A crucible of sincerity, vulnerability and late hours can create some of the most painful compositions.
A crucible of sincerity, vulnerability and late hours can create some of the most painful compositions.
The image above, if carefully examined, displays three differently animated levels distinguishable by their relation to velocity and, by consequence, Time. This animation device has been used to display certain feelings in a much clearer way: her face is animated carefully and slowly, every frame is fluid, to inspire serenity and placidness. Her hair is animated frantically, with frames leaping between animation with little fluidity, alluding to a chaotic exterior and high intensity movement. The background, although blurred, also happens at a time different from the other two layers, presenting a both static and simultaneously – moving – backdrop. This allows for a certain displacement through the fluidity of our space, allowing Art to perforate the emotional human sensors without replicating at all what those sensors are used to, by thematic association. Our world feels much like that of the animation, it constantly moves, yet we cannot fully absorb all it’s evolutions and changes, in turn, accounting for a hollow movement that we can only relay through “mental bookmarks”, like special occurrences, producing a more stop-still version of reality (similar to the one animated above), instead of flowing realistic approach to time.
In fact, Art has a plethora of examples using different composite time frames to convey a sense of “overlook” or “outlander” sentiment among its viewers, mainly present in sensorial arts like music or painting.
To literature – an Art intimately connected with the frugality of time and how it can be controlled within its frames – this device most likely has been used, but never deeply explored. In this first edition of poetry lab, I will attempt to harness my marginal composing experience to translate those planes of time dissonance into the realm of poetry. As I’ve done a good amount of experimental poems in my short time here, I’ve never taken the time to explain the processes or missions behind those experiments, and now I’m headstrong on taking you on my composing journey:
First, we need to figure out how to distend time properly within a written line of text. Poetry, by its very sonorific nature, makes this superficially easy by use of verse length and syllabic control:
I dreamt of latent love, yet within, darkness still reigns unkind, (11 words, 15 syllables)
Air to flame, implored by sinuous shadows, (7 words, 11 syllables)
Extinguish their fear to die. (5 words, 7 syllables)
Following an ordered decrescent sound, each verse has the same amount of syllables as the words of the verse that precedes them (11, 15), (7, 11), (5, 7). This, however, inspires a singular timeline instead of multiples ones, giving a sense that time is accelerating and thus, “running out”. But why not the contrary? Why does it not recall time just slowing down? This is annulled by the temporal references in all verses, displayed in a gradient from past (dreamt, implored), to present (extinguish, to die).
Like mentioned above, this does not relay multiple times but instead, just one flowing in-unit but changing exponentially. We can, however, salvage this later when we compose full stanzas by separating their descriptive nature through the usage of this method. So, instead of separating verses according to time, we will separate stanzas according to what line they represent by giving them symbols:
Stanza 1 – first tempo (11, 15) (plane of interior occurrence, introspection, visual devices must appear here)
Stanza 2 – second tempo (7, 11) (plane of exterior sensorial captures, noise, static, distortion and interruption, sound devices must appear here)
Stanza 3 – third tempo (5, 7) (plane of universal awareness, no sensorial, visual or sound devices can appear here, detached information must not contain emotional draws)
This is merely scratching the surface of what this method can produce, as a shift in the structure mid-composition can relay powerful messages of emotional re-focus, or give a sense of expanding/shortening of knowledge at any given point. The main objective here, however, is that the poem is able to speak to itself and the conversation won’t sound too unphased, so we will stick to the good ol’ repetition, by creating one more set of stanzas with same structure, but different in essence.
As the composition is mainly experimental, I will utilise common meanings I’m familiar with for the sake of my mental sanity (and short amount of time per day I have to compose), those of love and solitude in a frugal world where such things are generally devalued:
As demonstrated above, I initially compose the first part of the composition within a relatively ordered and rhymed structure, using the lines written above as a visual guide to building the remaining verses. Although this version partially gets the job done, it’s still rather obscure that frames shift between stanzas, and I attempt a more lax yet word-based second part in an attempt to compensate the rigid/restrictive shape of the first version:
I’ve since let a day pass before writing that second part, as to refresh my information absorption and be less likely influenced by the same recurrent pieces of reception still being digested within (a great advice I’ve accidentally left out of my poetic tips). This second version, although not apparently very different from the first in terms of how it was constructed, manages to convey both the message, the subject and the quest of time much better than the previous, not by means of its structure, but by how words are ordered coupled with how they intertwine, generating a sense of shift from when they fuse and when they don’t (thus, sound shifts).
I must now refine and finish the composition on my own, and publish it similarly to all other poems on the website, but that boring part I intend on doing by myself.
