The necklace of poetry

The Necklace of Poetry.

The nature of poetry is the subject of endless debate. How do we know poetry when we see it? There have been times when the shape of a piece of writing or the number of lines or syllables or even the way lines rhymed with each other were all hailed as the hallmark of poetry.

However, time has erased one hallmark after another though we acknowledge that poetry still exists. Is it possible to learn lessons from the past, distil the essence of previous attempts at definition and come up with a new and better statement of the nature of this form of writing?

As a minimum, I suggest, a poem must have the structure of a necklace. There must be some central thread which holds all other components together in such a way that readers recognize the result as poetry.

As with any necklace there is an almost endless variety of shapes, sounds and subjects that can be assembled on the thread. The thread itself, though, is not endless. Though there may always be more thread available, the thread the writer is currently working on ends at some point that the writer, and only the writer, decides. That is not to say, of course, that every reader will agree with the author’s decision on where and why the poem ends. But, though we may disagree with the poet’s decision we have to accept it.

Only the maker knows when he has made what he set out to make. Only s/he knows the end they saw when they started on the journey. It is possible that the originator of a poem can see a new goal when they are part way towards an earlier one; when they do this they create a new poem, not finish the old.

Poetry must also, I suggest, have words as part of its essential make up. Sound without words may be music of some sort but it isn’t poetry. The words in a poem may, perhaps should, make music but they can also be discordant yet still be poetry.

On the other hand, I think that poetry and music must have some sort of rhythm if they are to justify their name. The rhythm can, especially these days, be jumbled or dissonant but there has to be some pattern to it if it is to contribute to the making of a poem. It can, of course, do much more than just that. In a poem like Alfred Noyes’ ‘the highwayman’ the rhythm of the work is what brings the scene and the activities to life.

I also think that it is possible that poetry may be made stronger if it has a musical element in its sounds, both consonants and vowels contributing to the impact of the whole image on the reader.

In a reproduction of the same elements of production poetry might be likened to a necklace. Necklaces and their components can be, perhaps most usually are, smooth and symmetrical. But they can also be jagged, chunky and variable in size and colour,
affecting the senses, particularly the aural sense in the same way as painting, photography and the like affect vision.

For me one of the endlessly interesting things about poetry is that it sets out to touch our feelings and emotions rather than our thoughts or established ways of life yet in doing so it often stirs us to think about some aspect of life from a completely new perspective. Necklaces can do that, too. Seeing your wife, girlfriend or even your favourite TV star wearing a new necklace can make you see them in a completely different way.

And that, really, is what we’re trying to do when we write poetry. We want our readers to see what is, perhaps, a most familiar element of their daily life in a completely different way. When that happens we know we’ve written poetry.


Poems and “A Poem”


I know this is boasting but I think it’s worth a boast: I have today learned that for the hundreth time this calendar year one of my poems has been accepted for publication. To celebrate, here’s a poem of mine about –
A Poem

Unlike troubles, poems come single spy,
not in battalions. A shadow meanders

the byways of the mind, contemplates
the hedgerows, picks wild word posies,
pokes in memory’s ditches, crams its pockets
with noun nuts and verb berries,
makes its way to the uplands,
spreads a clean cloth,
tips out its hoard
and makes patterns with it.

At first it tries too hard,
later toys more patiently,
seems to lose interest, turns away,
seeking more success with other games
but can’t help
glancing out of the corner of its eye,
testing possibilities.

Then, quite suddenly,
shadow no more
and it is written, by itself,
on that clean cloth.

Judgement Day

When I woke up this morning I was uneasy in my mind to say the least of it. Today was judgement day and I wasn’t looking forward to it in the least. Any of you who know me will know that I am “of mature years.” However that was not the cause of my unease; I wasn’t worrying about being judged but about the fact that I was to spend the day judging. I had somehow managed to get myself appointed as a judge in a local poetry competition.

I’ve been here before but I still find it difficult to sit in judgement on my peers. People write for so many different reasons and to say so many different things in so many different ways that in the end any judging is almost bound to be a matter of personal preference rather than any neutral measure.

For example, as an older poet I am much more in tune with rhythmic, well-structured poetry than I am with today’s disjointed writing, eventhough I am aware that today’s writers have important things to say, particularly about the world we have bequeathed them to live in. Given this recognition, I am reluctant to say that any poem has no merit; on the other hand I am just as reluctant to say that most of the poems I look at have sufficient merit to warrant being recommended for a prize.

