1. Darkkin
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    Darkkin Reflection of a nobody Contributor

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    Narrative Poetry: Boon and Bane

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Darkkin, Mar 12, 2015.

    I'm sure this has been covered before, but I'm worried. I'm stuck in a rut of linear narratives with my poetry. Every project, no matter the content seems to settle in a stylized pattern. With certain types of poems this works, but I'm afraid of loosing my voice in the patterns. No matter what I do I can't seem to lose the cadences.

    I've tried randomly shuffling my music, which usually helps if I get stuck on a project. I've tried no music, (that was about as productive as banging my head against a wall). And it's not that I don't have things to write about, I have that in spades. It's just that when I try and step out of my patterns, the piece I'm working on suddenly feels wrong, as if I've transitioned from classical music to rap. I know it's wrong footed and it almost hurts to try and continue. In that moment the spark of the project dies, its soul seemingly lost. That is true ghost writing.

    I have a weird knack for fabled narratives, but there is no market for such things. People hear the term narrative poem and they flee. It takes alot to do it well, (I'm doing the one step forward, two steps back method...), and when done properly the results are breathtaking. ie: Rime of the Ancient Mariner or Sir Walter Scott's The Lady of the Lake. These works are almost musical in the fluidity of their verses.

    This is the poetry I understand. If I can't find the internal rhythm of a piece, it feels like I'm reading against the grain, almost at odds with my own brain. I know what poetry can be, but not necessarily how it has to be.

    Free form and nonlinear structures are the norm, and dare I say, all the rage these days. It is metaphor and simile, upon metaphor and simile. In many cases I can't discern the writer's true meaning. I don't know if I'm just incapable of reading it correctly or simply to shallow to dive to the depth of thought others have put into a piece. I don't understand the allure. There is no cohesion, no follow through. The metaphoric promises remain unfulfilled and it is at this critical juncture that I go to war with my brain. I hate dangling threads and unanswered questions.

    I can string a cohesive, metred narrative together as easily as I can breath, but I cannot do anything remotely resembling modern poetry. There is always an underlying metre, rhyme, or rhythm in eveything I do. It is a boon for some of my pieces, but it is becoming a bane, as well. I don't want to be the one trick pony with no clear voice. Am I just too dense to understand how modern poetry works?

    I know I need to be a bit more versatile in my poetry if I'm going to take it anywhere. So my questions are thus: How do you write a poem in the abstract, away from metre, refrain and form? And secondly, how do you break free of the linear constructs?
     
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  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I don't pretend to have an answer for your query, Darkkin, but reading your very detailed and well presented question makes me wish we had a section just for poetry so this thread and others like it don't get lost amongst the infinity of "1st v. 3rd" threads. :)
     
  3. Swiveltaffy
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    Swiveltaffy Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can't say much, but I figured I'd say the broad and little I kinda (can/'t) say. Literarily, I'm still a puny, tiny baby.

    You say that you need to understand modern poetry. I guess I'd ask, to start, if you were to try to sum up modern poetry, or better still, the modern setting (let's do us Westerners, of course) what would you say? I think this is probably an important step when you try to ask what modern poetry is, because good modern poetry should reflect the society it exists within.

    The two most modern poets I can reference that I've read only reach up to Elliot and Paul Celan. I've read others, but these two are probably the most "modern" out of what I've read. They're about seventy-sixty years late, too. However, from a Western view, these two do very important things that could lead you, broadly of course, towards thinking about what it means to be modern. I know you're asking more about form, but maybe these general (and they are very general) ideas about modernity can help you in your attempts to insinuate the modern poem.

    I'm going to clarify once more that I'm a puny baby, just so grains of salt can at least be considered.

