National Poetry Day, 3 October 2019: Benefits of Poetry, Studying and Writing Poems, Examples
Promotion of Poetry
National Poetry Day is a British campaign to promote poetry, including public performances. It was founded in 1994 by William Sieghart and takes place annually in the UK and Ireland on the first Thursday in October. To my shame I didn’t find out about this until yesterday, Thursday the 3rd of October! This year’s theme is ‘Truth’.
I assumed it was a Poetry Day for England, one of the four nations of the UK but no, it’s for the UK and Ireland, so stretching the true meaning of ‘national’. Don’t get me wrong! This is a good thing. We need to spread poetry around more and more. It’s an integral strand of writing, which in turn is protected by the umbrella of ‘The Arts’. The many varied forms of writing, from the traditional to the contemporary, are not, in my opinion, celebrated to the extent they deserve.
Benefits of Poetry
Why poetry rather than prose? Well, each has its place of course. I find that one suits better than the other, depending on the subject matter. Sometimes I’ll use both to show a different tack on a theme.
For me, poetry
- is more concise,
- makes you stick to the rules or…
- …gives you freedom (in free verse),
- must have a rhythm to suit the theme,
- can condense words to convey more (as long as they’re well chosen!)
- is great for concentrating on emotions.
When I was at school, I regarded poetry as tedious. I had good English teachers so I guess the failing was in me or perhaps I wasn’t old enough or mature enough to appreciate it. I do find that the older I am, the more appreciation I have for this medium. Fortunately, children are encouraged more actively to write poetry in the classroom these days.
Of course, the form of poetry can make a difference. Personally, I love free verse, as long as there is a strong rhythm to carry me along, be it gentle or emphatic, as the strength comes from its suitability and continuity rather than any other quality. It doesn’t mean that you can just write anything with shorter lines than prose!
A traditional sonnet, with its strict structure. can be beautiful but flowery language is not my scene. Nor do I have a high regard for Wordsworth’s efforts, not even for the ‘golden daffodils’ despite them being my favourite flowers!
Japanese Haiku poems are an art in themselves, following set rules within a frame of strict numbers of syllables (3 lines of 5, 7, 5 syllables). They should have some reference to nature and include a twist, or surprise, in the last line. Their simplicity is their charm, though they often evoke strong, possibly alarming, impact.
Limericks? Are they proper poetry or just side-paths to frivolity? I’ll leave that to you to decide.
As we see, poetry is subjective so whatever you feel about it is entirely down to you. There is no right or wrong.
John Betjeman (a favourite of mine)
How to Write Poetry
Study various forms. Find out what you enjoy reading and see if you can write in the same vein. Look at the rhythm, the rhymes and the ‘shape’ of the poem. They can show a pattern on the page, the right-hand edge flowing in and out, or becoming gradually longer until the last line stretches beyond the rest. You are not obliged to use rhyme, nor to have regular patterns of any sort.
Again, you write as you wish. There are no longer hard and fast rules for contemporary poetry. It gives us a freedom that many of our forerunners did not have.
As with any form of writing, choose your words carefully, pare them out, look at alternatives, beware of clichés and always, always proof-read at least twice! So many errors can shriek from the page unless you have checked.
This is my offering on a blustery October day, sticking to the theme of 'truth':
Truth of a Turbulent Week
Sunday I fell, what a fool,
the carpet roll stubbed my toes,
down I went smack on my knee-cap;
rolled in agony.
Monday I limped into town,
a check at the optometrist’s,
the luxury of choosing new specs,
Tuesday, a day of rest,
shelter from gales and rain so
I could ease my aches and bruises,
glad of respite.
Wednesday in Weston, the joy
of sunshine, on open-top bus,
surveying Somerset scenery,
Thursday and Friday, more rain,
Poetry Day gave us Liv Torc,
creating verbal pictures of home,
Turbulent waves returned, thrown
by sea-wall rejecting a flood,
one-time threat disappeared
forever safe now.
Saturday forecast of gales,
sent by Atlantic hurricane,
I’ll stay in and write in the warm,
muse in full flood.
Sunday, back to sunshine!
A typical English October,
we’re constantly kept on our toes
and mine are repaired.
Sea-wall Defences and Blustery Buses!
This piece was inspired by the sight of Burnham Beach on a wild morning when the gales whipped the waters to pound the shifting sands. It’s an acrostic, using the consecutive letters of ‘poetry’ to start each line.
Be True to Yourself
Place your feet on solid ground.
Open your soul to treasures found.
Even sands become rippled, muddied.
Truth can hide a mind that’s sullied.
Ride the waves that crash to shore!
You will survive to rise and roar.
Next, a glimpse of the seashore in gentler mood.
Sands of glass,
mirror glass on water,
palest blue to buttermilk grains.
lifts spirits flagging,
vast horizon smiles through my veins.
Glass and Mirrors
A local Somerset poet, Liv Torc, performed her contribution to Poetry Day on the beach at Brean Down, the north end of Burnham and Berrow beach. It was aired on Points West television. Her candid reflections on the good and not-so-good aspects of Somerset were entertaining and thought-provoking. Here is her poem:
Somerset - by Liv Torc
From the road in Somerset
a wilting willow man,
chased off the fields by warehouses,
pollarded by council funding cuts
The bedraggled cousin of the Angel of the North
staring down the M5
holding out its guts.