What I would really like to do is to make what I hope would be helpful comments on each poem I have to assess. However, that would take much too long and would cost much too much. Aspiring poets already have to part with enough hard-earned cash just to get into contests without having to add sufficient payment to get a critique of their work. In any case many of them might not wish to get a critique from somebody they don’t know and are not likely to come across again in the foreseeable future.

With these thoughts in mind I turn to the pile of work in front of me. I work through the first dozen or so, then pause for an already needed caffeine injection and as I sip it I think moodily that I should get paid more than I am currently paid just for the work that I do, let alone try and justify more money, even if it’s for more work.

Moodily, I turn back to my task, reminding myself that I must remember to be more charitable when next some judge I’ve never heard of rejects my sentences without so much as a sigh of regret.

Wrting an article


Writing an article is easy if you follow the rules. The rules are the same whether it’s news or information.

Keep sentences short. Keep paragraphs short. Make sure you’ve got your facts right. Give information, not opinion. Use concrete examples that your reader can relate to, e.g., the Tower of London, not ‘monuments’.  Stick to the subject, don’t allow yourself to get sidetracked.

In news articles write the most important facts first. Many readers never get past the first five or six lines. News articles are very much at the mercy of editors. They control the space they’ll allow you and they’ll cut ruthlessly. If you leave important stuff to the end it may never see the light of day.

In leisure and travel pieces you may use longer paragraphs and a more chatty style. This helps to slow your reader down and relax them.

In ‘how to’ articles make sure you keep language simple and easy to read. If you confuse your reader they’ll give up on you. It’s often helpful to provide a short summary at the end of ‘how to’ articles. This fixes your message in the reader’s mind.

Always check spelling, grammar and layout before submitting.

Sleepless nights

As I get older I find I have more sleepless nights or parts of nights. When they started I used to curse them and my misfortune but I’ve come to realise what a boon they can be.
The first thing I came to notice that my sleepless periods were often filled with examinations, alterations and deletions in the half-formed ideas I was working on in my more wideawake moments. I actually improved my work significantly!
Certainly, these editing and amending periods made me realise how much revision my work could use, so I also began to allot more of my waking time to revision and editing. Not so much as to drown out new work but enough to improve my publication rate – and the consequent self-pride.
I wouldn’t pretend that wide awake periods in the middle of the night should be cultivated. But, if you’re going to be awake, you could do worse than have a little ‘revision’ in tray waiting in the corner of your mind.
You never kinow – revision could lead to reproduction!

Listen whilst you write

The traditional picture of the writer is of a dishevelled, unkempt figure scribbling awy in an untidy and uncomfortable garret lit byt a single candle, already hald burned away. Even if the picture was ever true there’s certainly no need for it to be reproduced in anyone writing today; indeed, a writer shutting themselves away like that is denying themselves the greatest source of inspirration there is -the world around them.

If, for example, they want a rhythm to work too, the steady thrumming of car tyres on sealed roads might be inspiration enough. Or, if they don’t drive to work, the repetive patterns of various sorts of rail traffic – light rail, underground, metro, diesel driven and, still in some places, steam trains shoud keep them satsfied for a while.

And music will be found just as readily. The honking of horns, the bells or sirens of emergency vehicles, the tooting of train whistles, the changing levels of conversation on buses, the output of schoolyards and, by contrast, the serene silence of mid-city parks and gardens can all add to the song they wish to sing or dermine the key in which they sing it.

I actually find sound useful in quite a different way. I have found it invaluable to carry a pocket recorder everywhere I go to capture the ideas and snippets of phrases or lines that suddenly flash into my mind, whether prompted by the goings-on around me or not. Then the sounds of the day can be harnessed in the comparative silence of home to help me write at the allotted time.

For me, the sounds of sounds work much better than the sounds of silence !

Hello world!

Today, as they say, is the first day of the rest of my life. For the umpteenth time I’m trying to get my blog up and running. Here’s hoping!

The reason I’m keen to get this going is that I have only limited mobility following cancer and heart problems and I figure that this may be the best way to stay in touch with the world. Unless you’ve been in this situation yourself you’ll probably not think muuch about being in the world but ourt of touch with it most of the time. Believe me, just you and a computer screen can be an unexciting life. However, it beats no life every time.

The great passion and mainstay of my current existence (other than my wonderful wife, that is) is poetry.