Monday, December 29, 2008


Street Blues. Computer Photo Montage by Ruth Zachary

Contemporary Forms of poetry roughly conform to prose structures in the
following ways:

Paragraphs become stanzas or verses.

Sentences may equate to lines in poetry, but more often, lines naturally follow speech rhythms and pauses.

Sentences may become whole stanzas, may start in the middle of a line, or continue into the next stanza.

End stopped sentences end at the end of a line.

Enjambment is a device which continues the sentence into the next line or stanza, and then ends in the middle of a line.

Line breaks effectively indicate phrasing, breathing, or separated thoughts.

Line breaks and long spaces are often used in place of punctuation.

Non-traditional poets sometimes do not capitalize letters or observe full sentence patterns.

Unusual placement of lines on the page may convey sound, imagery or ideas.

Arrangement of punctuation and placement of words may be manipulated for emphasis.

Separated single words or lines draw attention for emphasis. A single separated word may command attention or lead to a new thought in the next line or stanza.

Usually a variety of line lengths, phrases, and sentences are more interesting than repetitious patterns.

A poet may achieve variation in the way lines and stanzas are placed on the page.

Rhythms, musical sounds and kinds of sounds may be used to convey impressions related to meanings. Both end rhymes and internal rhymes are used, but usually not in traditional structures.

Metaphors, both multiple and extended, appear in contemporary poetry.

(This is a quick review of contemporary poetry, and not a complete description of all the many forms that have evolved during the past 100 years.)

Writing and images are the Copyright of Ruth Zachary.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


The Secret Garden. Photo Montage by Ruth Zachary

Expand Your Range: Presentation

You may have found your unique and natural way of expressing yourself through poetry. You may have established rhythms and forms that you use regularly. Your subjects or content may also define your authentic voice and style. But it never hurts to depart from the usual, to stimulate both yourself and your readers. Challenge yourself to do things a little differently ever so often. How often is up to you.

Often one’s most creative work occurs during revision.

Here are some ideas.

Look for innovative ways to present your writing; different from your own usual.

If you write in one solid block of wording, or in columns, try re-formatting your original presentation by breaking the body of writing into stanzas. This might separate the beginning, middle and end, for instance.

Respect the white space between lines. Visually, the space allows the reader to breathe and see your structure, making it easier to read.

Try long lined stanzas, and then try short phrases instead.

This is a good time to look to see if some words are unnecessary, or if a word could be replaced with a shorter one, one that sounds more musical, or if whole stanzas or thoughts need to be rearranged.

Experiment with using enlarged spaces between words, instead of punctuation. (except on blogs, because the blogger format will not allow it) When reading aloud, observe conversational breaks so the line breaks are natural.

Tempt your reader to read the next line by ending with a word that begs him or her to go to the next line to complete the thought.

Consider omitting capitols.

In some poems you could let the type stagger over the page. (But not on a blog)

Read poetry by well known innovative contemporary poets, and imitate the innovations, (not the wording or content, unless your credit that author)

If challenging yourself with a traditional form, try to make the language flow naturally.

Be innovative in other ways, as well. Change the traditional order of words.

Reccommended Reading:

Poets: EE Cummings, Adrienne Rich, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Rita Dove, Patrick Lawler, Sharon Olds, Gary Snyder, Louise Gluck, Galway Kinnell, Anne-Marie Cusak.

Poetry and Traditional Forms:
The Poet’s Companion, Addonizio and Laux. Norton. 1997
The Poet’s Handbook, Judson Jerome, Writer’s Digest Books 1980
Patterns of Poetry (An Encyclopedia of Forms) Miller Williams. LSUPress.

Writing and images are the property of Ruth Zachary.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


The Enchanted Forest. Painting by Ruth Zachary

Music and Rhythm in Poetry.

Speech uses unique rhythms and patterns. Speakers who consciously and unconsciously use these rhythms and patterns well are easier to listen to. In the written form of language, the longer the phrase and sentence stucture, the harder it is to translate it into spoken form.

Poetry often breaks up these phrases and structures into shorter sections, separated by line breaks, whereas prose uses punctuation to indicate pauses, stops, intonations, etc.

The goal is to create rhythms by structuring the lines so that they follow the familiar patterns of speech, and yet cause the reader to hear them internally.

Many of the formal forms of poetry from the past were based on these structures, which were often strictly observed, right down to the number of syllables, and words with the accent on a particular order in the wording. These structures can exhaust a beginner, or they can limit creativity with language because the structure is given more importance than what is being said, in that the beauty and music of the language is subjugated.