I’m not a professional or academic in this subject, therefore, all conclusions are from my viewpoint and might conflict with certain academic standings out there (although from my research, I’ve found none), but none of this is fact or close to it, I’m just trying to have some fun with words and I hope you’re entertained as well!
One relatively important thing I’ve taken notice lately by glancing at academic standpoints to grand compositions is symbology by association and how that impacts the _weight_ of a present verse or structure. The greatest example might be any poem written by T.S. Eliot (most notably, The Waste Land), which packs a myriad of literary and symbolic references in a singular modernistic composition almost subdivided by those very same symbols. (II: A Game of Chess contains references to the Prothalamion, Verlaine, Sappho, St. Augustine, and many more. Although this part of the composition is considerable in length, one can still assume the level of referential usage is greater than the one of the specific narrative.)
So, the question lays still: how are these references important to the spine of the poem, and not only Waste Land, any poem that references anything?
One general device of “writing the best words in the best order” (a quote by Samuel Taylor Coleridge believed to be said in 1827, when asked about poetry),
is the usage of symbols to convey a wider sense of emotion. As magical as poetry can be, it can also be very restrictive, you must be economical in every verse and stanza, siphoning from inner images in order to convey as much as possible with as little words as possible. Importing symbols from previous works of literary culture allows for a greater condensation of the message, through the somatic marker present in those works (of course, it relies on the knowledge from the reader’s side to actually know the referencing, otherwise it loses all leverage and becomes rather the opposite: a confusing word-salad).
Exemplifying, if I wanted to relay the toxic nature of hope without going through the hassle of creating a full stanzaic foundation for it, because that toxic interaction is only background to the skeletal basis of the poem, I can import from a generally known and easy-to-understand mythological fable (as many have before me, mythology is great for this exercise)
‘All evils dare not compare to Pandora’s youthful hope’
Merely an example, Pandora’s Box fable ends with the opening of the box and subsequent discovery of hope being the last of evils locked within it, also the only one that didn’t flee. The symbolical magnitude of this fable is great, and great will also be the impact it has on your poems message, if used correctly.
“But Johnny, you cursed fool, I haven’t seen many of these on your poems!” says Lucian the Annoyed, with a monstrous expression in stand-by to ambush.
I actually make a slightly ridiculous amount of references in my poetry, but I avoid the usage of names as I don’t find their sonority very helpful to the flow. Some names work, others do not, but I generally avoid them all, and prefer subtle references to film or music in place of literary symbolism. It is, however, nowhere as ridiculous as Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot, they took it a bit too far, in my humble opinion (I’m not a fan of either, I do not enjoy poems that overly rely on symbolic imports because I prefer poetry to homework), although T.S. Eliot’s Love Song is still one of my favourite compositions of any author, which proves that the level of connectivity between a symbolical poem and it’s reader is how much it relates to that readers elected literary sphere.
TL;DR, use references and challenge yourself to stretch them and paint them some beauty as you do it, but also allow them to be accessible and thematically fluid with the poem, not only cosmetically. Also, do not sacrifice the spine of your poem by jamming in a fun-summon, all pieces must still fit, as I said on Poetic Tips I and II.
And in that note, I too should take my tips, since I recurrently make all the mistakes displayed above.
An important factor with the generation of a specific poetic style is the constituent factors present externally and internally – in you, and your composition.
My fanned influences spawn a great deal of authorships and literary movements, with special weight on Neorealism and Romanticism, but also Idealistic Philosophy and a bit of elder Argumentative Philosophy. To understand the branches that these influences establish on yourself is to understand the nature of your creative output, as we are not only heavily influenced by these injections, but they also constitute somatic markers independent from our sensibilities, in turn forming an artistic ethical compass that we often neglect to unravel. In the face of these elations, and attempting to create a general awareness of my major influences, I’ve analysed extensively what constitutes the major spine of my poetic compositions and divided it into three diverse channelling pillars:
I’ve always been greatly infused by Nature to write a multitude of enchanting imagetics. The belief that Nature governs the world, it’s laws, creating in turn an understandable and structured reality that allows contemplation without the interference of the Absolute. This volatile and permuting beauty creates infinite fodder for Art, it does so by being constantly beautiful with inconstant forms. Nature is perhaps the most globally beautiful display among individuals, as one may not agree with the beauty of deep blue eyes, but hardly will one disagree with the beauty of sightless verdant hills or the violently placid nature of an ocean. Life and all it’s ever-changing forms, emotions and the way they weave themselves into the natural landscapes – those concepts are fruit trees endlessly shedding lyricisms. (examples: Yangtze, Painting, When Takashi Kissed Messiaen)
A sense of sensibility emanating from a singular unity of all things, represented by uniform and indestructible forces tethering everything very subtly. The Monad was initially theorised by Pythagoras and then salvaged by Leibniz as an ideological perspective worth expanding. To allow this inner communion to take place is in itself a poetic combustion. It is, however, no more than a candid belief, not a material reality, like methodological naturism. My page about the Monad Series offers a better explanation about it’s intricacies.
