Taking the Dive

I can’t say I’m good at “taking the dive” in the figurative or literal sense. If you put me on a diving board, I’ll just stand there and wonder why the stairs aren’t a better way to enter the water. I’m frozen by my fears. My flight or fight response is broken. When faced with something that terrifies me, I do not try to fight it, because I am sure I will lose, and I do not try to run from it, for fear it will chase me.

In this way, I’m always on a diving platform staring down at the water from above, waiting for someone to push me in so I can go without needing the courage to jump.

I would talk at nauseum about what recent jumps I’ve been forced to take, or those I’m still waiting on, but this is, at it’s heart, a blog about getting better at poetry from one person who’s gotten only 3 poems published to millions of people who aren’t listening, and a handful of you who are curious enough to humor me. So instead, I think it would be more interesting for us few in the wings of millions, to talk about language.

That’s what we’re here for after all.

Figurative language is the art of finding something physical or so well known that when you say an example, the example doesn’t need any explanation. Usually these are all very old examples, and we’ve come to know some phrases over time rather than remembering the example, but the results are the same.

“Take the plunge”, “take the dive”, “take the jump”, they’re all the same example, leaping off of something either with or without knowing the results, and doing it with your full body, putting death on the line. People use this expression to say “go for it” or “don’t fear the results, do it anyway” and for me this can be a powerful encouragement, or a reminder of what I was avoiding in the first place. So how can we use figurative language to support our poems?

Simple, make our own. The idea of “take the dive” is the trepidation which stops us from moving forward, it is the human inability to perform when being faced with a challenge greater than they think is worth the risks. The saying is meant to say that “I took a chance” and even though I didn’t like the risks, I did it anyway with all of my effort.

From there, now that we know what it means, we can come up with our own. Think of something that stops you in your tracks every time, and ask yourself what you are least likely to do with that situation. Be careful now, we don’t want people dead, so if you’re thinking “pet the lion” or “step on the tracks in front of a train” back it off a step or two.

For me, my non-deadly thing I don’t do is touch spiders. I am creeped out by them with their long legs and quick movements. Because of that, instead of saying “take the dive” I could say “touch the spider.” I stood petrified until I touched the spider, and now, everything is fine.

There are a few things to be careful with. First, you don’t want to confuse people. If it isn’t clear why it is something which matches with the original saying, then add in context clues. Second, if it doesn’t fit with the poem you’re writing, add in context clues. If you’re not sure what I mean by context clues, restate your intent in another way, or give the reader a chance to understand by what else is being said.

Now, if you want to take me up on it, write a short poem with an idiom or phrase you replaced, and comment, give me a link or how to find it, and I’ll give you a review!

I look forward to reading your work.

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Was That Bieber?

Warning: This blog deals with mature content.

I heard a Justin Bieber song on the radio the other day, but I didn’t realize it was him. You see, I have come to know Bieber’s style as a quintessential love song, girl heart-throb thing with shallow lyrics aimed towards repetition and beat rather than actual substance or clear, healthy messages.

Some of his early work that I ran into listening to the radio were things like his song about not understanding women, which is laughable to me because it tries to classify an emotional, complex behavior of courtship into finite “yes or no” and while there are other songs I grew up with that had similar messages like “Hot ‘n Cold” by Katy Perry, “What Do You Mean” seemed to simplify it even further just demanding them to be one thing.

I suppose I should spoiler here and say that I’m going to explain what I mean by simplifying and I’m going to be talking about child inappropriate things.

Read More »

non-capitalization in Poetry

Non-capitalization is good for helping progress the emotional drama of a poem. For many poems, this is a capitalization strategy that you can try to see if it will help improve what you want to say. This style can surprise you.

Writing any poem without capitalization to begin with can be a challenge, so mostly this style is good after finishing a poem while exploring all of the different tones and options. The time I find non-capitalization helpful in a poem is when the poem is informal, and quiet, or morose. Non-capitalization tends to change the tone towards something more personal and sincere. Poems which are navel gazers or preaching poems can turn into something that sounds honest when getting rid of the formality of grammar.