People drive through fast
We are a patchwork blur
a consonant slur
a place on the way to somewhere else
with better views or brasher lights
We see it all
from the heights of our mystic tor
and ragwort depths of our flooded floor.
Pull back our hedgerows
like an ancient prison grate
Follow us like a tractor into traffic
Tip us like a cow
We are nuclear fission
scrumpy soused double vision
A gypsy cart on the sweet track
A steam train on its way back
A festival of 400,000 eyes
We are a Parrett full of writhing elvers
A wild eyed Exmoor foal
A jilted witch
turned to stalagmite
in a Wookey hole.
Centuries ago we rode in on a tsunami
Danced to the drums of the Minehead Hobby Horse
The Girt Dog of Langport snapping at our heels
Now we are 400 village strong
Gold spun in apple blossom sun
Our smiles fermenting
on the tips of cheese and pickle
We keep our families and our elders
but we cannot keep our young
They leave the orchards
for the hipster beer
and strange idea
That something better can be found
in bigger cities
While we weave and crusade
Unafraid to be homemade
Always on the levels.
© Liv Torc
(see below for links)
Willow Man & Angel of the NorthClick thumbnail to view full-size
Explanations & Illustrations
Liv Torc’s poem requires explanation of some words, local places and relevant history.
Somerset is an ancient land of apple orchards and cider farming, of crop and dairy farming and much of its acreage, the Somerset Levels, is below sea level, hence susceptible to flooding, despite the irrigation system of sluice gates and rhynes (ditches). The Mendip Hills provide a northerly contrasting backdrop to the Levels.
The Willow Man
The Willow Man is a large outdoor sculpture by Serena de la Hey. It stands in a field next to the northbound M5. He is ‘bedraggled’ because he’s been vandalised and is ‘holding out his guts’ due to lack of repair.
Weaving willows is used to create much more. There is a tradition of basket weaving, and even coffin making, using the soft, pliant willow trees which abound in this county. Many stand by the rhynes and are subject to an annual drastic pruning, hence ’pollarded’.
The Angel of the North refers to a much bigger effigy seen from the M6 near Gateshead, south of Newcastle. He is strong and defiant, a tribute to miners who stoutly provided the economy of that area.
Famous landmarks include the ‘mystic’ Glastonbury Tor, a prominent hill with a church tower on top, providing a magnificent panorama of views over Somerset to the sea. Legend says that Joseph of Aramathea brought Jesus to Glastonbury, also that King Arthur and his wife Guinevere are buried in the Abbey.
The dramatic, deep ravine of Cheddar Gorge in the Mendips is where there are limestone caves popular with cavers and speleologists. The town itself boasts the famous tasty Cheddar Cheese. Nearby Wookey Hole gives us more caves where a witch, turned to a stalagmite, resides!
Nuclear Fission, Scrumpy and the Sweet Track
‘Nuclear fission’ is reference to the not so wonderful sight of the nuclear power station at Hinkley Point.
‘Scrumpy’ is strong cider, a popular traditional drink in these parts.
The ‘sweet track’ dates from Neolithic times, built in 3807 BC and preserved in the peat bog on the Somerset Levels, one of a network of wooden tracks that once crossed the area.
The ‘steam train’ could be the West Somerset or East Somerset railway; both are voluntarily refurbished tracks and engines which provide tourist rides.
A festival of 400,000 eyes is the Glastonbury Festival, a pop and folk festival set up in 1970 by a local farmer and now famous around the world, attracting top bands, singers and performers.
‘A Parrett full of writhing elvers’ is the River Parrett with young eels and the ‘Exmoor foal’ recalls the wild ponies on Exmoor, one of two ancient moorlands on the edges of the county. Exmoor was the setting for RD Blackmore’s ‘Lorna Doone’.
Minehead Hobby Horse:
Minehead, a coastal town on the border of Somerset and Devon in the southwest, celebrates a folk custom on May Day by parading a brightly decorated hobby horse around the town. The earliest known record of the practice dates from 1830 but its origins are unknown.
Girt Dog of Langport
Version of Canis Major
Something I knew nothing about before I read Liv Torc's poem was the 'girt dog of Langport'. I knew that in local dialect 'girt' means great or large but had never come across this dog.
According to the ‘Alchemy of Guardianship’ there are several giant landscape effigies, one of which is this ‘Girt Dog of Langport’, a representation of the constellation ‘Canis Major’. The map shows the locations which contribute to the shape of a dog who is the guardian of the ‘Glastonbury Zodiac’. It is referred to in a wassailing carol of the area (used at Christmas, then for May Day). Its shape ends with the tail at the hamlet of ‘Wagg’!
Flex Your Poetic Muscles!
Amazing what you can learn from poetry; local stories and historical facts! I take our local heritage for granted now but I realise how rich it is, how relevant to our lives, when I’m reminded in this way.
Be it traditional rhymes, free verse or something in between, stretch your imagination, listen to your muse, experiment with different forms and you might be surprised what you can create!
Above all, have fun!
What type of poetry do you prefer?
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Ann Carr