Make use

(Carver 1997:257)

Carver's poem does something more than give us good advice. It allows us a glimpse of the poet's surroundings, and shows us how these surroundings influence his writing. He makes us believe the conditions under which he is writing have entered the content of the poem, have become—in all their randomness—its subject. He causes us to imagine that while he is writing there actually is someone in the kitchen lurching around drunk, that it's raining outside, that he is smoking a cigarette. Can it be that the writer's outside world—not just the inner world of experience, or the abstract world of literary forms—

becomes the factor in how poems are shaped? If you are writing in a crowded pub, are you more likely to write in free verse than in regular metre? Does writing a sonnet require solitude, while a rap lyric comes off best in the presence of a noisy audience? Many poems, perhaps the majority, show us a mind thinking, but thinking through response to some imagined or real object, person or event. Your poem will say something through its form—about its circumstances, about your sense of yourself as an artist, about your way of thinking in your world.

Poetic Forms

Rhyme, Metre and Stress Patterns

The four poems I have quoted from in the section Poetry and Story all make use of rhyme. They are also written (to emphasise the paradox) as speech. We might expect these two elements to be incompatible, but when we think about what makes these voices pleasurable, memorable, also direct and clear, it could be that very contrast between naturalness and artificiality. Tony Harrison's sonnets, his powerful poem 'v' which imitates the slang speech of a skinhead, might also suggest that contrast, difference, clash of formal with vernacular registers, generate turbulent verbal energies. But this view— although it may contain a good deal of truth—will not put rhyme in its place for us. The speaker of 'Sonny Letta' turns his speech into an agitated dance; rhyme as a desperate gesture. It indicates urgency. Jean 'Binta' Breeze's poem makes use of irregular rhyme patterns, words at the ends of lines rhyme with those within lines (internal rhyme)— 'memories.. .is.. .place' —while certain words— 'grow.. .know.. .too'—at the ends of lines show a typical irregularity: long spaces between rhymes set up an expectation of rhyme only to defer it. Rhyme, then, is not just an artificial device. It signals the link between poetry and music, poetry and its ancient oral roots (see Chapter 1, p. 25). New writers are often discouraged from using obvious rhyme, however, and there are some good reasons why. Rhyme needs to interact with other qualities in poems, with speech, with dramatisation, urgency, surprise, and with other aspects of form such as sentence lengths in poems. Rhyme on its own, rhyme without other qualities in poetry, can be dull, lifeless, and should be avoided.

Poems are written in lines of equal or unequal length. Regular metre counts the number of beats or stresses per line and keeps to a consistent number—five for iambic pentameter (as in Edmund's speech on p. 83 above), the most commonly found stress pattern in English metrical verse. Pope's couplet, from his 'Essay on Man', shows the pentameter in safer hands than Edmund's. Whenever we write or speak in English we make use of stress patterns. The word 'iambic' means that an unstressed/stressed pattern is operating, with stress falling on the second syllable, as follows:

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