There are two different ways that you can play with non-capitalization; leave everything uncapitalized, and leave sentences uncapitalized.

The difference is a method of thought. In most cases, uncapitalized poetry won’t mean uncapitalized words, just not capitalizing the first word in your sentences, but that isn’t the only grammar rule which deals with capitalization. Some poets also add on that they want to capitalize nothing. It’s all about a degree of choice. There are even some poets who will choose to capitalize nothing but the most important part of the poem to draw attention to it.

Everything Uncapitalized

This tone is usually more private, almost like whispering and sharing a secret. It comes off soft, and sometimes disrespectful to the speaker or the individuals and places involved. This is because most of the time capitalization of proper nouns and pronouns is regarded as honoring that individual.

With this style, you would not capitalize things like “I” and “United States” which can leave the tone of the poem somewhat morose. Most poems that choose to go with this style also feel less restricted to proper sentence structure and grammatical rules.

There is a new trend in poetry for younger generations which creates poems that do not follow these grammatical rules such as just using lists of noun phrases as a poem rather than adding verbs and sentences. These poems can be very bold and shocking, but most of them will look better without capitalization because it plays at the idea that these are not sentences, but fragments which were meant to be fragments.

The more you want to break traditional rules, the less grammar and punctuation you may want to try in the poem. Not all poems will abide by these rules. It takes understanding the subject, the motivation, and the response people will have to find a balance between clarity, and presentation. Some grammar rules will help with the flow of the poem.

Sentences Uncapitalized

This tone presents with more belief in self if the poem is first person, and more respect for the character if it is in third person. In this case, you still capitalize things like “I” and “Tim” but you wouldn’t capitalize the beginning of sentences. Oftentimes this is the stop-gap for poems which feel too formal with capitalization, but not informal enough for a lack of capitalization.

Another fun thing to do with this style of non-capitalization is to allow for a lack of punctuation, or minimal punctuation which can create interesting sentences, and develop new ways to read lines. You can use enjambment to plan sentences as they read, versus sentences that are on a line. This can be tricky if you stick with all grammar rules, but given the trends of poems, it’s oftentimes easier to create unique images on a line with enjambment than you may imagine.

Applications of non-capitalization

In many ways non-capitalization in poetry can be a challenge to see how well your poem stands up to grammatical criticism as we read. Sometimes the capitalization in a sentence or paragraph can hide grammatical flaws like missing clauses.

As we read, we jump from sentence to sentence with capitalization guiding us along, and getting rid of that capitalization can create a new perspective of how the sentences flow together, and where they don’t. A problem for some young writers is to write in complete sentences, and getting rid of capitalization can show them where the complete sentences are so they stop putting periods where a comma should go.

More than a learning tool, taking away capitalization can give people a feeling of missing something which may be exactly what your poem is about. Sometimes the best metaphors for emotions are visual rather than the symbolic meanings of the words. If the poem is about a lack of beginnings, or a lack of respect, or just written by someone who would be texting it rather than typing, try taking out capitalization, give it a little bit of time, then read it fresh and see if you like it better.

The worst thing that could happen is having to add the capitalization back in, so it’s worth the extra effort!

Rap and Poetry

Today, English teachers try to engage their students with poetry by saying “it’s like rap” even though there are a lot of differences in the way that rap and poetry function. Poetry and rap are different because while rap has a beat or rhythm that it’s set to, poetry often creates a beat through word choice and meter. Also, rap is more prone to rhyming, or requiring rhyming than poetry. Lastly, rap and poetry differ widely when it comes to stylistic developments. The first one, and most obvious, is that rap has a beat pounded with it, and while that’s not always the case out loud, it usually is with motion.

Rap has developed over the time almost like a cousin to beat poetry, or the movement in poetry when it was more important to hit the spoken word aspect of sounds rather than presenting a story, or a clean reading. There’s a lot of interaction with both of them. With rap, there is dancing, singing along, and even rap battles. With beat poetry, they also have battles and audience jeering. This is the primary similarity between poetry and rap.

