1. Heydonz

    Heydonz Member

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    Is writing in meter actually important?

    Discussion in 'Poetry' started by Heydonz, Apr 27, 2020.

    I'm pretty inexperienced when it comes to poetry and I wanted to know what people think about meter. All the poetry I have ever written has been without meter. When I have on occasion attempted to write using some metrical pattern it has taken too long/tiresome and I have become bored and consequently stopped writing. If anyone is more experienced at using meter, then I would love to know whether it gets easier to write with meter over time? If so maybe I will persevere with meter, otherwise I don't think I have the time for it.

    Also it would be interesting to know how many people actually use meter when writing poetry and what people think of it generally. Thanks in advance.
     
  2. ReproveTheCurlew

    ReproveTheCurlew Active Member

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    Writing in metre isn't as difficult as you might think; you may very well become thrown off by insignificant details, Greek terms and the such - it's essentially nothing other than having tighter control over the rhythm of your everyday speech patterns.

    That being said, no, you don't need metre in poetry at all - in fact, the vast majority of published contemporary poetry is in free verse (which has neither a regular metre nor rhyme) - but those poems follow other conventions and forms of regularity (and as such aren't quite as free as the word would imply).

    The most important thing is not to force your poem into a set form; it should mainly feel quite natural.
     
  3. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    While I agree with everything Reprove mentions, I’ll add a separate sentiment:

    I think there’s a valuable lesson to be learned from engaging meter. It’s a lesson in acknowledging constraint, and constraint is ever-present in writing, and just as was mentioned, even free verse is something of a misnomer.

    How often do we read posts asking us how to describe a thing, when to describe a thing, why to describe a thing, how detailed, etc? You have to strong-arm those members into giving you the applicable narrative mode, the POV being used, who is the observer, is there even an observer or is it just the disembodied 3rd omniscient narrator? This, assuming you can get the answer at all. And why it should be such an illusive piece of information boggles the mind because without it we do not know the narrative constraints that will delineate what is at last plausible from the just plain absurd.
     
  4. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    That's a loaded question, in that meter doesn't have to conform to strict rules (iambic pentameter, for example), but it does add to the effect of poetry. Look at some of the great English speeches and you'll see that Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Kennedy recognized how important the meter -- the tempo, if you will -- was critical to getting their messages across. They almost sing themselves.

    Robert Frost called a strict adherence to meter and rhyme in "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening" as "working easy in harness." But there's not a trace of it in another famous poem of his, "The Death of the Hired Man." But even there he was attuned to cadence in his use of several short words in a row to regulate the pace of the poem. Those orators I mentioned earlier used the same device:

    "We shall fight them on the beaches..."
    "... of the people, by the people, and for the people..."
    "I have a dream..."
    "Ask not what your country can do for you..."

    It is this respect for cadence that mark these speeches as masterpieces. So let's say that while meter isn't essential, cadence is critical.
     
  5. Heydonz

    Heydonz Member

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    Thanks so much for the explanation - just wondering what exactly does 'cadence' mean in this context. Does it just means rhythm, or something more?
     
  6. ReproveTheCurlew

    ReproveTheCurlew Active Member

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    Just a brief note on this post - "The Death of the HIred Man" is in iambic pentameter, "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening" is iambic tetrameter - I don't know all of Frost's verse (being from the UK), but I do know that he was very strict with his metres (as one can see here).

    There's an important distinction to make between metre and rhythm - they're not the same thing. When JLT wrote cadence he essentially meant rhythm, yes - but that's not the same as metre. Think of it, if you like, as the distinction between tact and rhythm in music: one provides you with the regularity into which a beat must fall, the other gives you the actual experience of the rhythm. The same in language: if you write in, say, iambic pentameter, then your rhythm can be varied within the confinements of the metre. Music without tact still has rhythm, language without metre still has rhythm.

    So, essentially, when you're working with metre you have a few more confinements in the rhythm you're building out of your lines since your rhythm still needs to 'knock' to the beat of the metre you've chosen; in free verse you don't have an underlying beat (i.e. metre), but a rhythm still exists, and I can't think of a good poet who doesn't at least pay some attention to the rhythm. In fact, the two main building blocks of poetry are sound and imagery, predominantly - they are what stand out and make a line memorable.

    The underlying lesson to be gained from this is essentially that metre is quite important to study for anyone with any interest in writing in general since it offers a whole new toolkit for you to use; it turns your language into music and will make you enjoy it more, once understood - it doesn't mean you'll have to use it when writing in the end, but with no knowledge whatsoever of it, you're essentially missing something. Can you still write well without knowing of it? Certainly, but I'd argue that it's easier when you know everything there is to know.
     
  7. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Tact? Is that really a thing? I've never heard of it before, I mean in this context (not the more obvious one).

    Is it just your term for something, or an official term?

    To the OP—are you familiar with feet; stressed and unstressed syllables? I recently learned about that and it changed my understanding of meter (or possibly tact? Getting so confused now... )

    This is a pretty decent guide to poetic feet: Poetic Feet and Meter and Their Usage.
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2020
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  8. ReproveTheCurlew

    ReproveTheCurlew Active Member

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    Yes - see here https://www.wordnik.com/words/tact - in music it refers to the beat (tbf, beat would have been a more common term to use)
     
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  9. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    A term borrowed from music, a beat or a measure.

