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Crossing the Line: When a Translated Poem Becomes an Original Work

 

poetry book

Language is a barrier in more than one respect. If you’re in a foreign country and can’t speak the native language, you might find it difficult to communicate. These barriers sometimes form when words are translated from one language into another. You can find extreme examples of this on some imported products, like a warning label for plum jelly that states, “1. Please do not attract one grain by to swallow. 2. Below five years old, please not edible.” These phrases might make perfect sense in the original language, but the literal translation ends up being a source of confusion and amusement. The same happens with varying degrees with translated poems. As a result, scholars often debate the effectiveness of translations.

Blurred Lines

When done correctly, translations are wonder devices that open doors to new worlds. They are essential to introducing readers to new cultures and ideas. Without them, you might not be exposed great works, like Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Candide by Voltaire, or Laozi’s Tao Te Ching. Poet Haroldo de Campos was celebrated for his masterful translations of some of the Western world’s most important works into Portuguese, such as those by Mallarmé, Dante, Homer and James Joyce.

The problem with translations generally stems from the fact that you are dependent upon a translator’s subjective interpretation. You rely on this individual’s understanding of the poet’s language, dialect, culture, life, target audience, historical period and more. You trust that the translator fully understood the original work and remained faithful to its essence and voice. You have faith that the translator is on par with the poet’s artistic abilities and has a good understanding of the new target readers and their culture.

When a translator fails to be faithful to the original work, it becomes the translator’s poem—a completely new work. When this occurs, interesting things happen. For example, a culture might adopt the translated piece as an original work. An example of this is John Dryden’s version of the epic Aeneid by Virgil. In the preface, Dryden stated that he tried to make Virgil sound English, as if he were from Great Britain. He turned the original unrhymed verses into couplets while using lines from Sir John Denham’s translation. Dryden rewrote Virgil’s work to appeal to an audience in a different period that had a different language and culture. He made the audience the priority. The losses in translation remain invisible to those who don’t take it upon themselves to do a careful comparison.

When an original poem and its translation clash, there is often a failure on the translator’s part to read for meaning and the language. This ultimately hurts the audience, but creates opportunities for additional translations. While a translator cannot change a poet’s original work, the individual can present his or her own interpretation.

Translations are like artistic mimicry. While it is possible to translate poetry, it is important to keep in mind that no translation will ever be the original work. Therefore, there is always room for reexamination and improvement. Rather than give up on reading translations, get your hand on as many as you can find. Read the introductory essays written by the translators to learn what guided their work and made it unique. Soak in the words and draw your own conclusions about original poet’s words.

Examples of Translated Poems

“The Song of Despair”

By Pablo Neruda, translated by W.S. Merwin

The memory of you emerges from the night around me.

The river mingles its stubborn lament with the sea.

Deserted like the wharves at dawn.

It is the hour of departure, oh deserted one!

Cold flower heads are raining over my heart.

Oh pit of debris, fierce cave of the shipwrecked.

In you the wars and the flights accumulated.

From you the wings of the song birds rose.

You swallowed everything, like distance.

Like the sea, like time. In you everything sank!

It was the happy hour of assault and the kiss.

The hour of the spell that blazed like a lighthouse.

Pilot’s dread, fury of a blind diver,

turbulent drunkenness of love, in you everything sank!

In the childhood of mist my soul, winged and wounded.

Lost discoverer, in you everything sank!

You girdled sorrow, you clung to desire,

sadness stunned you, in you everything sank!

I made the wall of shadow draw back,

beyond desire and act, I walked on.

Oh flesh, my own flesh, woman whom I loved and lost,

I summon you in the moist hour, I raise my song to you.

Like a jar you housed the infinite tenderness,

and the infinite oblivion shattered you like a jar.

There was the black solitude of the islands,

and there, woman of love, your arms took me in.

There were thirst and hunger, and you were the fruit.

There were grief and the ruins, and you were the miracle.

Ah woman, I do not know how you could contain me

in the earth of your soul, in the cross of your arms!

How terrible and brief was my desire of you!

How difficult and drunken, how tensed and avid.

Cemetery of kisses, there is still fire in your tombs,

still the fruited boughs burn, pecked at by birds.

Oh the bitten mouth, oh the kissed limbs,

oh the hungering teeth, oh the entwined bodies.

Oh the mad coupling of hope and force

in which we merged and despaired.

And the tenderness, light as water and as flour.

And the word scarcely begun on the lips.

This was my destiny and in it was the voyage of my longing,

and in it my longing fell, in you everything sank!

Oh pit of debris, everything fell into you,

what sorrow did you not express, in what sorrow are you not drowned!

From billow to billow you still called and sang.

Standing like a sailor in the prow of a vessel.

