Exploring the World

My friends are my estate. 

~ Emily Dickinson ~ 


Emily, who never left her home and spent many years tending a dying relative, knew whereof she spoke. She was a shy person, her world tiny. But through imagination and friends, she explored the world.

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.


Fresh Winds Blowing

I’m gonna add something new here: some daily or every other day quick thoughts on books and writing. Maybe a quote or two. Why, you ask? I’m trying to grow my audience more, and you can help. If you like these new posts – and my normal ones – please urge your web surfing friends to put this site on their favorites list.


Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them,

and pretty soon you have a dozen. ~ John Steinbeck ~

True enough, that. Just sit and close your eyes for a few minutes. (Try this.) Notice all the thoughts? If you focus on an intriguing one or two of them, ideas will emerge – some good, some bad, but ideas all the same. This is true for all people, and it’s why I never worry about writer’s block.

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Spaces and Shapes in Poetry

imagesOne more note on modern poetry: poetic space and shape.

By that I mean the way lines are positioned on the page; are you writing in verse format? Imitating the structure of Villanelles? Ballads? Odes? Sonnets? Long free verse? Or are you creating lines that when assembled create shapes that leave subliminal messages counterpoint to your poem?

Note on the last: I’d love to show examples here, but the limits of this blog format pretty much prevent that. Instead, let me make a reference to look into.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “A Coney Island of the Mind” shows what can be done with space and shapes in poetry.

If you browse through literary or poetry journals at the library with poem shape in mind, you’ll get this point. The images accompanying this post may be rather silly, but they might give you better ideas.


But my advice on considering poetic structure? Unless you’re attempting one of the specific forms above, just write, line after line. When you’re done – or deep into editing – consider where to leave white space between lines. It may come to you intellectually, or you might envision a shape superimposed on the poem. But don’t force this ; it’s not as important as writing good quality imagery with rhythm and rhyme. If nothing is obvious, stop! You won’t want to write cliches in poetry, and you don’t want to force cliches, rhythms and rhymes, and you won’t want to force spaces or shapes either.

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Rhyming Rhythms


One thing about the rhythm we discussed on the last post: rhyme can help accent the rhythm. What do I mean by that?

Traditional rhyme patters rhyme the final syllable(s) of alternating lines, such as this one from Emily Dickinson, her “#303:”

“The Soul selects her own Society –

Then – shuts the Door –

To her divine Majority –

Present no more – ”

The first and third lines end with feminine syllables (although they have an iamb feel), the rhymed words accenting this feel. The other two lines end in masculine syllables, both implying some sense of finality.

In this line by D.H. Lawrence’s “The Ship of Death,”

“Now it is autumn and the falling fruit”

contains what’s called internal rhymes – the “au” of autumn, and “all” of falling, amplify strongly accented syllables in the line. This helps reinforce the sense of a modified iambic pentameter line. Since these rhymes aren’t literal, (same or similar spelling) they’re called slant rhymes.

On the famous line from that post, you have a near-perfect example of internal rhyming:

“In Xanadu did Kublai Khan”

Remember not to force the rhymes any more than you’d force an iambic pentameter rhythm. The line’s meaning, along with rhythm and rhyme must flow in the manner of spoken language.

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing


If you’re confused (given that you care at all) about the difference between blank verse and free verse, here’s the thing:

Blank verse was an invention on the way to free verse; i.e., Blank verse is so many lines of iambic pentameter. Free verse doesn’t give a (BLEEP) about the type of feet in a line, and really doesn’t care about the number of feet in a line, either (although  some free verse sticks to five feet per line.

Just so you’ll know, a line such as this old chestnut:

“In Xanadu did Kublai Khan” consists of four iambs (feet). If you were to diagram it according to stresses, with “^” indicating a strong emphasis and “-” indicating a lesser stress that line could be diagrammed thusly: – ^ – ^ – ^ – ^ or if this doesn’t make sense,  (I’ll capitalize the most emphasized syllables): “in XAN a DU did KU blai KHAN”


But there are other types of feet (impress your English prof with these  – and they have names!):

Feet of two syllables:

Iamb    – ^  de LIGHT

Trochee   ^ -SPLEN did

Spondee   ^ ^ DROP DEAD!

