Bush Poetry Writing Tips Lesson 4

Poetic Terminology

Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of the first consonant in several words in the same line.

An example from one of my very early poems, Old Man Drought. "Men can sail the seven seas in ships of steel so stout." Another one from The Quickness Of The Hand Deceives The Eye (and sometimes blackens it).

"Weaving through the water‑way and down the winding walk
past the pond in Peoples Park ‑ with never pause to talk.
Wally worried while he worked and wondered what he'd say
when he went to wash his hands and put his gear away."

Enjambment

Enjambment is a handy tool that most good poets use. It helps a line flow and look more natural.

I love a good solid rhyme at lines end but there is a danger of monotony if overdone. A few enjambed lines throughout the poem ensures this does not happen.

An example stanza from my poem The Spreading Blight.

"The mournful low of starving stock is echoing their fate;
the harking crows in loud refrain all day anticipate
another beast will flounder on its weakened joints and fall ‑
repast they share with carrion hawks. 'The foxes cruelly maul
the helpless prostrate animals and eat the bovine tongue.
Abandoned calves moan touchingly and wander dazed among
the carcasses of mothers rotting in a putrid field;
all victims of a tyranny beyond compassion's shield."

Enjambment is one reason why I have discarded the old idea of starting every line with a capital letter.

An unwarranted capital letter in the middle of a sentence of prose is a stumbling block and looks unnatural. I find the same with verse. But that is a personal choice for individual writers.

Imagery

Imagery is simply painting pictures with words. Example from my poem Fall Of The Seasons.

"Summer has faded and autumn's extolling
all of its virtues through downs ever rolling.
Tanned with the colours that patiently mellow ‑
tinting the dales with a tawny and yellow!"

Read Veronica Weal's, Where The Eagle's Shadow Falls -- Bruce Simpson's Gold Star -- Peter Moltoni's Slaughter Road ‑‑ or Ron Stevens’ Westerly. One needs little imagination to see a vivid picture.

Likewise great performance poets such as Bob Miller with The Will, Milton Taylor with Queenie Lucinda O'Toole and Bob Magor with his Caravanning Bliss can make their words live and paint pictures a blind person might see clearly. These great writers and performers ‑ and many more like them ‑ have the wonderful talent of imagery. We are privileged to share this.

Inverted Phrases

I am sure the number of poets (liars excepted) who can truthfully claim to have never used an inverted phrase to make a convenient rhyme are very few. It is something that comes naturally to us and it is tempting to use these rather than do the hard work of trying to avoid them.

But, as applies to every walk of life, the easiest way is rarely the best way. From time immemorial Bush Verse has been the poor relation of Australian literature. Of course I don't agree with this, but it is a simple fact of fife. No bush poet is spoken of in the same breath as Les Murray, Judith Wright, Kath Walker, etc. It is easy enough to adopt an attitude of: who cares? But as entertainers (yes, writers are still entertainers - though vastly different to performers) we have a duty to give our reading public the best we can offer.

I am fond of quoting lines from my own poetry to demonstrate something right. Incidentally this is not because I believe mine is the best, but simply to show that I can put into practice the things I advise others to do. I could easily quote from Paterson, Lawson or Ogilvie, but anyone can do that without being a poet themselves. This time I am going to be the baddie and look back through some of my verse and see if I can find a few examples of inverted phrases.

I don’t think I am setting myself an impossible task. Here goes: "He could fence and shear and timber cut." Of course one would normally say, " ‑and cut timber." But that would bugger up the rhyme ‑or metre, or something ‑ so I do it the easy way.

Another one. "Seeking ever the harshness to tame." Of course one would naturally say, "seeking to tame the harshness." But that would have wrecked my good poem ‑ so I took the easy way out. Again: "Gleaned from a modest education his knowledge all amazed." You would, of course, normally say, "amazed all." But that would have spoilt the whole stanza!

Finally, "a worker great and a sportsman grand” rather than "a great worker and grand sportsman."

I hasten to add these are all taken from my first book. I have got better as time went by!