You still flowered in songs, you still broke in currents.

Oh pit of debris, open and bitter well.

Pale blind diver, luckless slinger,

lost discoverer, in you everything sank!

It is the hour of departure, the hard cold hour

which the night fastens to all the timetables.

The rustling belt of the sea girdles the shore.

Cold stars heave up, black birds migrate.

Deserted like the wharves at dawn.

Only the tremulous shadow twists in my hands.

Oh farther than everything. Oh farther than everything.

It is the hour of departure. Oh abandoned one.

 

“Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines”
By Pablo Neruda, translated by W.S. Merwin

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example, ‘The night is starry

and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance.’

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.

I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.

How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.

And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.

The night is starry and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.

My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer.

My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.

We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but how I loved her.

My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another’s. She will be another’s. As she was before my kisses.

Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her.

Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms

my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer

and these the last verses that I write for her.

 

“The Shape of Your Eyes”
By Paul Eluard, translated by Mary Ann Caws

 The shape of your eyes goes round my heart,

A round of dance and sweetness.

Halo of time, cradle nightly and sure

No longer do I know what I’ve lived,

Your eyes have not always seen me.

Leaves of day and moss of dew,

Reeds of wind and scented smiles,

Wings lighting up the world,

Boats laden with sky and sea,

Hunters of sound and sources of colour,

Scents the echoes of a covey of dawns

Recumbent on the straw of stars,

As the day depends on innocence

The world relies on your pure sight

All my blood courses in its glance.

 

“I Love”
By Jacques-Bernard Brunius, translated by Mary Ann Caws

I love sliding I love upsetting everything

I love coming in I love sighing

I love taming the furtive manes of hair

I love hot I love tenuous

I love supple I love infernal

I love sugared but elastic the curtain of springs turning to glass

I love pearl I love skin

I love tempest I love pupil

I love benevolent seal long-distance swimmer

I love oval I love struggling

I love shining I love breaking

I love the smoking spark silk vanilla mouth to mouth

I love blue I love known—knowing

I love lazy I love spherical

I love liquid beating drum sun if it wavers

I love to the left I love in the fire

I love because I love at the edges

I love forever many times Just one

I love freely I love especially

I love separately I love scandalously

I love similarly obscurely uniquely

HOPINGLY

I love           I shall love

What Happens When a Poem is Translated from the Original Language?

poetry translation

Languages are wonderful devices that have their own nuances that add to a poem’s depth. Rather than learn several different languages to enjoy the works of international poets, professionals translate them. While translations allow you get a general idea of what a poet communicates, they often don’t capture a poem’s true essence. By being aware of how translations change a work, as well as cultural considerations, you can derive a deeper meaning from the words on the page.

How Translations Change Poems

Missing Linguistic Equivalents

Every culture uses phrases that don’t make sense when directly translated into another language. In Spanish, for example, the phrase, “Nada que ver,” directly translates to, “Nothing to see.” In reality, the phrase means that one idea or circumstance has nothing to do with another (e.g., Missing lunch had nothing to do with getting a flat tire). If a translator is not aware of the linguistic nuances and its equivalents, a reader will not grasp the full meaning of a poem.

Linguistic Evolution

All languages evolve. This evolution gives birth to new languages. It sparks cultural revolutions and introduces one society to another.

When speaking English, individuals no longer say “thy,” “where for art thou,” and other phrases unless they’re intentionally using old English. If you don’t know what these phrases mean, it might be hard to understand Shakespearean works. Similarly, when modern interpreters translate ancient works and fail to account for the historical context of a poet’s words, the true meaning of the words might get lost.

Translator Inference

When translators interpret poetry, they change the words into something that they’re not so another audience can appreciate them. This makes the audience dependent on the translator’s understanding and knowledge of the poem, the poem’s original language, and the target language. If a translator lacks in any of these areas, the interpretation will not be as exact or faithful to original work. It becomes the translator’s poem, not what you necessarily intended to read.

Voice

A good translation maintains the original poet’s voice. Translators must choose words wisely to interpret and shape the text, and remain true to its rhythm, tone, logic, imagery and aesthetics. In this respect, a good translator must be as equally artistic as the poet is.

Cultural Considerations When Reading Translated Poems

Poets reference the world around them, making poems a means of cultural enrichment. A reader might not understand the significance of tin flatware or plain chipware in Gwendolyn Brooks’ The Bean Eaters, for instance, if they’re not familiar with household items that lower class Americans used in the 1960s.

Translating poetry is a subjective activity in which the professional is restrained by cultural and social factors. Professionals must understand the values, rules, attitudes, history and beliefs of the poet’s culture. They must understand how the poet felt and how the new audience will feel, as well as identify common cultural experiences and functional equivalents.