However, not all poetry is beat or spoken word, and while you could debate that all rap is poetry, you could also debate all songs are poetry, or all music in general, even instrumental, is poetry. To start kids off in poetry, this is great, but once you want to get into the more complex explorations of poetry, once you start developing an understanding of different forms, different eras, rap and poetry stop being similar.

Not all poetry relies heavily on the spoken word’s beat, or tonality. A lot of it has been morphed into something that can be read silently to yourself, although it always sounds more visceral out loud. Also rap tends to be a lot longer than most poems today. With the waning attention spans due to the wide variety of entertainment, it’s hard to keep someone around for a 5 minute read, so poems tend to be one page.

If you look at the length of a typical rap song, such as Eminem’s “Rap God” you can easily see it’s much longer than one page. [Warning: explicit language in Rap God]

If you look at a recent poem published by The Poetry Foundation, like “A French Piano Tuner & a One-Eyed Glassblower Walk into a Bar” you will see that not only are the lines much shorter, but the poem in general is small. [Warning: explicit language in A French Piano Tuner & a One-Eyed Glassblower Walk into a Bar]

In many ways that’s because rap is made to almost be a verbal plethora of language, to speak quick and combine tricky sounds. Poetry in general, is a slower sport. This helps build the next difference between the two.

Rap is more prone to rhyming than poetry. That is because rap tends to ride through the rhythm and rhyme of the words to speak faster and keep your tongue from twisting, while poetry is relying more heavily on meaning and inferred messages. It becomes necessary to remain slower so people can catch all of the words clearly.

This isn’t to say that rappers don’t speak clearly, they do. It’s just that their goal is sometimes to best the others in their field by pure eloquence of phrase and speed, whereas Poetry aims to obtain the most visceral, or emotional response. Both of them also have classes within their groupings. Some are more popular than others, some are easier to follow than others.

While I talk about Eminem, there are some audiences who are widely familiar with the more popular rappers of today’s generation which have different styles of rapping, just as I know of many styles unlike the poem I used as an example. For instance, this particular song “XO Tour Llif3” produced by JW Lucas and TM88 on the most popular songs on SoundCloud, a music listening website, is different from “Rap God” but still considered rap.

Lastly, or at least the last one I want to talk about, is that rap is stylistically different. As you can see from the examples, rap and poetry can have the same subject matter, or similarly explicit language, but be very different in how they approach a situation.

For poetry, conservation is the name of the game. Fit as much as you can in the tightest space possible, and then cut half of it. In rap, it’s more about the flow of the style. Fit whatever you need to in the song, but make sure you’re entertaining and giving people they can use to follow along.

All in all, the primary difference falls down to the audience’s expectations. Poems used to be more like songs or rap, but the more we expect from either class, the less similar they become. As we expect people to avoid repeating themselves, the styles change to conform, and as we expect them to read less, again, the style changes. It becomes a game of knowing your audience and writing for them.

The last thing I’d like to leave you with is a question. What differences or similarities do you see between different songs? Can you pick out a writer from the lyrics alone, or does it take the voice?

National Poetry Month

It’s that time of year again.

National Poetry Month is based on the premise that the more you write, the better you’ll get, but there’s a flipside to that. The more you write, the less time you spend reading, and that can really hinder your ability to improve.

For me, it becomes a balance between reading and writing. Read a poem, write a poem, be aware of poetic language throughout the day, all of it is what National Poetry is good for.

The most surprising place I find beautiful poetry is on the radio. There are a lot of song writers today that develop language through poetry and write stories with their songs. Some of the big names in the business do just that, like Taylor Swift, and Eminem.

Sometimes the message isn’t always the right one, but listening to how the music flows with the words can help improve craft. You can concentrate on stresses, learn to write in meter, and how to rhyme better while listening to music.

So in that way, it can be really easy to get your “reading” time in if you have to drive, but you can also hide a chapbook in the bathroom, or have one on your phone through the Kindle app. They have a lot of poetry books for free in the store.

Most of them are the old books too, so you can learn some of the more famous names like Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Longfellow, and so forth.

 

A Poem: Inaugurations

I get sick of hearing
that we’re making history
with this or that, because we’re not making history.
History is what people of the future record.
People won’t look back in the book of records
and remember two hundred years from now
that these things happened.