How to avoid inverted phrases? Good question. It usually means throwing that line, at least, away, and thinking of something else. Not always easy. Sometimes it is necessary to rewrite the whole stanza ‑ or most of it. A bloody nuisance ‑ but ( as a famous? Australian Prime Minister once thought he'd invented) “life wasn't meant to be easy". It can be done, as our top poets regularly demonstrate. Over the years judges have become increasingly hard on inverted phrases. Every time you see that part of your work underlined by the judge you can be assured that you have lost points. With the quality of verse being entered in most competitions today, that point could cost you a place among the prize-winners. I am sure the same applies with publishers. Make your verse flow as naturally as possible and don't handicap yourself!

Don't Make Your Poems Too Personal

Too many poets write personal poems and enter them in competitions or publish them in self-published books. Judges are not impressed ‑ nor are readers of the book. Remember that a personal poem is usually just that. Because you are writing on a subject dear to your heart don’t assume that everyone will like it. Write a poem about your mates at the bowling club and they will slap you on the back and say, "You’re a bloody genius! I don’t know how you do it!" Possibly the poem has more faults than a porcupine has quills, but they like it simply because they are in it ‑ and don’t know the first thing about the rudiments of Bush Verse. Anyone who does not know the characters involved will be bored to death by it. If your dear departed Uncle Fred had been a war hero, an outback drover, a daring lion-tamer, a distinguished buckjump rider, famous racing car driver or some such thing it is fine to write a poem about him. But if you are only writing about him because he was your favourite uncle and you remember how he always gave you lollies when you were a kid ‑ it has to be a piece of sensitive writing or something quite humorous. Otherwise you end up with a poem that will bore everyone to death, excepting ‑ maybe ‑ a few relatives. I put this obsession with personal poems down to lack of inspiration. A poet gets an urge to compose a poem but can't think of a subject. After sitting there day dreaming until sundown he notices old Tom from across the road limping out to water his garden. That's it, he thinks, I’ll write a poem about Tom. Unless the poet is an accomplished and sensitive writer, this poem is doomed to failure. But the accomplished and sensitive writers are rarely lacking in inspiration. Next: “Padding” words to fit your line.

Other Terminology

A few months ago I wrote on Poetic Terminology and touched upon Alliteration, Enjambment and Imagery ‑ all important. This issue we will look at a few more, of varying importance. "Rhyming couplet," means two consecutive similar lines that have end rhyming.

A "stanza" is a group of lines separated from others by a space. A stanza can be anything from two lines up to anywhere, but I prefer four, six or eight lines ‑ as I have previously stated.

"Mid rhyme" or "internal rhyme" as the term implies, is simply a word in the middle rhyming with the word at lines end. A couple of examples from my poem The Gambling Man.

"A defacto wife named Vera stuck like glue to Dan the shearer". "Like a breath of winter chillness came the hush of eerie stillness".

Another form of internal rhyme is when two consecutive lines have words that rhyme in the middle and two different words rhyming on lines end.

Example from my poem, "Remember Chubby? "

"Last man in when playing cricket ‑ never made the foot ball team;
without score he lost his wicket, lost his cap and self‑esteem"
Another example from my poem Rescue For Rowdy.
"A drop of bourbon he enjoyed and ouzo to relax and brandy with the unemployed, who called for little snacks".

Onomatopoeia is the using of sound effects to draw attention to something. "Pow! " "Wheooo ‑‑" "Bang!" "Whizz‑‑", etc. Comic books rely heavily on onomatopoeia to get their point across.

There is a difference in "Blank Verse" and "Free verse" but I don’t think my readers are too concerned about either! "Prose" is any other form of writing other than poetry. Short stories, novels, etc. Next: The importance of the first stanza.

The Importance of the First Stanza

The first stanza of a poem is actually an introduction and very important. It should be attention grabbing, or at least interesting enough to urge readers to read on. If the first stanza is boring or awkward to read the chances are the reader might abandon that poem and search for something more interesting. A pity because he/she could be missing what is otherwise a good poem.

Also, very importantly, the first stanza sets the rhyming and metre pattern of your poem. It is there that you decide how many lines are to be in the stanzas, if your rhyming pattern is to be:-

AABBCC - - ABABCDCD -- AABCCB or whatever else you might choose.

Are you going to have 8, 9, I0, II, I2, I3, I4 or I5 syllables in each line? Are your lines going to be identical or alternate lines be of different length? Is your stress pattern going to be Iambus or Trochee, or are you going to use both by alternating each line. If so the rhyming pattern is usually ABABCDCD and the Iambic lines should rhyme with each other, likewise the Trochiac lines.