Culture-specific references in poetry include those about the names of places, foods, drinks, national pastimes, education, politics, art, history, legal systems, institutions, animals and religions. A translator must understand their significance when examining metaphors and allusions.

Grammar, gender and syntax are other important considerations when interpreting poetry. English is a gender-neutral language, while many other languages identify words as masculine or feminine. It also uses pronouns and punctuation marks differently than other languages. A translator must understand how the different grammatical elements in a work apply to a poem to provide an effective translation.

Examples of Famous Translated Works

Always

By Pablo Neruda

 

I am not jealous

of what came before me.

 

Come with a man on your shoulders,

come with a hundred men in your hair,

come with a thousand men

between your breasts and your feet.

Come like a river full of drowned men

which flows down to the wild sea,

to the eternal surf, to Time!

 

Bring them all to where I am waiting for you;

We shall always be alone,

we shall always be you and I,

alone on earth to start our life!

 

Dance

By Rumi

 

Dance when you’re broken open.

Dance when you’ve torn the bandage off.

Dance in the middle of fighting.

Dance in your blood.

Dance when you’re perfectly free.

 

To a Creole Lady

By Charles Baudelaire

 

Translation I:

In scented countries by the sun caressed

I’ve known, beneath a tent of purple boughs,

and palm trees shedding slumber as they drowse,

a creole lady with a charm unguessed.

 

She’s pale, and warm, and duskily beguiling;

Nobility is moulded in her neck;

Slender and tall she holds herself in check,

an huntress born, sure-eyed, and quiet-smiling.

 

Should you go, Madam, to the land of glory

along the Seine or Loire, where you would merit

to ornament some mansion famed in story,

 

Your eyes would bum in those deep-shaded parts,

and breed a thousand rhymes in poets’ hearts,

tamed like the negro slaves that you inherit.

 

Translation II:

I met, among the amber tamarinds

and lotus leaves, blue seas and empty space,

down on a sun-touched island’s scented sands,

a lady whose great charm seemed out of place.

 

Black hair, enchanting eyes and olive skin,

a bearing of aristocratic grace –

the long-limbed, slim young huntress, wild Diane,

with quiet self-assurance on her face.

 

Madam, if you should visit Glory’s land,

along the Seine, beside the green Loire’s strand,

our noblemen would beg you for your hand,

 

A thousand new love songs would germinate

in budding groves where poets meditate,

more docile than those slaves you now command.

 

Translating poetry is a difficult task. Rather than forego the works of international writers, immerse yourself in different translations to derive the poet’s original meaning for yourself.

5 Things to Know about Transcendentalist Poetry

view of natural area

In the early 19th century, transcendentalism, a philosophical movement that got its start in Massachusetts, offered a cultural alternative to American materialism. The group of individuals in the Transcendental Club placed importance on simple living, intellect and intelligent conversations. Members included writer such as Ralf Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Louisa May Alcott, Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau. They wrote in a manner that was distinctly different from anything that ever came out of Europe. Their philosophy was simple: All people equally have knowledge about themselves and their world that goes beyond, or transcends, what they can hear, see, feel or taste. By understanding more about the movement, you will gain a better appreciation for the works that came out of the movement.

Facts about Transcendentalist Poetry

The source of knowledge: Transcendentalists believed that the imagination, contemplation of the internal spirit, and intuition were the sources of knowledge, as opposed to empirical sources or logic, because individuals can trust themselves to know what is right. These ideas were not necessarily religious beliefs, but ways of understanding life and relationships.

Roots in Immanuel Kant: The roots of transcendental philosophies, which provided a new way to understand knowledge and truth, trace back to Immanuel Kant’s teachings. The great German thinker often focused on what one could never know for sure. He stated that one had the ability to determine if something was true or false and use the knowledge to shape their view of the world. He encouraged skepticism among scientific advances, as science cannot answer all questions.

Connected to the universe: Transcendentalists believed that just as all individuals are in the universe, each person has the universe in his or her soul. The inside of a person’s soul mirrors their environment, and vice versa. For example, if you feel happy, the sun shining in the sky reflects your mood. When it starts to rain, you might feel sad.

Non-conformity: Transcendentalism largely focuses on individualism. The followers believed that unhappiness stemmed from trying to conform to social pressures. The only way to find true happiness is to pursue your own path because you are the only one who truly knows yourself.

Focus on nature: Transcendentalists feared that industrialism distracted individuals from nature. To them, nature was the only place in which they could be themselves, and therefore understand themselves, because nature doesn’t apply social pressures or standards. Because nature doesn’t judge, it is the one place where an individual is most free. This focus on nature influenced conservationists who later fought to establish national parks and other natural areas.