The importation of concepts from Classical Antiquity as poetic subjects. Heroes, chaos, order, the general idiosyncrasies of human perception and emotion presented in a very primal manner. Classical Antiquity was more material in it’s artistic developments, almost more realistic, in an unashamed way. Feeling, of whatever nature, was seen generally as a grander display of elemental inadequacy. Authors of Epics and the grand Alexandria’s archived melic poets (ex. Anacreon, Sappho) were faithful only to their human natures and falsities, outcasting any sense of grandeur emanating from artistic pretentiousness.
That grounding import allows for more honest and sincere artistic spines.
Again, why is any of this important? Well, they are vehicles. You want to transmit a message, you analyse which medium is best and then you learn the ways of such medium. For me, it is important to be aware of which elements constitute my poetry, because I must understand it fully before anyone else can. Because if the Art of my poetry evades me, I won’t be able to convey it fully – or even partially – to any reader that offers their time to read my work. Like a garden of roses, it is necessary that we understand the process of how they grow, how they prosper, how they bloom, in order to stimulate their natural beauty and adorn our beautiful pathways, so that they (much like poems), can also inspire a yearning wanderer.
Hence why I believe it’s a very valuable tip to explore these concepts, to create a levelled relationship with your work, and perhaps who knows, learn something about yourself in the way?
Poetry – like all artistic displays – has a myriad of rules as well as their designations when those rules are not followed, essentially: structural and counter-structural, fluid and stagnant, chaotic and orderly. It is necessary for me to stress that no form of composing elevates over another, and none yields better results among the general readers. The most important element of any form of art, for me, is it’s understandability, how accessible it attempts to be. Portuguese author José Luís Peixoto placed it best in an interview, I will attempt to translate as best I can:
“Eu acredito muito na escrita como alguma coisa que se dirige às pessoas, que não exclui ninguém e que procura, justamente, comunicar com todos, por isso, em relação aos seus veículos não coloco limites.”
I strongly believe in writing as something directed at people, it does not exclude anyone and seeks, precisely, the communication with all, therefor, I place no boundaries to it’s vehicles.
Some years ago, I was confronted with the reality that my Portuguese poetry wasn’t always understandable (an example would be TEMPO, the only clear example of that published on this website), and it alienated a plethora of possibilities by being excessively confusing – not because of any attempt at brilliance, but because of obvious mental laziness at conveying my own creations clearly. I would just cast it off with any vocabulary I could muster, with any structure I could be bothered to envision.
Under beyond-the-grave mentorship of many authors, I was taught the importance of structure and how it deeply affects the reader, and how the common myth of overly-complex pieces being superior is just a trap aspiring authors tend to fall face-first into. There is nothing wrong about the humility of being understandable by all, as much as there is no class or poignancy in being understood by none.
Metric lines in poetry have been used for centuries, but many people question: to what purpose? From iambic pentameters, latin hexameters, endecasillabo, an vast array of metrics were created with different purposes, but the one subjacent to most of them is the sonority of the composition. Many times, poetry wasn’t just a readers delight, it was also meant as a listeners glory. These poems could be considered similar to current songs, as they flew off the mouth straight to the chest, and they were meant as exhibitions of romantic beauty or full theatrical compositions.
Today, the device of counting syllables has fallen to disuse, and is often disregarded all together, but to anyone interested in the sonority or aloud readability of compositions, with or without rhymes, you should be wary of the syllables used while you compose. Not only do they fuel great sounds, but they also control tightly the visual order of your poem. For example, visual disconnects are not common, but they are odd constructions that should often be avoided, for the sake of the readability of a line:
(disregarding syllabic order)
I could sense my mind flickering akin to the pinnacle of a candle’s flame,
The waver… a burning tempest of emotional apathy.
(regarding syllabic order)
My mind flickers akin to a candle’s flame,
Wavering… whirling fires of inner apathy.
(these lines are demonstrations and not part of any actual composition)
The second version is a common use of the alexandrine meter, following twelve syllables in each line, one of my most common uses of a meter. Often, the syllables align the lines, but it’s not always the case (hence why my compositions often look so “orderly” in the length of each verse, it happens naturally most times).
Is it important, at all? I would not know. It is important to me, it allows me to express the feelings exposed in an understandable, appealing way, instead of the word mesh I used to create. It helped me greatly to worry about these things, and now, composing to me really feels like composing, I look at all these elements, I organise them, and a poem is born almost naturally, because as the paper suffers this structure, so do my thoughts and writing.
