A Poem About Writing

 

It’s November and #MyEpicPoeticOdyssey continues as I memorise a poem about writing to celebrate NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month, the event that sends the world into a foaming frenzy of literary creation and masterpiece making. Rather than launching a new novel project, I’m doing #NaNoReWriMo, during which I slay mutant plot bunnies and bushwhack my way to a sleek new version.

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When I started my poetic quest a few months ago, it was all about making time for poetry in my life while also laying claim to a few choice poetical side effects, namely the mental exercise of memorisation and the writerly benefit of studying the economy of poetry.

Memorisation has been hugely enjoyable, but even more fun has been the monthly search for a new poem: digging through piles of poetry, reading and savouring until one calls my name. “Pick me! Pick me!”

The Author to Her Book

AnnebradstreetThe poem about writing I’ve chosen for November is ‘The Author to Her Book’, by Anne Bradstreet. I’d never heard of this lady before, but it turns out she has quite a pedigree! She was the first poet published in the New World. Not America’s first woman poet —its first poet (period).

And if that’s not cool enough, it turns out Puritan Anne moonlighted as a badass feminist. The collection that was America’s first published poetry, The Tenth Muse  Lately Sprung Up in America, contains a stinging prologue to her critics. Check out her sarcasm as she poo-poos the notion of ‘proper women’s work’:

I am obnoxious to each carping tongue

Who says my hand a needle better fits.

A poet’s pen all scorn I should thus wrong;

For such despite they cast on female wits,

If what I do prove well, it wont advance-

They’ll say it was stolen, or else it was by chance.

Go Anne! It must have been tough back in the day for smart women. And our Anne was smart, equipped to write about history, politics, theology and medicine. She had a library of over 9,000 books that were eventually lost in a house fire, one tragedy among many in her life.

800px-The_Tenth_Muse_by_Anne_BradstreetThough sickly (suffering smallpox and tuberculosis), she was the mother of eight children and appears to have enjoyed a happy marriage until her death at age 60.

So this NaNo November as I wrestle through my umpteenth rewrite of my current manuscript, I’m going to memorise Anne’s poem. It  captures the writer’s angst I know all too well,  of work that doesn’t measure up to the impossible inner standard. She composed this poem after her first collection was supposedly “snatcht”, spirited away and published by a (male) friend.

THE AUTHOR TO HER BOOK

THOU ill-form’d offspring of my feeble brain, 

Who after birth did’st by my side remain, 

Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true 

Who thee abroad, expos’d to publick view, 

Made thee in raggs, halting to th’ press to trudge, 

Where errors were not lessened (all may judg). 

At thy return my blushing was not small, 

My rambling brat (in print) should mother call, 

I cast thee by as one unfit for light, 

Thy Visage was so irksome in my sight; 

Yet being mine own, at length affection would 

Thy blemishes amend, of so I could: 

I wash’d thy face, but more defects I saw, 

And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw. 

I stretcht thy joynts to make thee even feet, 

Yet still thou run’st more hobling then is meet; 

In better dress to trim thee was my mind, 

But nought save home-spun Cloth, i’th’ house I find. 

In this array, ‘mongst Vulgars mayst thou roam, 

In Criticks hands, beware thou dost not come; 

And take thy way where yet thou art not known, 

If for thy Father askt, say, thou hadst none: 

And for thy Mother, she alas is poor, 

Which caus’d her thus to send thee out of door. 

 

This will be a challenging poem to memorise with its Seventeenth Century English. Wish me luck!

To all the #WriMo-ers and especially to my fellow #ReWriMo-ers, may the Muse be with you! See you at the finish line!

 

 

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

Image of Anne and her Title Page,  both Public Domain

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My Epic Poetic Odyssey – First Poem

Say what? “The falcon cannot hear the falconer…” 

I’ve reached my goal for the first month of my Epic Poetic Odyssey. September’s poem, ‘The Second Coming’ by William Butler Yeats, has been laid down in my synapses.

In my quest for personal and literary enrichment, I have embarked on a program of memorising a poem a month. Even though I’m in the early days of this quest, I’m already reaping unexpected rewards.

New Friends

One of the loveliest windfalls has been meeting new people, like Shirley, a lovely lady named who contacted me through my Ali Stegert Facebook page. Retired teacher Shirley describes herself as a ‘literature tragic and iPad fanatic.’ She originally set out to memorise ten poems, and she’s now on her 87th now! She’s set a new goal of memorising 100 poems. Such an inspiration! Keep an eye out for my upcoming posts that feature Shirley and other poetry loving people I meet on my way.

Shirley’s top tip for memorising poetry was to look for and follow the line of thought. I tried this out and it worked. I memorised ‘The Second Coming’ within three or four days. The rest of the month I worked on fluency.