Through their words, transcendental poets paved the way for seeing the American experiment as one that involved self-reliance and individualism. Their progressive, liberal ideas started discussions about abolition, women’s right, equality for all, education and reform. They created a new awareness that drove an American Renaissance about a decade before the Civil War. While the movement didn’t last long, the ideas generated revived American literature and fueled minds for decades.

5 Techniques Used by Surrealist Poets

surrealist sculpture

Inspired by Dadaism and the writings of Sigmund Freud, Surrealist poets give the imagination and dreams as much precedence as logic and reason. The writers use the unconscious mind to explain rational life. To free the imagination, poets use a variety of techniques that liberate the mind of conscious control.

Surrealist Poetry Techniques

Exquisite corpse game:

Writers use games as a way to have fun and investigate their minds when writing Surrealist poetry. Games break traditional thought patterns, allowing thoughts to be more random and ideas to flow more freely.

In the exquisite corpse game, players take turn writing down words on a piece of paper. After one person writes a set of words based on the rules (e.g., adjective noun / adjective verb / adjective noun), the individual folds the piece of paper to conceal the writing and passes it to the next person. Leader of the Surrealist movement, André Breton, developed the game with his friends, in which they wrote, “The exquisite corpse will drink the young wine.”

Palindrome poem:

Palindrome poems are visual works of art, creating a mirror image. They masterfully read the same backwards and forwards, as in the following poem by Jerry P. Quinn.

Unseen Travelers

Spoken Breath
Creating flesh and spirit
Souls stirring divine dances
Leaping, joyful with life
Entertaining harmony and grace
Angels of myriads and myriads
Sentinel watchers
Merging unseen
~Travelers~
Unseen merging
Watchers, Sentinel
Myriads and myriads of angels
Grace and harmony entertaining
Life with joyful leaping
Dances divine, stirring souls
Spirit and flesh creating
Breath spoken.

Echo poem:

In an echo poem, a technique invented by Aurélien Dauguet in 1972, one or more people write on a piece of paper divided into two columns. After the first poet writes a line in the left column, the second poet “echoes” by writing a stanza that rhymes or sounds phonetically the same in the right column. Many times the echo is one or two words. An example of an echo poem is Fred Chappell and John Niedzwiecki’s “Narcissus and Echo.” The echoing words create a poem of their own.

Shall the water not remember                   Ember
my hand’s slow gesture, tracing above    of
its mirror my half-imaginary                     airy
portrait? My only belonging                      longing
is my beauty, which I take                          ache
away and then return, as love                    of
of teasing playfully the one being             unbeing.
whose gratitude I treasure                         Is your
moves me. I live apart                                 heart
from myself, yet cannot                              not
live apart. In the water’s tone,                   stone?
that brilliant silence, a flower                    Hour,
whispers my name with such slight         light
moment, it seems filament of air,             fare
the world become cloudswell.                   well.

Automatism:

When Surrealist poets use automatism, or automatic writing, they write without controlling their conscious thoughts. In essence, they write whatever comes to mind. Breton stated that poets should not filter, edit or shape automatic writing because the words should be vivid and raw. The leader of the Surrealist movement used automatism when writing Soluble Fish:

The ground beneath my feet is nothing but an enormous unfolded newspaper. Sometimes a photograph comes by; it is a nondescript curiosity, and from the flowers there uniformly rises the smell, the good smell, of printer’s ink. I heard it said in my youth that the smell of hot bread is intolerable to sick people, but I repeat that the flowers smell of printer’s ink. …

Cut-up technique:

In the cut-up technique, a writer cuts text printed or written on paper and rearranges the words to create a new work. Latent news is a similar technique in which a writer cuts words or phrases from a newspaper article and quickly rearranges them. Many people unknowingly practice this Surrealist technique with refrigerator magnets that have words printed on them.

5 Things to Know about Surrealist Poetry

surrealism

André Breton’s Le Manifeste du Surréalism (Manifesto of Surrealism) in 1924 sparked a cultural movement that unlocked limits. Surrealist artistic philosophy follows the premise that Breton set forth—that “omnipotence of dreams” and “disinterested play of thought” take precedence over logic and reason. The forefathers of the movement felt inspired by ideas surrounding the power of unconscious thought, and used writing and art to reconcile the unconscious mind with rational life.

A Guide to Surrealist Poetry

1. Beginnings in Dadaism and Freudian inspiration: The Surrealist movement grew out of Dadaism, which broke codes regarding society’s accepted values and conventions. Surrealism aimed to be an instrument of knowledge, as those who followed the movement believed that the subconscious contained true reality. Poets who followed the surrealist movement agreed with Freud’s theory that the unconscious mind is deeper than the conscious mind.