In a lighter tone, my Mother used to say that a messy room is representative of a messy life. I’ve always believe that this applied to many of common things, like poetry! This outer order I create allows my mind to clear further, like organising a desk.
Of course, if your jam is poetry that comes straight from the mind to the paper, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that either. This is mostly directed at people who hold much to be expressed and cannot do it when they attempt to write poetry.
I hope I helped someone, in any way, that would make me the happiest.
Santos is almost here, I’m a big celebrator of Portuguese folk parties, so poetry will be scarce. Let’s enjoy the first step into Summer with poetic incantations!
A more fitting title would be: “a few points I’ve gathered from writing poetry”, yet, I’ve written in Portuguese since I was about 11 years old, and in English for about three months. If I already had a long way to go in my native language, that is multiplied by some dozens when it comes to English.
I believe poetry is a frugal thing, much in the ways of music: a powerhouse of conveying feelings directly that often falls flat on it’s face. I don’t have fingers to count my failed compositions, but I do have an excellent memory about how they failed:
One common trap of composing is to collide the meaning intended for the composition and it’s mechanical subject. The two mustn’t exist hand-in-hand, in fact, it’s preferable that they exist separately.
The meaning of a composition is to be left undecided, it’s not mine to hold, and the more I force it’s presence, the more it seems to dodge under descriptive words and imagined perceptions. In fact, a composition doesn’t need to mean anything, it’s a natural part of the process to allow itself the literary space to mean… whatever it wants to mean, really. A keen reader might break the veil and see clearly into the poets feelings at the time of writing, but even that can be arguably fallacious when it comes to understanding the poem at hand. Everything can be indicative of meaning, even the structure of a poem, but it shouldn’t take priority over the subject.
When I use the expression “mechanical subject”, I usually image a combustion engine working within the poem. It is the core propeller, the fuel for that composition to even exist. This could be the poetic subject or it could not. There are countless poems versing love and singing heart-break, those feelings are the mechanical subject of the compositions, even if the poetic subject might be the authors themselves, a fictional character, or the person to which the composition is directed. If you are familiar with any of my poems, you might have realised I use artistic displays as mechanical subjects, like guitars or grand dances:
These ghosted moves illuminated by yellow lamp posts,
These rhythms and notes guided by a Spanish guitar
Are but beautiful memories we hold, mi flor del mar.
Yet, the children still smile in those avenues in France,
The Spanish guitar backgrounds all my hopeful walks
Searching for you, waiting eagerly for our ghostly dance
Spanning my thoughts and the lights of these city blocks.
From “Avenues in France” by me, but unreleased.
Some authors are able to smoothly shift their mechanical subject mid-composition, unfortunately I’m not that gifted. Not yet, at least. If I can convey one tip regarding this specific factor, I would advise you to be aware of it and attempt to make it clear in your mind before writing.
I’m often guilty of using ridiculous words in poetry, like halcyon or hecatomb. Now, of course, there is absolutely no issue with using any word you wish to, the more the merrier, but there can be a severe disconnect between the general language of a composition and a sudden eldritch word. Consistency isn’t always necessary, but connection is a key element of flux when it comes to poetry. It must flow, almost effortlessly, through you and through the reader. Sometimes, that flowing can be broken by an out-of-place heavy word, which is generally a common poetic technique nowadays (to which I’m a very big prey of).
The wording is, however, not the only problem with the flux of a lot of compositions, there is also the somehow puzzling [PRESS ENTER] effect many authors have criticised over-time.
The way to a stanzaic
like an instrument
Some poets do this naturally, others do it for some other confusing reason I can’t quite grasp. The problem here is not so much the fluidity of the poem, although it is often damaged by this process, but also the rational process behind reading a poem. It’s much like a math equation, each verse must contain something that leads up to a full stanza, once all have been read in the necessary order, the whole stanza will then contain the ultimate take-away. Not only is it important that the verses themselves are fluid, but that the stanza division follows the division of thoughts.
Poetry, after all, is that very action. Verses and stanzas are used to guide the thought behind the composition – the climaxes, the low-points, the expositions and breaks, all must be organised in a way to facilitate the message of the poem.
The general lyricism of the poems is also transformed greatly by the proper usage of verses. I can’t count the times where I’ve seen verse breaks where there was no necessity for a break to exist, or two verses that are supposed to be read continuously with no clear indication of division, making them essentially one verse needlessly separated by a line break.
Countering this mechanism is pretty easy, just experiment with classical structures. Tercets, quatrains, even sestets if you are feeling gutsy. They needn’t rhyme, although the usage of crossed rhyme and distichs is a great way to force you to shape up a thought, and to keep the poem within marginal lines. I will leave syllabic counting and coda structures to another sunny day.
Sorry for the bulky text, I tried shortening it as much as I could.