They will look back, decide what they wish to say
and then morph it into the important side notes of life.
Current history isn’t history,
it’s a life changing event.

I went to see this amazing event,
but the event was more important to me than
making history.

Being in that crowed of all those people,
the president spoke and hearing the words
echo over the Jumbo-trons
made me shiver like a ghost touched me.

All these people,
all these individuals from everywhere, and everything,
came in curiosity, hope, and faith in this man.
Every crowed and every section on that day
had different reactions,
different moments of sadness,
of happiness, and cheers.

Those people in those crowds made up different lives
showed to represent different places
and all of us stood together,
crouched together
huddled together in the cold,
and listened together.

We may have been making history,
but it was about the moment,
that feeling of comradery and friendship
the ability to lean on your neighbor for warmth
a neighbor whom you would never meet again
and to see everyone at once react,
being enthralled in the speech.

The Inauguration of President Obama
wasn’t about making history
it was about the United States
coming together to support and witness this man
and it wasn’t about the first black President,
it was about a leader who could take us forward,
give us the support and hard work we need
to prove our vote still matters.

A Poem: Garden

Garden It was ripped to shreds turned over, and dumped atop a chipped hole in the earth. The garden had been pretty. Weedy, but pretty nevertheless. Like anything it took time to grow a bleeding heart, a couple bushes the occasional tulip planting a horrifying dog toy and bones but in the end, all of […]

Alternative Capitalization

This style of capitalization is new on the scene, but not as new as you might think! If you read Victorian era writing, you’ve actually seen this capitalization style. Remember when words like Death were capitalized because they were being used as a proper noun? That is an alternative capitalization strategy!

This style is more complex than sentence or line capitalization, but it is incredibly useful. Basically, line and sentence capitalization didn’t work for everyone, and after people stopped capitalizing metaphorical symbols, these people found they had to break out of the box, and do something different. They decided to take all the grammatical rules we know and memorized, and toss them out the window.

The main ones I’ll be talking about are going to be Breath Capitalization and Victorian Capitalization. These are used in spoken word and victorian era poetry. We can still see their uses today, however, as we combine and fiddle with things like emotional capitalization, which wraps up under Breath.

Breath Capitalization

This is when something is capitalized based on how you breathe and speak. For spoken poets, it’s their cheat sheet for when to raise their volume, breathe, speak softer, or change intonation. It goes hand in hand with an alternative punctuation style.

Instead, they use capitalization based on where they Want it to be to create EMPHASIS like we do while we TexT our friends late at night because “OH MY GOD I CANT BELIEVE HE JUST SAID THAT” is a lot easier to type than “Oh my god, I cannot believe he just said that!” on a phone. Both of them emphasize that whatever he just said, was crazy, but the first one matches breath capitalization+punctuation, and the other one matches sentence capitalization+punctuation.

Victorian Capitalization

While this style isn’t nearly as used, it is very useful for explaining how Alternative can be such a fun way to write. Back when Emily Dickinson was crafting her Great American Paperweight, she chose to capitalize words that were important somehow, but not always obviously important. They were words that deserved emphasis, but also words that required further investigation.

Today poets use this idea when they want to change inflection and tone in a poem. It also can indicate things like worth!

Working Together

Breath and Victorian capitalization styles can work together beautifully because when you want something to look a certain way, you can capitalize it to fit the weight of a page, and throw all of those nasty grammar rules out the window to create your own.

The beauty of poetry here is that as long as we are consistant with ourselves, people will be able to follow along and understand what we’re saying. People are programmed to recognize patterns, and we can use that to our advantage by creating a pattern and then using it consistently, and poetry readers will forgive us for not using a pattern they’re familiar with. In fact, a lot of poetry readers will be thrilled to see something unique.

Sentence Capitalization

To continue from a month ago with my series on capitalization in poetry, sentence capitalization is next.