    Ok, thanks. I tried looking it up and never found that one.
     
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  10. Lazaares

    Lazaares Senior Member

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    This here. Meter is oft misunderstood as some cranky Greek / Romanticist constraint whereas it is ever-present in writing. Famous speeches and even some prose are written with meter. Churchill's one prime example. As a non-native speaker I have always been intrigued by English's ease with meter, random everyday sentences sound "right" when you say them in meter.

    Though I may be too obsessed with metered writing (looking at a lengthy list of character names all with dactyl-dactyl, spondee-dactyl, or dactyl-spondee meter).
     
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  11. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    I had to go back and look up the poem, and you're right. But I also noticed that Frost played fast and loose with it, breaking the strict form for effect. He does much the same thing in "Out, Out--" in which you can discern the bones of the iambic structure beneath what seems like straight prose. No worries, though. Shakespeare did the same thing.
     
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  12. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    All of the poetry I write is in meter, and I love it it. It is like dancing with syllables and words, a magic--if you will--that makes me think there is more to words than just basic meaning. A lot of poets I know do not learn meter as they don't want to take the time, but most published poets (even those who write in free verse) have a basic understanding of what it is and how it works. It is a fundamental skill that all poets should have.

    With that said, I do not think all poetry needs to be written in meter, nor would I even suggest that. What devices you use in your poetry is for you to decide, but understand that many poets prefer careful attention to rhythm and the use of sound vs. Metaphor and Epiphany.
     
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  13. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    Since most of my "poetry" these days are songs, I'm kinda with you there. It's striking how much the meter adds to a mood or an after-effect. Since John Prine died, I've been listening to a lot of his stuff, and I'm amazed by how well he could marry the meter of a song to the plain, simple vocabulary of the common speech. I've found that not only can't you change a word, you can't change a note or a phrasing without it going sideways.

    I think Leonard Cohen's work has the same trait. It forces you into reading or performing his work with a certain measured pacing; try singing it or reciting it slower or faster, and you lose something crucial.
     
  14. keysersoze

    keysersoze Active Member

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    I am sorry I do not agree with most of what you have said here. I am okay with the first paragraph here. But the rest, not quite. I even think that free verse has been abused lately. People have brought poetry down to stream of conscious writing. Write anything in stream of consciousness and call it poetry. Not quite.

    One of the problems I faced when I started writing poetry is that I did not understand the significance of meter. Nobody questions the learning of beats when learning drums but when it comes to poetry everyone seems to have raised arms against meter. Why? There is no proper answer to that except laziness. If you try your hand at metrical writing and see that it doesn't work for you and then you go to free verse, that is acceptable. But to begin poetry with free verse is a big NO NO. Do not do it. Do not kill the exquisiteness of all the myriad forms of poetry for yourself by immediately rushing to free verse. All different meters and all different rhymes have different things to express. The form of poetry is no less important than the content of it. There is centuries of exploration and experimentation there. Nobody says I don't want to learn Newton's laws of Physics, I don't like thermodynamics, can I directly go to Quantum Physics? But when it comes to poetry everyone these days wants to dabble only with free verse. I haven't seen anything quite as self-destructive as that.
     
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  15. Heydonz

    Heydonz Member

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    So if I want to try and experiment writing in meter which meter would you recommend I try? Anything in particular? Ideally something that is not too difficult would be good (like iambic pentameter?) or do you have any other suggestions? Thanks
     
  16. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    IP is the standard meter for English, followed by common meter (alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and trimeter.)

    My favorite book on the subject is Timothy Steele's 'All the fun's in how you say a thing.'
     
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  17. keysersoze

    keysersoze Active Member

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    It depends on your subject.
    Short lines
    move fast
    longer ones tend to hold more gravity and weight.
    Another thing is there is little space for experimentation in smaller lines. In longer lines you can play with alliteration and assonance and other figures of speech. But the longer lines also tend to drag on. The pentameter is so popular because it serves like an optimum line length. It can change though with the subject at hand. Generally we tend to choose our meter subconsciously. But it is more fun when you are conscious of the meter you are using.

    Add a little rhyme to the poem and see what that does. You can use ABAB which is the most common. There is also ABAx. The heroic couplet is AABB. I haven't tried it yet but there is also ABBA, which they say feels more intimate. (The expression I read was lovers holding hands.) The patterns with ABC are yet to explore rhymes for me.

    Have you read Shakespeare's sonnets? Try 73, 94, 129, 130.
     
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  18. Heydonz

    Heydonz Member

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    Thanks. I will definitely give it a read.

     
  19. Heydonz

    Heydonz Member

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    Thanks for the explanation - I had not really considered the significance of line length before so I will definitely experiment with it. I have not actually read any of Shakespeare's sonnets (despite having studied his plays) so I will take a look at the ones you suggested. Thanks so much
     

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