2. A higher reality and point sublime: Surrealism involves the concept of a reality that is higher than the reality that individuals experience in everyday life. Poets who followed the movement focused on the reality created by the waking consciousness, which unites imagination and the real world, subjectivity and objectivity, and dream states and wakefulness. Breton stated in The Communication Vessels that the real and dream worlds are the same; the mind in each state of being communicates like two connected vessels. This principle is also known as point sublime, which is the realization of surreal unity—the point at which contrasts merge, such as life and death, beauty and ugliness, the past and future.

3. The marvelous and objective chances: The concept of the marvelous, or aggravated beauty, had a large role in Surrealist poems. Marvelous concepts depicted in these poems portray the ongoing anxiety that underlies the human experience. The involuntary shudder that marvelous images cause is the result of objective chances—the juxtaposition of two terms that seemed to conflict with each other, but are secretly related.

4. Delirious love: Following Breton’s lead in the Second Manifesto, Surrealists celebrate love as the only idea that unites every individual to the idea of life, even if for a brief moment. Therefore, passionate commitment is a liberating force.

5. Automatic writing: Some surrealist writers used automatism. This means that as a poet writes, there is no conscious control over thoughts. She or he writes whatever comes to mind. According to Breton, a Surrealist poet should not filter, select or shape his or her writing. The words should be raw and vivid.

Examples of Classic Surrealist Poetry

Choose Life (excerpt)
Choose life instead of those prisms with no depth even if their colors are purer
Instead of this hour always hidden instead of these terrible vehicles of cold flame
Instead of these overripe stones
Choose this heart with its safety catch…
-André Breton

Arp
Turns without reflections to the curves without smiles of shadows with mustaches, registers the murmurs of speed, the miniscule terror, searches under some cold cinders for the smallest birds, those which never close their wings, resist the wind.
-Paul Éluard

Series
For the splendour of the day of happinesses in the air
To live the taste of colours easily
To enjoy loves so as to laugh
To open eyes at the final moment
She has every willingness.
– Paul Éluard

Enigmas (excerpt)
You’ve asked me what the lobster is weaving there with
his golden feet?
I reply, the ocean knows this.
You say, what is the ascidia waiting for in its transparent
bell? What is it waiting for?
I tell you it is waiting for time, like you…
-Pablo Neruda

Mobius Strip
The track I’m running on
Won’t be the same when I turn back
It’s useless to follow it straight
I’ll return to another place
I circle around but the sky changes
Yesterday I was a child
I’m a man now
The world’s a strange thing
And the rose among the roses
Doesn’t resemble another rose.
-Robert Desnos

[Photo from Ian Palmer via CC License 2.0]

What is Experimental Poetry & What Does It Mean?

rae armantrout

Like language, poetry is fluid and alive. It evolves, breaks the rules and turns into something new. Just as scientists have thought experiments (Albert Einstein often did this), writers participate in experimental literature. Experimental poetry is a product of modernist and postmodernist poetry. It explores and emphasizes innovation. Individuals who write experimental poetry don’t always write with a conscious awareness of where a work fits into an aesthetic range. The words follow their own form rather than a standard, and sometimes disregard rules related to language and function.

Experimental Poetry Explained

The best way to understand experimental poetry is to see and read it. In “Advent,” Rae Armantrout writes:

In front of the craft shop,
a small nativity,
mother, baby, sheep
made of white
and blue balloons.

*

Sky

god

girl.

Pick out the one
that doesn’t belong.

*

Some thing
close to nothing

flat

from which,
fatherless,
everything has come.

An example of experimental poetry at its finest, Armantrout takes the notion of stanzaic lyrics, and dismantles and reassembles them. She turns them inside out to create productive arrangements from small groups of phrases.

Reading experimental poetry is like listening to impromptu freestyle jazz—the good kind that you only hear late at night at jazz clubs or during a musician’s private practice sessions. The words are original, daring and sometimes stunning. The forms are more organic, loose and spontaneous, as the words are a product of the subject and the poet’s feelings as she writes. The words are often the first thoughts, the best thoughts.

History of Experimental Poetry

Compared to sonnets and lyrical poems—classical forms—experimental poetry and literature is a relatively new, evolving genre. Its earliest form dates back to Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen in 1759. About a century-and-a-half later, in the 1910s, artistic experimentation blew into full force. Often inspired by jazz and abstract expressionist painting, American and European writers began experimenting with poetic forms as they ushered in the modernist movement. Avant-garde movements also largely contributed to evolution of experimental poetry, including Dadaism, futurism and surrealism.

After the 1930s, experimental literature faded from public view until the 1950s and -60s, when uncensored freedom became more appreciated. This is around the same time that Charles Olson, who is associated with the Black Mountain School in North Carolina, developed his theory of projective verse,—an open form of poetry based on the spontaneity of breath pauses and typewriter lines. On the West Coast, the San Franciscan School’s nature-focused poems and anti-establishment yet patriotic beat poetry gained national recognition.