This style of writing is the most common today. The more you read, the more you’ll see it. The style is pretty basic. Write your poem like you would write your prose. If you would capitalize it normally, then you would capitalize it in this style. The one caveat to it is that you would capitalize it as if you were writing in a paragraph, not lines and stanzas. Here’s how it goes, if it’s the beginning of a sentence or a proper noun, you capitalize. Basically, you can write your poem as a paragraph, and then add in all of your stanzas and lines, and you’ll have your capitalization spot on in this style.

The nuances of this style really allow the writer to explore the different aspects of poetry. It’s got enough class to handle a poem that rhymes, and enough system to handle a poem that doesn’t.

One of the reasons this style is something that most poets write with is because it handles nearly everything you can throw at it. Villanelle? Sure. Haiku? Of course! Dramatic reenactment of World War II? Definitely! This style allows the poet to avoid thinking about how they want to capitalize, and when to hit those buttons, and just write. It’s already how we naturally do things in every other aspect of our lives, so it’s a smooth transition.

Writing poetry becomes a thing that’s not very different from writing in a journal, or on a blog, aside from the style of word choice, and how often you hit enter.

For me, as a writer of poetry, and a reviewer of poetry, I find this style the easiest to delve into the meaning and content of the poem. It’s accessible, and I don’t have to stop and wonder about a certain word being capitalized.

I don’t always want to see this style though, sometimes, a poem needs to shout and that’s where one of the other styles comes into play. This style doesn’t allow a question about what should be capitalized. It doesn’t give you leeway to capitalize “anger” because you’re really angry, or “love” because you want to express that it’s not puppy love, but the big, capital ‘L’ kind. Those nuances are left to another capitalization style.

This style makes it more about the words you chose on an internal level, unless you pair it with breath punctuation. Breath punctuation is when you punctuate according to how you read the poem, rather than how the poem should grammatically be punctuated.

This combination can be enthralling, because everything looks right on the surface, with the capitalization, but the breath, the pauses, the waiting, the speed you have to read some sentences at without stopping for just a moment before you get out the next line is all there and together and it can be beautiful, or just make you gasp. But these things are unique to the poem, and how you want to write it as a poet.

It’s your choice what you want your voice to become. Your voice, how you want to present your words to the reader, has a lot to do with your choice of capitalization style for particular poems. This type of capitalization doesn’t surprise anyone, so if you’re trying to really make a statement, then this capitalization might not do it. You’d be relying on other things, like word choice, structure, punctuation, syntax, connotation, metaphor, and so on.

Still, if you look at poetry books today, many of the literary magazines like this capitalization the best. They’ll get on kicks of poems that lack capitalization too, and sometimes they’ll even publish really cool poems that capitalize according to emotion, but this style is one of the most popular ones.

That says a lot about it’s value.

In summary, this is the go-to style for most poets who aren’t trying to rock the boat with their capitalization.

Poetry Critiques

Poetry is a type of artform that allows you to write it faster than read it sometimes because we always want a poem read twice. That makes it easy to spit out a poem and roll the dice that it’s going to be good, but hard to edit. Why edit, when you can just produce a new poem?

The problem with that logic is that editing is what makes a poem good in most cases. We as writers cannot make something perfect the first time around, editing is needed to give us space, perspective, and allow our thoughts to develop over time.

What I’ve found with websites like Young Writers Society is that when I get a critique on many of my poems, I have an easier time breaking away from the moment I wrote the poem and into looking at the poem from a critical eye. Other people’s opinions on what sounds poor, or what might improve, helps me develop a sense of what I want to say and where I need to change it.

Because of that, we oftentimes want to have people critique our poems without compensation. You critique mine and I’ll critique yours, but we never get around to it because we’re off writing more. If we’re honest to ourselves, we know when we sign up we’re not going to critique other people’s poems. But why?

Critiquing someone else’s work is good practice for identifying good and bad writing. Reading their work provides us with a basis for developing what is cliche, what has already been done, and engaging ourselves in the market. We should be writing poetry because we like poetry, not because someone told us to, and if we like poetry, then we should read it too.

If anyone is interested in starting a group to share and improve their poetry with me, please comment.

I think it could be a lot of fun to create a blog together with other people and critique like a writing circle.