My belief is that although these traditional forms can be mastered so that language retains its beauty, it is still better to begin with the simple idea of the poem, and to adjust toward the classic form, rather than the other way around.

Beginners can write exquisite poetry by beginning with a subject that stimulates emotion, and expressing it by using sensate impressions (sight, sound, sense, taste, smell, etc) The next enrichment might be inclusion of metaphor and figures of speech.

It is important to read the poem aloud, again and again, revising until it flows naturally.

The writer might next pay attention to the rhythm of the words, changing line breaks, and resorting to different words which enhance the rhythm, and create sounds with a more musical quality.

Often vowel sounds will be repeated within a phrase, or repeating consonants may be used. If the sounds are gutteral, the effect can project a harsh feeling. If they are soft, the effect may enhance the imagery in the writing. These can be used purposely to convey a particular tone around the subject. At time, these words also may contain their own music and their own reason for writing them down:

“Children like the wildflowers come,
each in their own season.”

Rhymes help create music, but end rhymes can quickly sound sing-song or contrived.
Internal rhymes not used within a rigid rhythm can contribute to the musical quality of the writing, or a piece of poetry, as an alternative to the traditional approach to rhyming.

There are technical terms for these devices, but the best way to become aware of them is simply to write, and to read aloud, and then to be willing to shift the order of words, the exact uses of words, or to substitute shorter or longer words, and so on.

A refrain is a phrase which is repeated two or three and sometimes more times for emphasis… to stress an idea, or to create the magic of music in a poem. Sometimes the words are presented in a different order each time. The Bells, by Edgar Allen Poe is a well known example of a repeating refrain.

First Love

Early One Evening
in late summer,
we held hands.

Your arm went around
my shoulders, lightly
embracing my back.

That late summer
Evening, in the back seat
of your cousin’s car.

We were thirteen.
The movie flickered
in black and white,

a background refrain
for our timid first kiss,
late one summer night.

Have fun with words. Don’t plan on a great poem at the end.
Create a series of phrases using the dictionary or a thesaurus, which
begin with the same sounds of the alphabet, like snake, slither, shuffle, shiver.

Write down several more phrases which use the same internal sounds such as moon, soothing, toothless, ruse, choose, raccoon, tomb.

Come up with some words which rhyme. They don’t have to have the same spelling, only the same sounds, for instance, right, fight, bright, height, sight, etc.
Add associated words to make rhyming phrases.

Reorder some of the words in the rhyming phrases, and then in your previously created phrases.

You may be pleasantly surprised. Consider keeping several reordered versions of these phrases, and using them in one poem. When repeated in a reordered fashion, they can become an intriguing refrain.

Take the best rhythmic or musical lines and phrases and string them together.
It is not necessary to use all of them. You might find you love what results from this process.

Writing and Art Images by Ruth Zachary are Copyrighted, and require permission to reproduce any portion.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Avoid Oversimplified Statements that “Tell.”
Showing and not telling your reader what you feel or what the subject of your poem feels, requires not using over simplified statements, such as,

She was devastated,
He was enraged
I wanted to disappear, I was so embarrassed
She was blinded by tears,
He was so afraid, he was trembling inside,
I was disappointed for days because I found out the gift was for someone else.

She was devastated,” tells the reader the feeling and does not show it, and it is a rather overused phrase.
Suppose instead, “She” reveals or shows the sequence in the first person.

I wanted to disappear, I was so embarrassed,” or “She was blinded by tears,” are too commonly used. “Blinded by tears” is only a slight improvement. “He was trembling inside,” is also commonly used.

These kinds of phrases create a conditioned sentimental response, and instead, the reader begins to apply all the previous associations to your writing. When a phrase becomes cliché, the reader or listener begins to feel numb and to resist the conditioned response. These phrases offer nothing unique or specific to the particular situation.

The following poem fragment leads the reader through unique events to a commonly understood conclusion about the experience of first heartbreak:

In June we rode in the backseat
of his cousin’s car to the free show.
Jack and his girl were chaperones,
the night of our first kiss. It was Electric.
He gave me his garnet ring to wear,
but by fall he moved away, and
asked me to give it back. I cried for
days, my face buried in the parched
autumn field grass, away from the house.

I never expected love could end.

This suggests the intensity of the relationship, and by contrast, the loss felt.

Again, “He was enraged,” tells us an emotion, but does not indicate why.

“Where is your homework? Mr. Shay asked.
“I had to work,” he said for the second time.
Mr. Shay knew his mother was ill.
“You’re just lazy,” boy, he said.