September’s Poem

‘The Second Coming’ speaks of a world spinning out of control, which resonates with me. Although the poem is grim, I find it reassuring to know that the current ‘falling apart’ in the political arena has happened before and yet life goes on. The poem was published in 1919*, which means Yeats probably worked on it in 1918 or even earlier, possibly in the chaos leading up to and during WWI.

So far, I have resisted my new-found urge to recite poetry in the middle of conversations, much to the relief of my family, but almost every time I watch the news, these lines burn in my mind:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; | Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;| The best lack all conviction while the worst | Are full of passionate intensity.

The Poet’s Intention

Reading up on the Nobel Prize for Literature winner Yeats, I found out that what he meant in the poem and what I ‘heard’ are two very different things. Although the language and themes of the poem are familiar and Biblical-sounding to me, Yeats apparently held more to mysticism, magic and occult spiritualism than Christianity. He was a wild-minded poet and statesman who espoused some unorthodox philosophies and original theories. For example, the ‘gyre’ of the poem is not a metaphor for a world spiralling out of control as I thought. Yeats propounded gyres as a historical phenomenon, something that accompanies ‘Spiritus Mundi’ or the spirit of the world, in his complex mystical theory.

So, there’s the poet’s intention and my reading of it. Does this mean I read it wrongly and that I should always check the poet’s background and beliefs? Or does it mean that good poetry is good because it speaks on different levels at different times. I still like the poem, but I have no intention of adopting a mystical belief in ‘gyres.’

What Was I Thinking?

Boy, do I regret my promise to post a video of me reciting each month’s poem. As someone who dislikes even being photographed let alone being filmed, I’m cringing as I post this. I have almost no experience with editing and uploading videos. However, I’ve decided to suck it up and see this as another area for personal growth and professional development. Here’s hoping my performance, recording and broadcasting skills improve over the next 12 months! (Bear with me! You’ve got to start somewhere, right?)

The wind started howling right at the line about the ‘reeling shadows of indignant desert birds’. I cracked an incongruent smile right at the poem’s most dramatic and bleak moment. Many thanks to my inspiring writer friend Debbie Smith, who videoed me and didn’t laugh.

I promise—without the added pressure of being filmed I can recite the poem fluently! (I got a couple words wrong).

Forward Ho!

I have narrowed down a list of poems for October. I’ll share my choice next week, so stay tuned. And remember, I’d love to have your company on my Epic Poetic Odyssey. You don’t have to commit to 12 months! Jump in and out at any time! I can tell you from experience that one poem in a month is not hard.

So, what do you think? Have you got any tips on memorising or reciting poetry? Know of any good resources on making nice videos? Please leave a comment!

Image Credit:

Giovanni Calia via Unsplash

Tim Mossholder via Unsplash

Modified by the author

*Another source said the poem appeared in 1921.

 

 

My Epic Poetic Odyssey Takes Off

Choosing the first poem to memorise for my Epic Poetic Odyssey was more difficult than I expected. After all, a poem memorised becomes a part of you.

In Grade 8, I memorised Lewis Carroll’s fantastical nonsense poem Jabberwocky, and it’s still with me. Maybe the burbling Jabberwock and the beamish boy are to blame for my bent towards fantastic adventures starring 11-year-old boys (Toby Fitzroy, I’m looking at you.) Now there’s a thought to ponder!

 

What if instead I’d memorised a religious verse like a segment of Milton’s Paradise Lost or something political like Hannah More’s Slavery: A Poem? Would I somehow be a different person today? A zealot or maybe an avenger. I wonder…

Critical Criteria

On a more practical note, I wanted to pick a poem that’s realistic in length and difficulty. It would be seriously embarrassing if I failed in the first month of my Odyssey, so, given the rusty state of my rote memory skills, I decided twenty-five lines or fewer would be best.

The poem had to speak to me in some way, either in form or lyricism, theme or allusion. Thirty-something years on from eighth grade, I’m no longer in a Jabberwocky frame of mind. I want a poetic punch in the solar plexus. Or at least a nudge that tickles, excites, or stirs me.

So with my criteria in mind, a short list of possibilities coalesced:

  • The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats
  • A Frog’s Fate by Christina Rossetti
  • Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116
  • Hope is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson
  • A Martian Sends a Postcard Home by Craig Raine
  • Love’s Philosophy by Percy Bysshe Shelley

And the Winner Is…

The first poem of my Epic Poetic Odyssey will be The Second Coming. Not exactly the cheeriest poem, but its timelessness speaks to me. Even though The Second Coming was written nearly a hundred years ago, Yeats’s observations about a world spinning out of control could be penned today. For example:

…Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”

That pretty much sums up the maniacal circus that is world politics today. With the pillars of democracy teetering under the weight of insanity (or, in Yeats’s more poetic phrasing, “passionate intensity”), even the stoutest heart starts looking for a Second Coming.

