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Monday, July 13, 2009

Let's Talk Poetry - Part I

The traditionalist, modernist and post-modernist poets have their particular approaches for creating poetry. There is a vast amount of variations in poetic styles for poetry connoisseurs as well as for those who simply like to read poetry.

Poets from the traditional school believe in structures. Their poems have predetermined meter, rhymes and stanzas.

Modernist poets adhere lukewarmly to poetic structures. This position of theirs allows them to write poems with variable meter, rhymes and stanzas. Their artistic creations are known as Blank Form poetry. In Blank Form poetry, poems are written without rhymes but they retain a set metrical pattern, usually in iambic pentameter (five iambic feet per line) in English Verse.

Post-modernist poets write in Open Form. This unstructured form gives rise to the style of free verse poems. These poems do not use established patterns of meter, rhymes and stanzas. The rhyming techniques in these creations are derived from the repetition of words, phrases, or grammatical structures, the layout of words on the page, or by some other means. They probably opined that structure tends to hamper the free flow of the thought processes. Their “thumbs down” as it were to established codes found in classical poetry could be their way of ensuring that creativity is not suffocated. So essentially what they are saying is that literary creations must come from focusing on the process of poetry, not what the words in the poem actually say. Aesthetic thought which has become the soul and spirit of classical poets more specifically, the romantic poets is not revered by any of these non-conformist poets.

Hence, the ‘conspiracy theory’ asserts the non-conformist poets go all out to break down established structures for the sake of letting their creative juices flow without imposed restrictions so typical of classical poetry. In their back walls they are attempting to make poetry and language new again. Hmm! Thought about reinventing the poetic wheel! Much food for thought here, I’d say. Is this wishful thinking on their part? Is this challenge of theirs bigger than life? These are the kinds of questions that make rounds in the world of poetry. Time has a way of telling. Meanwhile, as poets of all persuasions we must continue to do what we do, write poetry for the public to enjoy. We must never loose sight of the fact that the public have varying moods and styles as far as poetry is concerned. There will always be fans for classical poetry as well as fans for non-classical poetry. Yet there are those who enjoy both classical and non-classical poetry. Poetry in any form and style will never die. However, the process of poetry continues to evolve from its classical roots, for conventions are never static but do change overtime. This shifting of the poetic paradigm fosters the birthing of originality. It places established conventions into new roles: to serve as comparative measures and contrast for new creative artistry. You may have thought that being placed in an archival state is a negative one. Not so at all. This constant referencing to established codes in order to create new poetic ideology and styles is what keeps traditional poetry in the eyes and minds of the public. There can be no doubt that classical poetry is always a source for constant referencing, for anything that is new must first have its source. What message is this sending to the poetry world? It presupposes that prevailing conventions of the times exert tremendous pressures on poets’ selection of form, content, style, diction and so much more.

As we continue to face this reality that everybody is in to poetry; some with heightened passion; some whose passion for it is subdued, and some who would not publicly admit that poetry plays a part in their lives, but at the end of the day we can say with assurance that poetry sustains the lives of rational beings. Poetry is the food that our senses feed on. Each crafted though ignites cognitive sparks and expands the mind as grey matter keeps on mushrooming and clinging to the mind like those ivy vines on walls and trees. The winds of change keep on blowing in the world of poetry. This puts demands for more and more versatile poets. Versatile poets don’t put a monopoly on any particular form of poetry because they have mastered the concomitant techniques or devices that shape traditional forms of poetry and then use such to extend their poetry into unchartered waters as it were. No one can afford to discount the power of traditional forms of poetry for they are great stepping stones for honing the craft of poetry and for those seeking to become versatile poets.

Poetry styles are very much more flexible in this 21st Century as more poets eschew recognizable forms, and write in non-conformist structures. However, poetry remains distinguished from prose by the forms and styles it takes. Some regard for basic formal structures of poetry can be found in even the best non-conformist structures that feed on the style of Free Verse and there can be no denying this as a fact. Similarly, in the best poetry written in the classical form, there are departures from its strict form for emphasis or effect. Both forms of poetry, classical and non-classical have useful purposes but what I think poets from both sides of the poetic divide must do is to strive for versatility in their creative endeavours. The modern ode to poetry I have written expresses my feelings on the matter and it goes like this:

Since poetry is the food of the senses
cart me loads of wholesome flesh
beneath the skin and on the bone
like a flamingo, I take my time to pick
and eat with delightful intensity
the savoury cuts of poetry.