Feet of three syllables

Anapest   – – ^  in ter TWINE

Dactyl   ^ – –    SPLEN did ly

Amphibrach  – ^ –   de LIGHT ful

Feet of four syllables

1st Paeon   ^ – – –   NOT  ed is a

2nd Paeon   – ^ – –  de LIGHT ful ly

3rd Paeon   – – ^ –  in the TWI light

4th Paeon  – – – ^   out of the OAK

Okay, big deal, right? These fancy feet look like a combination of the simpler, shorter feet. Right?

But here’s a subtle thing that can mean a lot when it comes to stretching iambic pentameter. Let’s suppose you had a combination of some of these example words and phrases above.

Splendid doesn’t mean delight

And as we sit here in the twilight…

We might diagram these with stresses thusly, according to our names feet:

^ – ^ – ^ – ^   SPLEN did DOES n’t MEAN de LIGHT

– ^ – ^ – – – ^ –   and AS we SIT here in the TWI light…

But read that last line aloud: when you get to the word “in” the temptation is to stress it as “IN,”

– ^ – ^ – ^ – ^ –   and AS we SIT here IN the TWI light

What you’re doing there is changing the rhythm when you get to  “…in the twilight…” but something in you – and in the reader’s ear – makes you want to keep accenting as if this were a string of iambs, but ending with a “feminine” or unaccented syllable. This is the way we in modern free verse make music with our words. Being aware of this, you can make the music!


The Limitations of the Poetic Self

Why not write about yourself? many prominent poets today will argue. After all, poetry can be the most intimate of the written creative disciplines. To be honest, writing begins within one’s consciousness, one’s perception of the world. But were your poetry to begin AND end with you, you’ve done the writing of it a disservice. You haven’t plumbed its depths; you haven’t sought out the universality in your poetic urge.


For instance:

In Robert Frost’s poem “Birches,” were he to have taken a more personal approach, such as:

“I prefer not to think of their branches

bent with age, leaves downcast,

like my thinning hair, wind

stripping them, the way the years

have sapped my strength…”


Not bad if I do say so. But do you see the limitation this approach takes? Sure, it approaches the birches from the poet’s own situation in a good way. But is this a universal approach, the way the best poetry must do?

But look what Frost does:

“When I see birches bend from left to right

Across the lines of straighter darker trees,

I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.

But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay.

Ice storms do that.

You see the difference? The more complex imagery, the bending of time in one complicated thought? In the supposed example, the poem hugs the poet’s physical self, his/her specific situation. Of course neither set of lines is complete, but Frost’s sets the stage for a complicated take on his stand of birches, not the simpler, less potentially universal intertwining of self and the thing perceived.

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Parsing Poetry


Odd that after all these months I find myself reading poetry again on a regular basis. And talking over the ups and downs of poetic content and structure with a colleague. But what’s come from this new/old exposure?

  • First, this is the age of confessional poetry. That’s not my thing, I discover. too much “me” while poetic gifts that should be aimed at humanity, indeed, at the world at large, are spent whining about one’s personal ups and downs.
  • We’re a couple of centuries deep into free verse, which to date has no accepted structure. No villanelles, no odes, no ballads or sonnets. This can be liberating, but it can be a prison, too.
  • So what the heck? More and more, slant rhymes are the thing (Yes, Emily Dickinson). And the old rhythmic workhorse of poetry, iambic pentameter, is being stretched to its limits. Anyone taught poetry these days is confronted almost immediately with the issue of imagery. And in a deconstructive age, can we do without irony?


I began as a poet, but I’ve long since moved around the block to prose, and so I don’t fancy myself an expert on all things poetic. But in the weekdays following this, I’ll lend a hand to those struggling with understanding poetry, both the writing and reading of it. And who knows? Some pittance here may open a new door for you.

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.