Tag Archives: Literature

Poetry or Short Story – What Shall I Write Today?

This weekend, Abigail Wyatt (co-editor of Poetry24) asked whether it was hard to write poetry at the same time as fiction.

This week I will be submitting several short stories to various competitions along with a short memoir, I also have several poems I’m yearning to write. Can I do both? Or is my intent on honing the final drafts of my prose the reason why I can’t get off the mark with this week’s poems?

Nuala Ni Chonchuir* believes that whilst short fiction and poetry are without doubt different things, certain aspects of each form complement the other. Poets must be concise, so too the short fiction writer. Poets watch and dream and imagine, they take notes and have a good memory, so too the short fiction writer. Poets love words, they play with words, they agonise over the use or placing of a single word but this skill is not lost on a short fiction writer. I agree that writing poetry enhances my skills as a fiction writer and, I am sure, the reverse is true.

Sometimes the hardest part of starting a poem is getting that first line – once that is established the rest flow and it is often prose (and particularly fiction) that enables that first thought. I have to imagine the poem, become the poem, live the poem – just in the way that I live my characters as I write them. Once I am inside the poem then the rest just flows and all that remains is days of reading, re-reading, experimenting with line, enjambment and cutting.

Because I am a poet I know that I can mess with prose, I can tease grammar and play with words – so long as I do it knowingly and deliberately – there is never an excuse for bad grammar but experimental prose – that’s a definite must. If my paragraph is characterised with long sentences then how about throwing in a three or four word sentence somewhere in the middle – or even a fragment? Knowing what the green line on my word processor is for is important; knowing that I can consciously ignore it is crucial.

Today I had Cleaning Instructions published. It is not my first short story but it is the first to be published. I am thrilled, it looks amazing next to the artwork (not mine), it feels professional – it is professional. How did this story differ from my others? Well that’s another Blog but, one thing I know is that I brought poetry to my prose.

I played with words and sentences and structure. And once I’d written it (and sent it to be rejected), I read it again. And I cut. More purposely this time – as I do with my poems.

Whilst it is surely hard to work on several pieces at once (each requires full attention), I do think that you can use one form to complement the other – and that’s a good thing.

  • Language and Style: A guide from a short story writer/poet in Short Circuit  Vanessa Gebbie (Ed) 2009 Salt Publishing: London
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Nature or Nurture?

cuba_crab

Nature or nurture? Thousands of crabs migrate each spring in Cuba, crossing major roads in their journey.

Where does poetry start? What defines a poem, or transforms prose into something poetic? Just as we ask what creates a person – their birth or their upbringing – so I am beginning to think it is with poetry.

I consider myself to be a master of Free Verse. Is this lazy, I wonder? Does it mean I am not, truly, a poet? Surely I should be able to manipulate words such that my poetry gains strength from syllables? From rhyme? I certainly appreciate and enjoy formal poetry and am often in awe of well-rhymed poems.

Yet I do utilise form, structure and rhyme in all my poems. And sometimes I think that the words free verse are something of a misnomer – a dumbing down or devaluing of poetry based purely on the fact that structure may not be immediately apparent. So a poem lacks a rhyming pattern. The stanzas (if any) are not uniform. Does this make the poem any less potent? Any less strived over? Less worthy?

All my poems are fuelled by passion, form, rhyme (more likely internal for me). I use assonance, alliteration. I spend ages considering my words. I play with line breaks. I read, rewrite, re-read. I consider the power of a word when placed at the end of a line, the beginning of a stanza, on its own line. Every break in rhythm, every syllable is carefully constructed and deconstructed and reconstructed until I think I’ve explored every possibility and created a piece of writing that is both musical and meaningful.

This week I wrote Bachcha (it means child in Hindi). I wanted to write about this difficult subject, I wanted to create rich images that juxtaposed the beautiful with the horrific and yet I began the poem lost for words – as my first stanza tells you.

And I noticed that I had still used assonance and imagery even when I felt I was pulling hens’ teeth (to break a writer’s golden rule and use a cliché). So how much of poetry is innate?

I reckon it is this internalised poetry (nature) that first allows us to put pen to paper but it is nurture that necessitates repeated editing and rewriting. It is nature that ensures our poetic voice shines through but nurture makes our finished work appear accomplished.

Nature means you cannot steal my work (it wouldn’t sound like you). Nurture means you should recognise the time I’ve spent – and appreciate the final product.

I didn’t think I could write Bachcha, I felt I hadn’t the words but the part of me that simply writes gave me the bare materials to complete a poem that others describe as powerful.

What do you think?

The Power of Lines

I attended school before health and safety; human rights hadn’t been embraced never mind the rights of a child and corporal punishment ruled. It wasn’t called that at primary school, it had no name, it was just It. Your parents sent you off confident that you would learn and be protected. Instead you suffered endless abuse. Some benign – standing on a chair all dinner because you dared to socialise whilst you grabbed a rushed sandwich or spending break with your nose pressed to the stone wall because you accidently tripped and the teacher thought you were pushing. Others sadistic – being hit with the thin edge of a ruler because you were pushed in the queue and your teacher thought you were dancing. And then there were the punishments which were an affront to literacy. Lines.

I was given lines once because I hadn’t copied my RE passage off the board quickly enough. I was five and the passage was about Jesus’ forty days in the dessert being tempted by the Devil. I had to write over and over, I must work quickly and neatly and then, on the next break, I had to copy the rest of the passage from a friend’s book.

Last Monday I gave myself another ‘lines’ exercise but not in any kind of tribute to my rather pathetic primary school experience. This was the act of reducing my poem from 67 lines to 40 in order to meet submission guidelines. I’ve read people’s letters in a number of literary magazines aimed at writers, letters where the author bemoans the paltry word or line allowances. Forty lines? Fifteen hundred words? And yet, despite my toils, I am firmly of the belief that restricting and shortening can (and usually does) improve work.

Having been inspired to write after reading Gethin Chamberlain’s harrowing article, my poem If The World Ends… went through countless drafts – there are only six electronic versions but my poetry writing depends upon my beautiful fountain pen and decent quality paper before I get anywhere near a computer. And my first electronic version was 67 lines. And I loved every single one of them. And I had a coffee and asked myself – is it so precious that I don’t submit? Or find a different forum – one with a more generous lineage? But I knew the answer was no.

Restricting lines makes us better poets because it makes us mess around with line length. It makes us take a coloured pen to everything, highlighting the bits we can’t lose, circling the iffy bits. Playing with metre, and enjambment… I love this stage in poetry writing but I’m curious what other poets and readers think.

If you’d like to read an early draft of my poem (if you can bear the subject matter more than once) and compare it to the published version then I’d love to hear from you – please do leave a comment or send me an email.