construed from the parsing of its language. Natural language is vague and there was an article on this some time ago in Poetry Review by Jack Underwood. The article is unsatisfactory in some ways, but nobody else has had is intuition, so I recommend it as a starting point. Wittgenstein famously observed that poetry was the enemy of language and Frege wanted an artificial language where every predicate was unambiguous. There's a poem to be made in the Zbigniew Herbert or Miroslav Holub manner on linguistic paradoxes which arise from vagueness. I like the classical one where adding a single hair to a bald man still means that he's bald. Therefore, all men must be bald as we don't know how much hair is required to stop a man being bald.

Senile Tips on the Craft 13

dedicated to Judi Sutherland.

Nearly forty years ago Carole Ann Duffy ticked me off in a review of my pamphlet of poems on Libya for producing a few unsayable (or unspeakable if you want a rude double entendre) lines in a sonnet.
I had clogged lines with far too much alliteration so that they sounded more like a splutter than human speech.
I had quite simply forgotten to read the poem aloud to myself enough times to realize that the curly-headed little darling was running around the parlour of my imagination banging a drum and blowing raspberries and that this wasn't charming behaviour.
Poems may be sound in limb and in possession of all their faculties, but they have to be taught how to earn the respect, if not love, of their readers. Checking that its sound doesn't hinder the understanding of a poem is a necessary part of the craft.

Senile Tips on the Craft 14

This is the last of them and is not on how to compose or revise a poem or how to get published although I've been told that the most useful activity of a Poetry lecturer on the Creative Writing staff at university is telling would-be poets how to get published. I'm too cynical to advise you on that. "Do what you have to do" as those complicit in crimes tell their perpetrators.
However,if you want to continue pushing your gift over the hills and far away, then learn something of a foreign language or two and have a definitive bilingual edition of that language's best poets, for example, Jonathan Galassi's Montale, Keeley and Sherrard's Seferis, Trueblood's Machado, Hamburger's German Poetry1910 to 1975.
Suffuse your inner ear with the sound of poetry of a foreign language. It casts a shadow which throws into brilliant relief the sounds and forms of the language that you write in. At this time Anglophone poetry desperately needs to be open to other languages.

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