With beak-like quills, of granite
flint and stone, in jaws clinching
opening to unwind
flinging words like flying feathers
each crafted thought cascading down
with riddled sensuous thrills

myriads of cognitive sparks light up the mind

oh give me poetry to make me grow
a little fat, and a bit of this and that
a succulent slice of poetry
our poetic ancestors left behind.

We do know that literature comes in many genres which specify the specific form the content takes. The literary types of genres are plays, novels, essays, short stories and poetry. However, poetry has its own genres too in what is know as classical form, non-classical form, lyrical poetry, narrative poetry and career poetry. What we have coming out of these various poetry genres are many styles and with newer styles constantly emerging.

Style identifies the specific techniques or devices poets use to convey content to captivate the audience. All poets, and I mean those that use meter to create verses and those who do not. There is no doubt on this that poets use language within a concentrated blend of sound, meaning, and imagery to create emotional responses from the audience. So what I can see is that metered poets rely on verses from which the rhythmic flow stems from the rhyme-scheme used in stanzas. Free verse poets rely on cadence planned around units. Prose poets rely as well on cadence ordered around lines. Let’s bear in mind though, that poets like to play with words and in so doing they have created forms which adhere to conventional arrangements or they do not.

Forms that do not conform to the predetermined patterns of meter, rhythm, verses in stanzas have come about from the doings of modernist and post modernist poets as I have mentioned previously. And as you know, form is the structural characteristics of the poetic style. If the style is shaped around meter, rhythm and rhymes then it is referred to as fixed form, other names used for it are closed form, classical form, metered poetry and traditional form. Poetic styles that have emerged out of this rigid form are the epic, ode, sonnet, ballad, limerick, pantoum, sestina, triolet, villanelle, rondeau, ghazal, elegy, epigram, tanka, cinquain, haiku, acrostics, senryu, octtava rima, terza rima, paradelle.

Poetic styles that pour from non-compliant forms also referred to as unstructured poetry or open form poetry as espoused by modernist and postmodernist poets are free verse, reportage, prose poetry, the bop, blues poems, cento, found poetry, ekprastic, oulipo, chance operation, egoless poetry, beat poetry, blank form, open form, performance poetry, computer-generated poetry.

I’m persuaded with this notion that the childhood upbringing, core values, beliefs, personality, socio-cultural factors of poets are like bingo balls in an airtight capsule and once released they play substantial roles in the development of their poetic styles and techniques or devices from which choices are made as to what to use, how and in what manner. Among the many choices poets have to make involve content, diction, figurative language, rhetorical devices, sounds, and rhythmic patterns. Now let’s suppose that one poet from an early age sees beauty and love in everything around; another poet early in life sees nature as a manifestation of the Divine, and yet another poet believes that disorder is not necessarily a bad thing, by and large their orientation in life would have tremendous impact on their poetic compositions. Therefore one would surely see reflected in their poems, images projecting the awesomeness of the natural environment, images of romance, and images that depict the mystic and surreal. No surprise here, for poetry is the emotional side of language. Whether the poet is happy, sad or dwell in bleak corners of the mind, poetry has a way of stepping up to the plate. Poetry is the mirror of the mind that feeds on all of our senses. When images of any sort become consistent themes throughout the poet’s creative artistry, a poetic style is gradually taking shape and over time it morphs into the preferred style. In order for poets to expand their audience base among fans of all ages, cultural backgrounds around the globe, style and versatility hold the keys. Poetry must have universal images and should not be limited to what is current or popular but what is most effective for the particular effect poets wish to have on the audience. Versatile poets are those who can create effective poems from both classical and non-classical forms with their signature styles.

When we set about to compare poets, style is usually the starting point for the debate. For example, let’s look at these two English poets: William Wordsworth and William Blake.

William Wordsworth (April 7, 1770- April 23, 1850) astrological sign was Aries. He defined poetry as “the spontaneous, overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recollected in tranquility”. He was truly an apostle of romanticism in poetry. He was 80 years when he died. His poems, “The Daffodils” and “The World is too much with us” are listed among my favourite poems.

