Thursday, May 14, 2015

Writing a poem

Reading a poem is serious business.
Septentrian Baronial Investiture 2015.
Photo by Master Eirik Andersen.
I have been asked by a few people what my process is when I am writing a poem. Obviously, the first thing I need is a topic. Some of my favourite poems have been praise poems, and there are always people out there who deserve our praise. Has someone been elevated to an order? Did they make an impact on your day in a positive way? Did they engage in some great act of service? Do they amaze you with their artistic skill?

Once I have a topic (usually a person) I then carry out some research on them. I try to find out what their persona is (time and place), as well as what their interests are and specific bits of personal lore that I may be able to draw on (for instance, favourite colours, animals, activities, and so on).

Having determined the topic's time and place in history I then do some more research on the poetic traditions of that time and place. If the person I am going to write about has a 10th century Irish persona, then I will try to write the poem about them in a 10th century Irish style. This can actually take longer than writing the actual poem, as there are numerous poetic genres, forms and devices for every time and place. I began to keep a catalogue of this information (which I displayed at the Spring A&S Faire) so I would always have it easily accessible. I would urge other poets to do the same if they are thinking of writing in various styles.

It is only at this point that I will sit down and begin writing the poem. I usually just start throwing out lines, not worrying about scansion to start. After I have written the requisite number of lines to match the format I've selected I will go back and rewrite the lines to meet the requirements of the style. Sometimes, when writing I will actually start with the last line of a verse so I can build up to where I want to go, rather than trying to come up with a conclusion for what I have already written. Wrangling with words can take time and patience, and sometimes I find that I need to toss out a line (or even a whole verse) and start over. This is all part of the process.

Once I've wrestled the words into the format my chosen style required, I read it out loud to see how it flows. If it is technically sound, but does not read well aloud, I will again go back and tinker with the words, rearranging their order in the line, replacing some words with new words, all the time trying to make sure that I am still meeting the style's requirements.

Sometimes my finished piece will not be perfect. I may have had to sacrifice an inner rhyme, or an instant of consonance, to make the piece meet my needs. and this is ok. Writing is a process, and it only gets better with practice. The next time, I vow, I will be able to do it better.

I hope, for those that were interested, that this gives you an insight into my process, and maybe will find encouragement to try writing some poems of your own. I look forward to reading them.

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