    Through a combination of technological progress, decline of religion, increasing presence of city-life, and the demonstration of the consequences of war machines, the modern setting has become one that a person may find greater difficulty existentially authenticating oneself. We have technology like the internet and dreams about artificial intelligences, and you get people feeling like being "human," if I can just be abstracted into a computer screen, doesn't seem to mean much. We have large cities that make the actual Earth itself seem like a kind of dream, where you don't breath, exactly, the open air, but stay cramped indoors and then walk on sidewalks, between tall buildings where nature is utterly gone. It's not new, but it is, in the greater human history, and living in a world of electricity, caffeine shops, and steel and glass towers, really isolates a person, intuitively, from the Earth itself, which, relatively, could be seen as more authentic, as it was here first, and we just build our civilizations on top of it, rather, consequently, destroying and objectifying it. If mankind constructs his modern reality atop a genuine one, what does this mean for the human, personally? Atheism is getting pretty popular. It's easy to overlook the consequences of saying that God isn't real, but along with the furthering of scientific advancement, if a human being loses connection that previous home of paradise, existentially, problems arise. How does one derive meaning from oneself, be real, or have a moral compass? Some of these questions, if referencing the wrestling match of popular modern atheism, get, rather, shit on, written off as if they don't mean anything, but especially in combination with the other problems listed, this lack to an objective actualizer can be problematic and alienating for the person, especially when all they have to turn to are the further abstracting elements of a modern society. Lastly, we have consequences of, say, the World Wars. Especially in WWII, you have the combination of ideology, scientific progress (military weapons) and political manipulation that focused on the destruction of groups of people to further of some Platonic idea of ideal worlds, essential paradises. In the broken images of concentration camps, we can see a breakdown of a moral order in an attempt to make a paradise on Earth. Coinciding with atheism, the overall picture of salvation becomes really bleak, and the modern human being becomes really confused.

    What I'm trying to at least communicate is that the twentieth century to our present times were/are really hectic, and the combination of many demoralizing and dehumanizing influences really just flipped the notion of a stable human identity on its head. We became this thing that pretty much destroys itself in some vainglorious attempt to merge into false realities, simultaneously failing to live in the present reality we find ourselves. The modern situation is overwhelmingly complex, strange, surreal, belittling, spiritually painful, and attempts to find stability are difficult. Not to say that this is why, but at least, one could see modern poetry's complexity, ambiguous and displaced nature as a result of Western society's similar situation. The poets are caught up in this strange world, so their poetry is as well.

    Especially now, there's a sincere identity crisis for modern poetry and what it really means to have "good" poetry. It's a question of values and how does one really root oneself in an aesthetic system without resorting to some pretense?

    Point is, I guess, it all gets really fucking weird. Honestly, your distance with modern poetry itself, and what it means to really find communion in it, is interesting in this vague picture I've just set up, because you're showing a sort of connection with the problem, even though it's rooted in trying to write poetry itself.

    I don't know this, but I would imagine that contemporary poetry is probably getting really strange and confused about what is "real." At least in the modernist works I've interacted with, while there is a confusion about realness, there is also a sincere commitment to the concrete, but the concrete that manages to maintain the intellect. Essentially, it's not entirely a bodily process, but one that is mixed with the mind, maybe a sort of merger of intellectualism with experience. I don't think contemporary poetry would focus on this though. I imagine, it, instead, loses a certain perspective on aesthetics and gets lost fumbling around trying to upend reality. Again, pure stupid conjecture, though most of this is.

    I realize after writing all this blabber that I probably said obvious things, made no sense, or brought up irrelevant information. If I did any of these, well, sorry. I hope this helps in some way. I can't exactly say how to write modern poetry. Not only is that way over my head, but I don't think anyone really knows what that is, at this point. However, a focus on paradoxical experiences and feelings, ambiguity, and existential problems are certainly in a "right" direction, when it comes to something remotely modernish.
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2015
  4. Darkkin
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    Darkkin Reflection of a nobody Contributor

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    Basically, this boils down to a stupid question...Beam me back in time about 200 years and I'll be right on track...:wtf: Anybody have a Tardis?
     
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  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    The trick, of course, is to read more poetry. It's as simple as that. As far as understanding poems goes, it can be difficult sometimes. A lot of times it's necessary to know something extra in order to truly understand (and appreciate) what the poet is saying. For example, you have to know some things about philosophy if you wish to understand Wallace Stevens. But the great thing about poetry is that all readers will interpret the poem based on their experiences, so the feeling of uncertainty that comes from reading poems should be embraced, not shunned.

    Finally, if you want to experiment with different forms, meter, etc., you have to just do it. Also, not all modern poetry is like what you've described. I've seen sonnets, poems employing rhyme, etc. written by contemporary poets, and they all managed to get published. In other words, modern poetry isn't defined by structure, meter, or anything like that. For what it's worth, when I read your poems in the Workshop, I don't automatically think that they resemble poetry from 200 years ago.
     
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  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, you're preaching to the converted, @Darkkin , as far as I'm concerned. I used to love Victorian narrative poetry. In fact, it's the only form of poetry I can honestly say I love. I think the big difference between it and modern poetry is the storytelling aspect of narrative poetry.

    Narrative poetry didn't beat about the bush. The narrative poets told stories, in a straightforward manner. Only difference between prose and poetry really was the use of rhyme and meter.