William Blake (November 28, 1757 – August 13, 1827) astrological sign was Sagittarius. Credit goes to him as the innovator of Open form poetry. He was 70 years old when he died. He too, embraced the philosophy of romanticism in his poetry but in expressing his aesthetic attitude in poetry it differed somewhat from that of his contemporary, William Wordsworth. His poem, “London” has well crafted quatrains and rhyme scheme. “Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright” is my favourite.

When I compared William Wordsworth with William Blake I saw similarities and dissimilarities in their poetic styles. The similarities lie in the fact that these two English poets have embraced romanticism in their poetry and are both nature poets. In their treatment of nature, however, their styles are drastically different. William Wordsworth depicts rustic characters in his poetry. His poetry is based on the real language of the people and avoids the poetic diction found in much 18th Century poetry. He wrote eloquently about nature in easy flowing conversational open form with true lyrical power and beauty. In his poems, God is everywhere manifested in harmony with nature and Wordsworth felt deeply the kinship between nature and the soul of humankind. William Blake also makes reference to God in his poetry as he draws inspiration from nature but his style is vastly different from that of Wordsworth. His themes though universal per se, give rise to poetry that is bleak and full of symbolic mysticism; and his poetry flows on a repetitive rhythmic scale as it were.

Poets who created their signature styles had to make choices along the way. Wordsworth and Blake did just that despite the fact they are both considered effective romantic poets and being inspired by nature. They elected not to write about the industrial and political changes of the day which they saw around them but rather on nature and how it impacted on their feelings. In so doing, they established themselves as romantic poets whose themes thought treated differently captivated their audience. Style becomes the poet’s code of conduct. It stems from endeavouring to understand others and of thinking with the heart as well as with the head.

Once we are able to discern the style associated with poets we can really get to know and understand them or what I like to say is “to reach into their minds”. I believe that style can serve as the litmus test for getting to understand poets. In doing so one must check out the manner in which poets deliver their poetic artistry to the audience. I have never seen poets like William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, William Wordsworth or Edward Kamau Brathwaithe, a Barbadian just like me and this list could go on and on. However, I do know for sure those that have passed on and those still here, and the fact that all poets have their unique styles. It’s from their distinctive styles that I’m able to set them apart and to extrapolate their thoughts. For example, Kamau Brathwaite’s style is distinctly not Shakespearean neither is it an Emily Dickinson, or a Robert Frost or Wordsworth and not even Maya Angelou his contemporary for that matter. How do I know this and yet have never met any of them in real time? I know them by their works and from comparative analysis of their poetry. If I want to read sonnets would I go to read the works of Edward Kamau Brathwaithe? I’m not saying that Kamau can’t write sonnets because such a talented man can but he made a choice. So, if I want to read poetry with unusual sycorax signature typography and spelling along with distinct accents, sonic gestures and pronunciations that make for exciting reading rich in nuances then Kamau would be my choice among others with comparable styles. Simply put, the poets’ style is determined by choices they made with respect to form, diction, figurate language, rhetorical devices, rhythmic patterns, poet techniques or devices that serve as poetic highways and byways that lead us into the poets’ mind.

As a poet, I say with confidence that all poets are constantly perplexed with the idea of how best to draw in the audience. This important need propels poets to use words arranged artistically to paint “mind-pictures” so as to capture the audience. Hence, a variety of poetic techniques or devices are applied. Many elements are woven into a poem for various effects. Particular structures may be used to expand the literal meaning of the words, or to evoke emotional or sensual responses. Sometimes, such devices as assonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia and rhythm are used to achieve musical or incantatory effects. Further more, expect to find ambiguity, dramatic monologue, anaphora, symbolism, irony and other stylistic elements of poetic diction. These by and large, tend to leave a poem open to multiple interpretations. In poetry, this is very good for it stretches creativity to higher heights, as it were. Now, just look at the way metaphors and similes behave; when they exist in a poem they create a resonance between otherwise disparate images. Such layering of meanings tends to form connections not perceived previously. We must also recognize that similar forms of resonance may exist between individual verses, in their patterns of rhyme and rhythm. These devices are useful plug-ins in the poets’ tool bag of techniques, as it were. These poetic devices all have tremendous impact on the poem’s structure, content, voice, image and imagery. You may have noticed that used has been made of the term poetic devices, but I tend to use poetic technique interchangeably with poetic devices because they perform similar functions that of making poems effective to the audience and to draw them into the story being told in a profound manner as well as for poetry analysis and or criticism. Click on this link to view the list of poetic techniques.

