Friday, May 24, 2013

What to feed your poem to keep it alive...

Words are such powerful things. Even the simplest. Yes. No. Love. Hate. They can be dangerous. Weapon-like. Cutting and cruel or heart-achingly beautiful. A single word can be the cause of immense happiness. Any author can confirm the truth of that.

Authors are often exhorted to show not tell. As they should be. Telling is so dull. And when you think of the potency of even the most ordinary little words why not take advantage of it. Showing is a satisfying challenge. When I do school visits I demonstrate the power of words with the following phrase (or a variation on it):-

"Get lost Four-Eyes."

I don't think I need add a dialogue tag for the reader of those words to understand something about the speaker and their character, something about the person being spoken to, and the relationship between them. It's a cruel statement. And a picture begins to form. I didn't use a lot of descriptive words to achieve these. Language doesn't have to be complex or generous to create a powerful image. Think of poetry - some of the briefest and yet most powerful language known.

I wish I was a poet. It only happens sometime - maybe days with an 'n' in them once every six months. Most often when I am not looking, it springs out of nowhere and surprises me - Boo! And then before I can hold on to it and put it in a very strong container for safe-keeping it is gone again. Maybe if I kept it in a box it would die anyway. I never know how many holes to poke in the lid or what to feed it.

Other people seem able to keep theirs not only alive but vigorous and healthy for years. Like the fab New Zealand poet Paula Green. Paula has the coolest blog for young poets. Maybe if I had had something like this when I was trying to keep my poetry alive in a box as a kid I would be writing poetry now on days with a 'y' in them. You should go check it out. 'Tis very excellent.

1 comment:

5inabus said...

You're so right Melinda... Poetry has an economy with words that novels often lack. I finished "The Weight of Water" by Sarah Crossan this week (highly recommended) which is described as a poetic novel. I was simply awestruck by how much depth was conveyed on each page with so few words. A similar book That comes to mind is "The Lover's Dictionary" by David Levithan - similar in the sense that its power comes as much from the gaps and silences as the few small words themselves. And then I've discovered recently the pleasure of spoken verse.. Listening to poems opens up another whole world altogether! There are some great youtube channels reciting some of the greatest poems of all
time. Listening to them has helped make these poems accessible to me when they may not otherwise have been (knowing where to put the emphasis, what sort of emotion is being conveyed, etc etc). Listening helps to comprehend a poem through auditory senses as well.