Experimental poetry that came out of the New York School demonstrated the most formal education of any group, as New York City was the birthplace of Abstract Expressionism, which largely inspired experimental poetry. One such writer includes Jean Valentine, whose lyrical poems are both personal and political as she tries to make sense of the unconscious and invisible. Valentine states that as she writes, she pays attention to the sounds of her words. If they don’t sound alive in a draft, she takes them out.

Today’s contemporary experimental writers demonstrate many of the qualities seen in works from the 1960s. Their works, however, tend to have more irony and humor. They tend to be more accessible and are sometimes more emotionally deflating. Elaine Equi is a masterful contemporary experimental poet who writes for literary and non-literary audiences. Much of her inspiration comes from her observations of others, her life and pop culture.

Experimental poetry isn’t necessarily poetry that breaks the rules. It’s poetry with its own borders and boundaries. Rather than haven an antagonistic engagement with literature, as some view it, experimental poetry has an alternative engagement with convention. There’s nothing wrong with a little experimentation. Grab a pen and see what words flow from your fingers.

5 Reasons to Take a Poetry Class

poetry words

Poetry is a universal language. It is a fluid art form. Whether you’ve dabbled in writing a few lines of free verse on a napkin or can recite Shakespearean sonnets from memory, there’s always room for poetry in your life. One of the best ways to get the most out of the lines and stanzas that you read and write is with a poetry class. Keep in mind that there are different types of poetry classes. Some teach you about the masters, some encourage you to write, and others are a blend of both. Whichever you choose, it’s a decision that will enhance your life in more ways than anticipated.

Why Take a Poetry Class

Improve your writing skills: Everyone needs to know how to write. It’s essential for communicating with others or advancing your career, regardless of your field. A poetry class shows you how others used their words to emphasize a point. You will also learn how to give your words meaning and impact, making them something that others want to read.Poetry forces you to think about word choices, as well as the use of grammar, punctuation and capitalization. If these aren’t your strong suits, a poetry class will reinforce what you’ve learned. A fantastic aspect of poetry is that it also allows you to break traditional rules to give your work stylistic flair, like E.E. Cummings did. Take a poetry class to improve your writing and find your voice.

Enhance your network: Poetry students come from all walks of life and backgrounds. They aren’t taking the class because they’re good writers. They’re there to explore an interest, just like you. They offer different points of view—a different way to look at and interpret life. You might make personal connections with those who are seemingly the opposite of you, giving your life added vibrancy. An appreciation for the written word goes a long way, even if you are just learning.

Develop your critical thinking skills: In poetry, you’ll quickly find that words carry a deeper meaning than their dictionary-given definitions. When you read the works of others, you’ll learn how the events of the time—personal, political and religious—inspired a writer’s words. You’ll also learn to use your own experiences to shape the words and thoughts that you put on paper.

Improve your memory: Some poetry classes ask students to memorize and recite poems. If you do not enjoy public speaking, don’t let this aspect of a poetry class put you off. Memorizing poems may help improve your memory, as the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project When you commit words to memory, you make associations that assist with this and other memorization tasks. The more you train your brain to memorize, the more you’ll remember.

Learn to cope with negative emotions in a healthy manner: Poetry fosters emotional and social learning that builds resilience. Society doesn’t often promote talking about difficult and unexplainable topics in life. Reading the words of others may provide insight into your own emotions. Putting your emotions on paper may provide you with a new understanding of yourself and your strength. Exploring the arts provides you with an appropriate, healthy channel to discover and express how you feel by giving you an outlet for emotions.

Poetry class and poetry writing isn’t only about analyzing words. It’s about enriching your soul, making sense of the nonsensical, and finding words that communicate the deepest parts of your being. And, don’t forget, poetry is fun. Use a poetry class as a tool that helps you get the most out of what you read, write and love.

[Photo from Steve Johnson via CC License 2.0]

How to Participate in a Poetry Reading

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Poetry is a culture. For others to appreciate it, you can’t merely write it. You must also recite it. The purpose of poetry readings is to emphasize your joy for the art form. Hearing poetry is what first attracts people to it. Think about the nursery rhymes that you heard as a child. Those were poems, and hearing and speaking those words gave you a thrill. Poetry readings free verses from their pages. They create a community and allow you to test how your words reverberate with others.

Different Types of Poetry Readings

Poetry Conferences

Poetry conferences are like writing conferences. In general, a group’s leader recites poetry and provides a lecture about the work. Participants then complete writing exercises to nurture and strengthen their skills.

Poetry Festivals

At poetry festivals, several new, emerging and established poets gather to interact with the local community and gain press coverage.