Apart from these various poetic techniques or devices, poetry is promoted in many forms and for one to get the full benefits of poems they are never read silently. Poetry as an art form is meant to be read aloud and modern technology has impacted on this notion in many positive ways. Modern technology is increasingly influencing the way poetry is assembled, marketed and delivered. Bear in mind that poets don’t write for themselves. Then, why on earth, would they publish their creations? Poets are aware that their targeted audience does not have a monolithic taste for poetry, and they know that the various forms and styles of poetry attract various segments of their audience. When poets create their poems, uppermost in their minds are the goals of keeping the audience happy, retaining and expanding their audience by using every conceivable poetic technique or device available. These goals are never-ending for lived poets who want to remain relevant. With such goals in mind, contemporary poets see modern technology as the enabling platform for the achievement of their goals.

I see where technology is the driving force behind this paradigm shift in poetic expression, presentation and marketing. I think one would agree with me that this paradigm shift does impact on all poets, whether such poets see themselves as traditionalist, modernist, postmodernist or imagist. Today’s poets are fusing technologically sound enhancement tools in this new genre known as poetry-visualized. This bringing together of various multimedia tools into the products of poetry are not reserved only for free verse poems and are proving to be quite effective in poems written in traditional forms and styles.

Poetry-visualized gives poets more options to work with when creating their poems for versatility and wider audience appeal. Poetry-visualized is not poet-centric but rather audience-centric. In doing so, poets are giving due attention to the needs of their audience; and especially so for poets who not only write poems but are also poet-teachers. Poets want to be able to appeal to all the five senses and to get their audience to interact with, take in and process stimuli provided in poems’ content. So too, an understanding of the learning styles from various models can’t be detrimental to their goals. Poets who fail to move the fans from being passive-listeners will not readily draw those fans who want to be active-listeners to the muse. Poetry-visualized allows listeners to the muse to become active-participants by catering to their sensory perception and interactive styles. Thus, the philosophy of constructivism is as relevant to poetry as it is in the formal educative process. Whether intentionally or not is non-debatable. Poetry-visualized rides the backbone of constructivism and as such continues to sustain and attract more folks who would not normally be drawn to poetry. I have seen the result of this because from the moment I injected poetry-visualized to my poetry blog on the web my audience expanded, this trend continues to whole its own much to my delight.

Poetry is a literary genre and persons writing it are called poets. Hmm! Did I have to say so? The material poets provide in their poems is known as content and is made up of facts, ideas, and impressions. The arrangement of content is dictated by the particular form and styles poets use. In order to present this content to the targeted audience, poets must provide a voice. This is done artfully by assigning someone who will speak the words written in the poems. The person who elucidates the content of poems is called the “voice”. Voice can also mean the”aura”. Aristotle referred to the aura that is created from the element in the artistic production that induces a perception by the audience of the moral qualities of the speaker or character as the”ethos”. In narrative poetry, the persona is the “I” or the implied speaker as in the case of lyrical poems. Sometimes poets would identify a created character as the speaker. However, in the absence of such a specific attribution, the term persona is applied. In so doing, this allows for no automatic assumption that the creative work done by poets is their expressed experiences or views. The good that this does, it prevents any potential ambiguity and enables poets to give expression to things they would prefer not to have attributed to themselves.

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Haiti Under Rubble from 7.0 Earthquake

Natural disasters whenever and wherever they occur impact on all of our lives. The Good Book says we are our brothers and sisters keepers lead by the Holy Spirit. Hence, we must do our part when disaster shows its ugly face. Any assistance, great or small, given from generous and loving hearts has equal weight. I'm passing on this information I received that Barbadians can go to First Caribbean Bank to donate to the Disaster Relief Fund for Haiti. The banking information is shown below:

First Caribbean Bank Account--2645374-- Cheques can be written to: HELP #2645374

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Reading Poetry