    While I have nothing against modern poetry, which engages in an entirely different way with the reader, I would love a return to narrative poetry. By gum, if you love doing that, do it. As long as you don't resort to self-conscious old-fashioned language, you'll probably be seen as a pioneer!

    Okay, I admit it. I'm a sucker for a good story. I'll take a good story any day, whether it's told in rhyme or not.
     
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  7. Darkkin
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    Darkkin Reflection of a nobody Contributor

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    I've read more modern poets like Pablo Neruda and Mary Oliver. I was not impressed, I simply wasn't connecting with the words. Reading them was a bit of a chore and some of it actually seemed a tad ridiculous.

    Neruda won the Pulitzer for his poetry and the thought that went through my head while reading his work: Seriously? Literary blasphemy, probably, but I found it tedious.

    Mary Oliver was a little better, but there are only so many ways you can describe the woods. There was no whimsy.

    I was reading Walt Whitman, although he's not modern, the other day and when I got to the piece about his observations about the house of the dead, it was a little creepy. Death happens, I know...still.

    Three excellent writers in their own right, who had me asking: Is there something wrong with me that I can't make the connection that so many others have or am I just that much of a snot? Current conclusion is, I'm a snot, and not even a well rounded one. Too many faery tales and epics.

    I've delved into the modern mainstream books, like the Hopkins novels. (Working at a bookstore I have easy access to a wide variety of material.) And in all honesty, walking on broken glass would probably be more pleasant than dealing with those garbled inner musings. It is all angst. There is no progression, just obsession. It's a self-fulfilling loop, so Hopkins did her topic proud. It's just not something that I connected with on an emotional level.

    And therein lies the crux of the matter, as thirdwind said, there needs to be a basic connection. Whether it's through empathy or logic, connecting with the words is essential for comprehension and true appreciation.

    I loved Beowulf, The Iliad, The Odessey. These stories had drive, motion that carried them through the despair and desolation. There was always a glimmer of hope that lingered, no matter how impossible the odds. I'm an optimist in spite of myself. I haven't been able to find a modern poet who manages to maintain that finite glimmer of hope, or the possibility of whimsy. (And I don't think Shel Silverstein counts, as awesome as he is.)

    I've done an epic narrative and a number of simpler ones, and I know I need to make peace with the modern aspects of poetry if I'm going to move forward. I've written exclusively from whimsy's side of the fence until now. I need a walk in modern shoes to find a happy medium, not just my unicorns and faeries.
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2015
  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @Darkkin, one of the few modern (well, at least 20th century) narrative poets I'm familiar with was Robinson Jeffers. Read some of his stuff from the 1920s and '30s. He kind of went nuts during and after WWII - the years from then until his death in 1962 were not his best. But he was monumental earlier on - an unforgiving, intransigent judge of mankind, celebrator of nature, gigantic, expansive, brilliant with language even when writing horrific stories in verse.

    He's my favorite poet. You might try his short lyric poems to get an idea of where he's coming from: "Continent's End," "Night," "The Hurt Hawk," "Shine, Perishing Republic," "To The Stone-Cutters," etc. Then you can try his narrative stuff: "Roan Stallion," "Tamar," "Thurso's Landing," "Give Your Heart To The Hawks," and the rest. Powerful, vivid, but utterly uncompromising. A Prometheus of a poet, willing to be chained to a rock and suffer forever in order to be himself.

    Check him out. Even if you don't like him (and I won't blame you if you don't - his subjects and themes aren't always pretty), you'll at least find him fascinating.
     
  9. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why strive to write the kind of poetry everyone else writes these days? When I started reading your post, I got excited, thinking, Wow, someone's working in this classic form, that is so marvellous! I thought you wanted feedback on how to avoid the pitfalls of that genre. And then you tell me you want to force yourself to write "modern poetry" like everybody else? What the heck is wrong with "underlying metre, rhyme, and rhythm"? Your challenge is to be the bard your inclination calls you to be, not to stuff yourself into some stainless steel Procrustean bed of your own making.
     
  10. Darkkin
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    Darkkin Reflection of a nobody Contributor

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    I just want to get a slightly more rounded picture. I like experiencing things for multiple prespectives and my poetry was getting a little one dimensional. I need to take myself out of my head for a little while in order to undestand the different aspects of some of the more modern writers.

    I've been reading through numerous modern non-narrative, non-linear poets and toying with a few pieces of my own. I don't like it. And the experience has taught me to appreciate the abilities I have. I'm a linear, structured writer and I need rhythm, metre, and rhyme as much as I need air. I do narrative well, but I have learned a bit more about structure, as well because I went outside my box.