Open Mic Events

Often hosted at bookstores, libraries, coffee shops or other venues where a group can gather, open mic poetry readings allow poets to recite their own works or the works of others. Open mic events have different rules about the length of a reading, the use of music or props, and the use of costumes.

Poetry Slams

Poetry slams are competitive events in which poets read or recite their works. Each poetry slam has its own rules regarding the originality of the poems read, time limits and the use of props and other items. The judges at these events are generally five members of the audience.

In the first round, all the participating poets read one poem. The top-scoring poets move on to the subsequent rounds. While the audience members can provide feedback (i.e., applause or jeers), judges must not let the audience influence their scores. The marrying of poetry and performance via slams has opened the world of poetry to non-traditional audiences, as the works become a tangible, intriguing experience.

Poetry Groups

Informal poetry groups are similar to book groups. The group reads a book or collection of poems and later meets to discuss the works. During the group session, participants read selected poems and may read their own original works.

Poetry Performance Tips

• Know the meaning of the poem, as well as the meaning of each line and word.

• Practice reading aloud before an event to know when to pause and how to pace the words.

• Have good posture and look confident.

• Maintain eye contact with the entire audience.

• If there are no microphones, project your voice so everyone can hear you.

• Enunciate and articulate the words in the poem.

• Avoid using a singsong voice when a poem rhymes.

• Use appropriate gestures, but don’t act out each word.

• Use your voice to give your words life and color.

Finding Reading Poetry Groups in Your Area

When you want to participate in a poetry reading, ask area libraries and bookstores about groups they may host. They may also be able to tell you about poetry groups or clubs that meet in the area. Keep in mind that nearby colleges might have poetry groups. If you don’t find a group in your community, create one with 10 to 12 people that meets each month.

In an October 2012 article in The New Yorker, poet Donald Hall advises, “Watch out. A poem must work from the platform but it must also work on the page.” Poetry was print before it became sound. By reading your works aloud, you’ll gain an understanding of how your poems truly resonate with all audiences.

[Photo from Pauline Balba via CC License 2.0]

Significant Uses of Poetry throughout History

poetry reading

 

Poetry is one of the oldest literary art forms. The earliest types of poems were often sung or recited to pass on oral histories, law and ancestral information because the rhythmic and repetitive forms made accounts simpler to remember before the development of writing. Poems that exist from ancient civilizations include fiction, historical accounts, love songs and instructions about how to perform everyday activities. The history of poetry is long and multifaceted as every culture used—and continues to employ—the literary form as a means of expression.

History of Poetry

Epics

The oldest known surviving written poetry include the Hieratic Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor from around 2500 B.C.E and the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh from about 2000 B.C.E. Other well known ancient epics are the Iliad and Odyssey from Greece, Ramayana and Mahabharata from India, and the Epic of King Gesar from Tibet.

Ancient Greek Poetry

During the 7th to 4th centuries B.C.E., the poetic movement developed by ancient Greek writers was one of the most culturally and intellectually significant in the history of the literary form. These writers developed almost all the classic forms known today. Notable writers included Homer, Sappho, Hesiod, Anacreon and Euripides. Many credit Aristotle with influencing the Middle East’s Islamic Golden Age and the European Renaissance.

Provencal Literature

During the 11th to 13th centuries A.D., the Middle Ages, musicians in France began writing lyrics despite Holy Roman Empire’s stomping down on creative expression. Inspired by Arab writers (e.g., Rumi) and Latin and Greek poets, the troubadours originally performed for royal courts before performing for different communities. The inquisition doomed the Provencal movement, making way for new movements.

Sicilian School

Taking their inspiration from the troubadours, Sicilian poets during the 13th and 14th centuries wrote about courtly love on the cuffs of the Renaissance period. The poets used their unique dialect to create poems into works of art. Poet Giacomo de Lentini further developed the sonnets and canzones, and invented new words, which became part of the Italian language. Instead of playing music with the verses, the poets of this era wrote poems for others to read. Poets like Dante and Petrarch spread the literary form across Europe.

Elizabethan Era

Poets such as Sir Thomas Wyatt and Geoffrey Chaucer helped modernize English literature in the 16th and 17th centuries. Sonnets became wildly popular as William Shakespeare, Edmund Spencer and others added their own touches to create works that are still popular today. Poets during the Elizabethan era used poems to write about everyday life, love and religion.

Metaphysical Era

In the 18th century, poets looked beyond religion and themselves. They often sought to explain their subjects by comparing them to love, philosophy, nature and the afterlife. The works of these poets—such as John Donne, George Chapman, Katherine Philips and Samuel Cowley—paved the way for American transcendentalism and Romantic writers.

