The name Poetry for Dummies will inevitably mean that some of you find we are repeating what you already know. If that is the case, then please jump in and help those of us who aren't as well-versed in 'poetry-speak' as yourselves grow and become more inspired.
Although I have I have studied English Literature at University level, I have never felt able to grasp poetry forms. If someone asks me to write a poem in anapestic 'Bla-di-flu-di-da-meter' (and yes, that is a made up word) I run for the hills! Free verse! That is my thing! However, in all facets of life there are obstacles to overcome and trends to follow, and we need to deal with them if we are to grow. Much of the old poetry is being explored right now, and it is written in specific poetry form. To grow as poets we should attempt to learn, shouldn't we? Free verse is all fine and good, but I would like to know how to write a sonnet, a haiku, a pantoum or a villanelle. What is stopping me? What is stopping you?
Three of my problems are:
1. Fear of screwing up.
2. Syllables. I am not particularly well versed in counting syllables in my mother tongue, and as English is my second language it comes with additional problems.
3. Poetry-speak. The big words scare me. As does the ease with which so many of you use them. It is easier, by far, to hide under the warm, cozy, familiar blanket of free verse and not even attempt to figure out what an anapestic 'Bla-di-flu-di-da-meter' is, especially when everyone else seems to understand exactly what iambic pentameter is, or how to squeeze seventeen syllables into a haiku in the right way.
These are my main problems when it comes to poetry forms, and I know I cannot possibly be the only one who needs to learn. Only you can work on the fear of screwing up (as am I by doing these posts every other week), but I would like to talk about syllables today, in the hope that we can look back on this as we learn more about various meters.
The word syllable comes from Greek, and is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as 'a unit of pronunciation having one vowel sound, with or without surrounding consonants, forming the whole or parts of a word'.
A 'Dummie's guide to counting syllables' would look something like this:
1. Look for the vowels in the word.
2. Subtract any silent vowels (like the 'e' at the end of the 'Fore!' shouted by golfers).
3. If you have two vowels together, creating a diphthong, count only one of the vowels (for example the word 'you' is only one syllable).
4. Compound words, words that consist of two other words but is written together (like houseboat), along with words using prefixes (like prefix) and suffixes (like farmer) should be divided into their component words to count syllables.
5. Divide words between the two middle consonants (like bas/ket) to count the syllables.
6. Usually divide words into syllables before a single consonant (like e/vil or re/port).
7. The '-le' at the end of a word usually forms its' own syllable (like a/ble, or indeed syl/la/ble.
Some helpful poets have also suggested clapping out the word to get the syllable count, and that - along with Ava's suggestion for the iambic pentameter to count heartbeats - is a very effective technique.
Kindergarten level or not, I hope you find this a good reminder and please feel welcome to share your own tricks in the comment section.
To practice, why not attempt writing a poem with a specific number of syllables? Not words, but syllables. Shall we use my favourite, the 69?
Don't forget to join The Gooseberry Garden Poetry Pic-nic Week 5 if you want to share your work, or have a go at the Thursday Poet's Rally Week 52 over at the Poetry Palace!