Grabbing his books,
Jeff walked out the door, slamming it shut.
Glass shattered behind him. He didn’t turn,
and broke down the dark hall, escaping into
the pounding rain; hiding tears on his wet face.

In this sequence, we have shared the experience, and we feel emotions with the character.

Let Action Show Feeling.
Give a brief account of what happened or was said to cause the emotion, let the action demonstrate the feeling that caused it, and if possible let the reader draw his or her own conclusions, as in this fragment:

another August day,
my mother cut a lilac switch
from the edge of that bush,
to lay her anger along my spindly legs
with searing bloody welts, which,
not yet healed by September,
were hid beneath long stockings.
She put me on the school bus
to meet the other children
in their anklets and new shoes
and marked their first impression
of me on the first day of school.

Let the Setting Express the Emotion. (This was discussed in the previous post.)

Apple tree,
Compulsively I tend
your arthritic limbs,
looking for blight in your joints
pruning your brittle branches
as they joust in the wind,
clattering like wooden swords
wielded by unseen warriors
battling for yet another season.

Together, we each obey
a drive nature compels;
will rises from our roots.
We claim another spring.

Avoid Sentimentalism Observe without emotional phrasing; even if it is a very emotional subject. Defuse the emotion by telling it as a second person viewer might.

Replace Clichés with Unique Wording. Dare new word use. Be outrageous if you can do so by showing and not telling.

Exercise: Write a simple account about something emotional, and try to apply the above principles to what you write. Revise it, and change the point of view from first to second or third person voice if that helps.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Show, Don’t Tell. And How, Pray Tell?

Use words which appeal to the senses, sight, smell, sound, touch, taste
Be Specific to the situation, the person, the setting. Here the landscape
foreshadows characteristics the writer experiences about a place,

Feet skidding along
the graveled slope
through clumps of renegade grass,
the track was obscured by vagrant brush
hostile heads frayed and spiked like goths,
perforated with piercings.

Avoid conceptual words. A word with a concrete meaning may be better than one that abstractly tries to express an idea. Abstract words are those describing mental functions, rather than experienced emotionally.

Those long awkward words get in the way of the natural rhythm of speech which is best easily imagined. (Like pestiferous, musicology, proselytize, foliculated, or… you get the idea) A word like hippopotamus, however, worked into a rhythmic phrasing could be extremely visual, and effective.

Emotional descriptions are more potent when related in a context of behavior and physically sensed events.

I want you to wash me in your memories;
and pillow me with your voluptuous body
while I hold fresh fruit to your teeth.
I want your flavor to linger on my tongue.

Use metaphor. The concrete objects of the world are simple, strong and eloquent as metaphors for other ideas, and not only themselves


Poetry, elusive muse,
etherial as willowhisp;
when grasped escapes,

like Amour and Psyche,
the sensuous mirrored by the soul;
reflections, one of the other.

Is it not an irony,
words lack substance,
when most abstract,

and only concrete things may tempt
this muse to one's embrace?
Objects, feelings, images,

speak of beingness
through sound and light,
and touch upon a sensate skin.

Apples, twigs, moon or sod
all metaphors made by God,
word made flesh.

Keep descriptions short, but precise. Avoid double adjectives together in one place.
For instance I shortened “brittle renegade grass” to renegade grass.

Use active verbs which are visually strong.

Toby lofted himself
over the fence in a perfect arc,
As freely as the wild deer
he followed far and away
And into the joyous mud

Again, Show, don’t tell. Make the setting, imagery, and language speak the emotion
and conclusion you are expressing. Lead the reader to your conclusion, as well as you are able.

Exercise: Start a Glossary of SensoryExpressions, such as the one below. Write a poem using some of these or other sensory words. Try to mix the senses in ways that one sense is described by terms usually thought of as another:

She buried her nose in the abandoned mitten. It was rich with a dark brown smell, and instantly the boy who had dropped it flashed in her mind. She felt her face flush with heat. The felted wool was rough on her skin… she knew she would not return it…. and put it inside her coat pocket.

Glossary of Sensate Impressions
Sight: Colorless, Black Smokey, Transparent, Misty, Shiny, Irridescent
Smell: Smoky, Aroma, Oily, Lemony, Peppery, Minty
Touch: Palpable. Soft, Palpable, Hard, Warm, Spongy, Smooth, Velvety
Sound : Musical, Roaring, Squawk, Crash, Thud, Buzz
Taste: Sweet, Acrid, Mealy, Sour, Salty, Sticky, Bitter
6th Sense: Presence, Oppressive, Forceful, Magnetic, Radiant, Vibrant