Romantic Era

The Romantic era spanned three centuries—from the time of William Blake’s popularity in the late 1790s to Lord Byron’s death in 1824. The movement was one of the most illustrious in literary history. The poets of this era focused on nature, personal feelings, freedom of expression and their relationships. Notable poets of this era included William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelly and John Keats.

American Transcendentalism

Led be Ralph Waldo Emerson at Boston’s Transcendental Club in September 1836, transcendental poets explored spirituality, the arts and utopian values. They rose against their seemingly puritanical culture and sought to form a socialized community. Many writers considered themselves Transcendentalists, including Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Sophia Peabody and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Beat Movement

The latest modern poetic movement, Beat poets created one of the most influential poetic eras within the last century. They expressed life as they defined it. The poetic form blended classical styles with narrative free verse, free-expression jazz and the seeking of spiritual meaning. Beat poets created a renewed appreciation for the writing and study of poetry. Well-known poets of this era included Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Tuli Kepfergerg, Diane Di Prima and Herbert Huncke.

Poetry takes on several forms, painting literary pictures of the cultures and civilizations from which they emerged. Whether they’re telling a story, describing a writer’s innermost thoughts, mocking a government or commemorating a life, poems have had the power to express the heart’s desires, fuel flames and entertain the masses more than any literary or artistic form in history. What will your words say about you?

[Photo from Indi Samarajiva via CC License 2.0]

An In-Depth Look at Meter & Rhyme in Poetry

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Words in poems are like dancers; they have rhythm and movement. When you read the words aloud, the words might flow or bounce or halt based on how the poet arranges them. While this arrangement contributes to a poem’s rhyme scheme and metric pattern, they also contribute to its meaning and tone. By understanding poetry rhyme and meter, you’ll have better insight into what the poet communicates and the emotions expressed.

Poetry Meter

A poem’s metric pattern describes the arrangement of feet in a line. A foot is a group of syllables, the natural breaks in a word. To identify a poem’s meter, you must first identify the feet. Types of feet include:

• Iamb: An unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable (e.g., the word “destroy”)

• Trochee: An accented syllable followed by an unaccented syllable (e.g., the word “double”)

• Anapest: Two unaccented syllables and an accented syllable (e.g., the word “intervene”)

• Dactyl: An accented syllable followed by two unaccented syllables (e.g., the word “merrily”)

• Spondee: Two consecutive accented syllables (e.g., the word “hum-drum”)

• Pyrrhic: Two consecutive unaccented syllables (e.g., the words “to a”)

Identifying the meter in a poem requires identifying the type of line length, the number of feet in a line:

• Monometer: A line with one foot

• Dimeter: A line with two feet

• Trimeter: A line with three feet

• Tetrameter: A line with four feet

• Pentameter: A line with five feet

• Hexameter: A line with six feet

• Alexandrine meter: A line with six iambic feet

To determine the meter, combine the type of foot with the line length. Iambic pentameter, for examples, is a line with five iambic feet. Identifying a poem’s meter helps determine the type of poem it is, such as a ballad, ode or sonnet. Knowing the poetic type, or form, gives you insight into its purpose and the emotions that the poet may express.

Poetry Rhyme

The rhyme scheme in a poem is another tool used create or identify a poem’s form. The scheme identifies which lines rhyme with each other using letters. Common rhyme schemes include:

• ABAB: The first and third lines rhyme, and the second and fourth lines rhyme

• XAXA: The second and fourth lines rhyme, but the first and third do not

• AABB: The first and second lines rhyme and the third and fourth lines rhyme

• AAAA: All the lines rhyme

• AAXA or AXAA: All but one of the lines rhyme

• ABBA: The first and last lines rhyme and the second and third lines rhyme

• AXXA: The first and last lines rhyme, but the middle lines do not rhyme with each other

Rhyme schemes may incorporate more letters as needed. A Shakespearean sonnet, for instance, uses the following rhyme scheme: ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG. The number of letters in each section tells the reader the number of lines in each stanza. In a Shakespearean sonnet, the last stanza has two lines.

Some types of rhyme schemes have formal names, such as:

• ABAB: Alternate rhyme

• AABB…: Couplet

• AAABBB…: Triplet

• AAAA: Monorhyme

• ABABBCBC, ABABBCBC, ABABBCBC, BCBC: Ballad

• ABABB: Cinquian

• AABB: Clerihew

• ABBA: Enclosed

• AABBA: Limerick

• ABABABCC: Ottava rima

• ABABBCC: Rhyme royal

• AABA: Rubaiyat

• ABA, BCB, CDC…: Terza rima

In poetry, the elements within a work contribute to its tone and meaning, making the words multi-faceted. The next time you read a poem, study the rhyme and meter to see what new meanings jump out at you.

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