Archives for posts with tag: understanding poetry

Scale (PSF)
The beam of a true poem balances
when each pan hovers
with just right the weight.
A real poem contains rhyme;
Each line leads us to a prediction.

When I was at junior school, it was the end-of-term duty of the girls in the highest class, Standard 5, to gather news from each year. These reports were compiled in rhyming couplet form:

As we close the door to Sub A,
it’s to the next classroom we stray.
So now enter the class of the Sub B’s,
where this term they’ve been busy as bees.

It was often as stilted as that; after all the authors were twelve-year-olds, most of whom had had little exposure to rhyming odes themselves. These reports together with the school song, national anthem and hymns we were obliged to sing in assembly were among the early influences of rhyming English in my life. Before I went to school there was rhyme at home. This was fun and storytelling rhyme that shaped Rupert-the-Bear adventures, Ahlberg’s classic “Each, Peach, Pear, Plum” and “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”. By the time I heard these and other rhyming songs and stories related to my younger sister, I was already reading long-form prose. Her educational video sang on a loop, “Five little ducks went out to play, over the hills and far away…” and. I was reading ‘grown-up’ books. Rhyme was little kids’ stuff.

Consequently, rhyme struck me as something twee and childish. It was used to round off pairs of ideas – whether ideology or fun nonsense – so that they would stick in your mind. When I discovered that poetry could exist legitimately without rhyme, I was hooked, though initially, more to reading this sort of poetry than writing it. I loved non-rhyming poetry so much that I thought, I must be a child of modernism’s sentiment. Rhyme seemed to constrict words’ directions, and a sad fate simply because words found themselves slotted into the line of a poem.

Playing with rhythm and meter, musicality and lilt, alliteration and soundscapes enticed my ear and imagination. Yet it is still those predictable lines ribboned together by rhyme that tumble from my memory all these years later: “Success is cheering words of praise, in cheering other people’s ways; in doing just the best you can in every task and every plan”.

More recently I’ve reconciled with rhyme and now deliberately expose myself to old hymns (with wondrous words like ‘eyelids’ and ‘slander’). But I’m still not convinced that Proper Poetry has to rhyme in words. There are surely other tools that craft an idea worth remembering.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012


Image courtesy of The Old Design Shop (, Vintage Image Treasury.

In response to the questions often posed to me about my writing, I have decided to introduce a new feature on my blog:

Please explain…

Send in your questions about a particular poem, a running theme or even a line that puzzles you. If you’re curious about the creative process behind a poem’s existence, you may ask about that, too.

Here is our first submission. “Please explain…”

This month I once again
neglect to pay into a pension,
fertilize a good egg at ovulation
or further my career. Untoward

outcomes will result! In twenty years
it will not matter
that I didn’t
write this poem today

This poem (Five Consequences of Repeated Actions) covers recurring discussion points of so many of my (female) peers at present: the difficult job market, not being able to put aside financially for the future and the biological clock. The further question is – of all the things you do in a day, which one will be the most important? If you do not pursue your calling (e.g. writing), will this really have an effect in twenty years’ time. Does what one do today really have such a huge outcome on twenty years down the line?

Of course these eight lines are a little autobiographical. (Some say most writing contains a kernel of autobiography.) I question myself about my professional status. (I don’t have one at present.) I freak out about not making adequate provision for my retirement. (I’m just grateful to pay my rent, buy groceries and then blow a fiver on a night of dancing.) The ticking of my biological clock created a recent panic. (After visiting the assisted fertility specialist, I am allowing myself an 18-month/2 year window period to get my health in order before revisiting the biological clock issue.)

I write daily and try to remind myself of my commitment to this path and craft. But for what? Will the world really be any poorer for my wallowing in creative self-indulgence, when perhaps I should be paying into a pension and salvaging some sort of career track? The literal and literary irony of this little poem is that it does exist. Whether or not it hovers in the ether in twenty years’ time is an outcome yet to be determined.