Plus, it’s neat to see Yeats’s poignant phrases echoed in well-known literary works such as Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958) and Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968).

You can read the whole poem here. Tell me in the comments what you think of my first choice.

Watch This Space

So my assignment is set. For the next four weeks, I’ll be committing this poem to memory. Watch this space for resources, mnemonic devices, poetic interludes, and interviews with some of the delightful poets and poetry lovers I’m getting to know on my Epic Poetic Odyssey.

 

Image Credits via Unsplash

Photo by Jon Flobrant

Photo by Joshua Earl

* * *

John Tenniel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,

My Epic Poetic Odyssey

I’m setting off on a yearlong adventure—my Epic Poetic Odyssey. For each of the next twelve months, I will select a poem and commit it to memory over the course of the month. Motivating me are the same desires that have launched adventurers throughout the ages: I want to expand my mind. I’m after refreshment and inspiration, new words and mindsets, bigger (mental) muscles, greater focus, and a flock of new friends.

I’ll hit the road as a neophyte, a near noob to all things poetical. My only training is high school English and a few fumbling poetic encounters as an adult. The academic approach left me cold and uninspired, so I’m changing tack and approaching as an explorer of new worlds, with curiosity as my compass and Google as my guide (and a few poet friends I intend to pester.)

Early each month, I’ll pick a poem to commit it to memory. Later that month, I’ll perform and post it. Along the way, I’ll share some inspiration—interviews with poets, a brace of poems caught in the wild, fantastic resources to dig through, and interesting insights to the world of poetry. No dull academics here—only wild, wordy adventure.

Wanted: One Band of Hearty Travel Companions

Care to join me on my Epic Poetic Odyssey? I can’t promise comfort in every poetic port, but I vow to keep you amused. How can it not be fun to watch me trip through Tennyson and wrestle with Robert Burns?

It’s easy: At the beginning of month, pick a poem to memorise. At the end of the month, perform and—if you want—share it. Or you can just encourage me by following and liking my posts. There will be laughs and gasps, thrills and spills, cheers and prizes! (Yay for prizes!)

Benefits of Joining the Adventure

Beyond the camaraderie, memory-making on the road, and said prizes there are lots of compelling reasons to read and memorise poetry.

Creative Superfood

Poetry is superfood for writers. It enriches vocabulary, encourages complex syntax, and develops the ear. It helps us to think and write evocatively. Perhaps most valuable of all for writers, poetry encourages brevity while discouraging insipid word choice. Memorising poetry builds the working memory capacity, which improves creativity.

Soul Food

When we are overloaded with information and overwhelmed by bad news, indulging in beauty and simple pleasures is salve for the soul. Reading and memorising poetry requires no special equipment or cash outlay—only some regular time to sit quietly and focus on words.

Focus—it’s the perfect antidote to technology-mediated attention deficit. Social media and electronic devices are affecting the way we read and diminishing our ability to focus. Some experts go farther, suggesting the Internet is making us stupid. Fight back with poetry memorisation. Negate negative news with a monthly dose of focused beauty. It will do your soul good.

Poetry can be a great connector. The sentiments it conveys—grief, despair, wonder, loneliness, awe—are universal, assuring the reader (or listener) they are not alone.

Cognitive Calisthenics

Reading, reciting, and memorising poetry do wonders for the brain. From teaching rhythm to children to staving off cognitive decline in old age, it’s part of the perfect brain fitness program no matter what age you are. I dare you not to be inspired after watching this darling three-year-old recite Billy Collins’s Litany. (Unlike last week’s tiny muse, I don’t know this little guy.)

 

Personal Development

Just think what amassing a mental storehouse of poetry will do for you! With a poem for every mood and occasion, you’ll have nearly no need for a therapist AND have an enviable party trick up your sleeve.

Travel Itinerary

My Epic Poetic Odyssey sets off on 1 September.

First poem selected by 3 September

Memorised by 27 September

Shared by 30 September

And ditto each month following

So, Are You In?

I hope you’ll join me! Jump in at any time. If you tag along, please leave a comment. You can memorise the same poem as mine or pick your own. Here’s a handy resource for finding a suitable poem to memorise. I’ll share more resources in upcoming posts.

I have a few days to decide on my first poem. I’d love you to leave some suggestions in the comments. Please, don’t assign me epic poetry in volumes 1 -3, and let’s agree not to start with Burns. Love him, but the first month’s poem has to be achievable! (I might set Burns for next July!)

Wish me luck and happy trails!

Image Credits from Unsplash:

Mantas Hesthaven

Thought Catalog

Joshua Earle

Credit

Adventurers by Visual Procrastinations, CC 2.0 BY-NC