Friday, 21 April 2017

Shuffling words: how I get unstuck with poetry


Sometimes, when I'm stuck on how to make something work, or I've lost the point of a poem I will use a formal poetry technique to shuffle the cards in my deck and come up with something different.

Usually I do this with poems that aren't working for me, but sometimes I do it with other texts which I like, but am not getting any inspiration from. It can spark new ideas.

I tend to make things into poem structures that use repetition, making the words learn the steps of the sestina, pentina, tritina, pantoum, or villanelle. I've just had a villanelle accepted for publication which started life as a free verse poem which just wasn't working. I love the circling and the repetition of these forms because I think they bring more focus onto the moment of the poem. 

Of course, things don't have to stay formal, often, usually, in fact, they break down having once come together, but the process helps to reveal patterns and the little important things which can make it better.

Today I've been missing my April dose of Game of Thrones which isn't returning to our screens until July, so I've been playing with the books instead, especially George RR Martin's murderous prologues.

Obviously I wouldn't pass something like this off as my own. I've used lots of words from Martin. Sometimes something like this changes enough that it might be considered a found poem, but often it just sends me off in another direction, sparking ideas which weren't found from the original text.

Here is a trytina I've been working on today, using words from the prologue of Dance with Dragons I by George RR Martin. I'm calling it a trytina because I've tried, but I can't get a last line to work.

If you're not familiar with the lingo, a warg is a shapeshifter, and this one is currently a wolf. I don't think any more explanation is needed, but feel free to ask any questions in the comments.


The senses in the shadows

The night was rank with the smell of man.
The warg stopped beneath a tree and sniffed,
his grey-brown fur dappled by shadow.

A sigh of piney wind brought scent through shadow,
over fox and hare, seal and stag, even wolf, came man.
The stink of old skins, dead and sour the warg sniffed,

the stronger scents of smoke and blood and rot the warg sniffed.
Only man stripped skins from beasts to wear as shadow,
and wargs have no fear of man.