    I can go clean and structured, but I have an eerie knack for ridiculous narratives. Even if no one ever reads them at least I had enough sense to go back and write them. It is a finite niche, but it's one I fit into. It is sheer escapism.

    I'll leave the philosophy and deep thoughts to those who understand it. I thrive on the bits of whimsy most people find tedious, but then again, I am Darkkin, the Tedious.
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2015
  11. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Don't knock yourself. You don't HAVE to like something because it won a prize. My daughter bought me a prize-winning book for Christmas a few years back. Try as I might (and I didn't want to offend my daughter) I just couldn't get more than a quarter of the way through, it was THAT bad. Have you never heard of the Emperor's new clothes?
     
  12. Darkkin
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    Darkkin Reflection of a nobody Contributor

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    Interesting you should mention the Emperor's New Clothes, that kid cropped up in a critique I did a few weeks ago. My thoughts were counterpoint to everyone elses, but by gum, that critique taught me a thing or two. It made me stop and analyse what it was about the pieces that bothered me so much. And I realized I don't like plumbing the depths of obscure metaphors for some hidden symbolism. I like poetry to have a point, even if it is just a faery tale. When I invest time in reading I expect a return, be it intellectual or emotional. When I write I go in with the same mindset.

    The fact that I dislike modern poetry, (although I still need to read Robinson Jeffers, it took me a little while to track him down), made me wonder what other people see in it. My thoughts were much akin to Lord Elrond's observations of the world of Men: 'They are scattered, divided, leaderless.' And in all honesty I'm more excited when they announce the Caldecott and Newbery Award Winners. One thing I think I should look into is the judging criteria for some of the national poetry prizes, including the Pulitzer. It will be interesting to see what they deem worthy in poetry. Me, I like knowing there is a point.
     
  13. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    No. Certainly not. You like narrative poems - I do too, love them in fact, but poems without a narrative are hardly unique to Modern Poetry, nor really are poems about abstract concepts. All that has happened with 'Modern Poems' like 'Modern Art' is that it has a very vocal part that has become unrelatable and untranslatable to anything but the highly educated and highly cultured viewer.

    It isn't that it is even pretentious, it is just self-consciously 'different' and alien to ordinary people. Which makes it elitist, even despite intentions. No amount of rhetoric about 'freeing your mind' or being 'open minded' is going to change the fact that the man on the street isn't going to try and see something in a way of thinking differently to his own, because he hasn't been told how to do that, and does not see any point or value in that.

    Oh sure, people like to say literature and art is all abject subjection, but it's just not the case (look at me being all controversial). To use a few examples, the first bar of Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner is based around a single chord that is incomplete, and to experienced and knowledgeable listeners of music this sticks out. It creates a tension of expectation for the chord to have the final note and be complete. The chord is only completed at the end of the opera, when the story and tragedy has been resolved. I am not particularly knowledgeable about music, I had to date a music student to hear that, but it's also the reason why in the UK, Classic FM sell books on Opera and Classical Music and Music Theory. You need to know this stuff to appreciate the technical genius of the great composers.

    It is the same with poetry. Exactly the same. Without knowing about linguistics, how on earth would you know what James Joyce is subverting in novels like Ulysses? You wouldn't. And unless you can understand a novel, no one should trust your appraisals of a novel aside from the fact that you didn't understand it. It stands to reason - you shouldn't listen to a word I have to say on quantum mechanics, because I know bugger all about it. I am not a trustworthy opinion on quantum mechanics. I know nothing about the tradition that inspired Romance of the Three Kingdoms so any value judgement I make on the text in the original Chinese shouldn't really be listened to. If I have it in translation, any value judgement I make as to the quality is worthless, because I don't know Chinese literature well. I can say I like it, I might like it, but that's merely an emotional response which might mean nothing to someone else.

    Modern poetry makes more sense the more of it you read. And the more you read and read about modern poetry the better you become at close reading. Also, shop around. It might be that you are reading terrible poets, or just poets you don't either like or understand the method of.

    You don't need to. Free verse isn't as popular as people seem to think anymore, look at Simon Armitage, Seamus Heaney, Louise Ho, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop. Maybe even Marianne Moore if you can be bothered with her all the time - I can't. They all used Free Verse, sure, but they also used more traditional forms. Robert Frost once said writing in free verse is like playing tennis without a net, and honestly, I think he was spot on with that.

    You don't need to be pretentious to write modern poetry. Someone should tell that to certain modern poets I shall remain nameless, though.
     
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2015
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