I'd advise anyone to take great care with that first stanza. Are you having trouble with your rhymes? Does the metre seem awkward and hard to maintain? Suitable descriptive words hard to find? I can assure you that if your first stanza gives trouble, there's heaps more trouble ahead! Take plenty of time with the first stanza ‑ it will save you time and problems later in the poem. Keep at it until you are happy with the rhymes and the metre flows comfortably. Don't choose a rhyme and rhythm pattern that is too difficult to maintain.

As I have said many times: keep it simple and make it sound natural. You might get a buzz by writing a highly flamboyant stanza with fancy rhymes and complicated stress pattern. But by the end of the poem you will be a nervous wreck trying to stick to it. What you thought was going to be something special will turn out a bloody mess and you will have shown that you are way out of your depth.

Metaphors and Similes

Metaphors and Similes are handy tools a poet regularly uses. The idea is to look for fresh ones, rather than use those that are growing ragged through over use.

A simile says something is "like" something else. "The track was like a winding snake." "The house looked like a palace." "The horse’s coat was as black as ink." "The lambs were as white as snow."

In contrast a metaphor says something "is" another thing. "The sun was a hazy fire‑ball." "The centre‑back is a prowling tiger." "The cockatoo is king of the mountain." "The train is a silver bullet." "The sea is a raging monster."

Some poets occasionally write a poem with an Extended Metaphor. For example eleven year old Tommy, in a fantasy poem, might be the Flying Crusader. Throughout the poem he would not return to ordinary little Tommy, but would always be referred to as some kind of superior being. I think this would be quite difficult to do and cannot recall trying it myself.

Cliches are phrases that have been popular for a long time and get over worked. "As black as coal." "Cunning as a fox." "Like the driven snow." "Wild as a march hare." "Game as Ned Kelly."
Many of these are extremely clever if we stop to think about them. "As mad as a cut snake." Can you imagine anything quite as angry as a castrated taipan? " Every little bit helps" said the old woman as she did a wee in the sea." The effect would be rather minimal, wouldn’t it?

Popular cliches are used so regularly that we say them without thinking and they therefore lose impact. In short these are so popular that we have worn them out. Competition judges and publishers frown quite heavily on cliches, so it is best to avoid them. But some of these are so clever that its hard to find a replacement. But we may as well try ‑‑ as I've often said, "Don't handicap yourself."

FINALLY . . .

I am devoting this final column to satiric verse. That is holding up for ridicule politicians, royalty or whatever might be current news. In satiric verse the poet usually exaggerates things he believes unimportant and understates more important things. Politicians are the most popular target for satiric verse ‑ for obvious reasons. If you wish to make money via a newspaper column or radio station this is the most likely verse to meet that market. Conversely it is also the least valuable as real art. "A week is a long time in politics" is a popular and very true saying. This applies to most "news". What seems most important this week will be erased by some new development overseas, a new scandal in high places or a multiple murder somewhere next week. For satiric verse to have value the poet needs an ever ready market ‑‑ you must write the poem and use it the same day. Or it will be too late. I suppose I should give an example from my own verse, as I have always done.

"He was more than just ambitious and officials grew suspicious;
and thought ‑his actions overwrought with guile.
But an illness soon beset him and his lawyer said,
Forget him he won’t live long enough to see the trial."

This stanza was in the middle of the poem. Here is the final stanza.

"The whole thing was misleading ‑ it was time to start proceeding –
our justice‑system's honour be upheld.
But the thought of jurisdiction caused an instant re‑affliction
of something only freedom ever quelled. "

Perhaps you can guess who? I have enjoyed doing this regular column for ABPA. How much help it may have been to fellow poets I have no way of knowing. Quite a few have taken the trouble to tell me they have enjoyed my tips and I thank them for that. I believe Bush Poetry is alive and well, and will go from strength to strength for some years to come. It had been a very important part of my life and I like to think I have contributed in some way to its continued popularity. I hope I can continue attending poetry festivals for some time yet and look forward to renewing acquaintance with so many wonderful friends who share this grand interest.

Ellis Campbell