View Full Version : I don't get modern poetry... help!

June 18th, 2010, 05:07 PM
In classic poetry they have meters and rhymes and stuff. What I don't get is how they do modern ones, which doesn't have meters and rhymes. Help?

Linton Robinson
June 18th, 2010, 05:30 PM
Just scribble down whatever comes into your head seems to be one popular approach.

Many would say that there actually is a metric to free verse, but that it's subtle and not regimented.

The idea is that the content of the poem becomes all-important.

Linebreaks happen at points of greatest impact, not where x number of syllables dictate. What is being said is not dictated by rhyming, but by your intent.

Free verse (even more "de rigeur" for the modern poet that abstract expression is for the modern painter) is capable of delivering powerful images, feelings, and moods. it's also quite capable (as with abstract painting) of being a crock of crap that can be pimped into significance by any given observer. There's a huge "rorshach factor" involved.

But you look at something like

and as you read
the sea is turning its dark pages,
its dark pages.

(Denise Levertov)


Sounds are heard too high for ears,
From the body cells there is an answering bay;
Soon the inner streets fill with a chorus of barks.
"Watching Television" by Robert Bly)

Playing her parchment moon
Precosia comes.
The wind sees her and rises,
the wind that never slumbers.
Naked Saint Christopher swells,
watching the girl as he plays
with tongues of celestial bells
on an invisible bagpipe......

Gypsy, let me lift your skirt
and have a look at you.
Open in my ancient fingers
the blue rose of your womb.
(Frederico Garcia Lorca)

Or something as simple as

THE fog comes
on little cat feet.
("Fog" by Carl Sandburg")

And I think you might feel a power that is independent of form. If so, it is the power of pure poetics. Metaphor, imagery, lushness of words that transcend their literal meanings.
And some would argue that by stripping poesy of rhyme and meter cuts in closer to what poetry "really is" on it's own self, moving it away from elements of song.

Some would argue, as did Robert Frost, that it's like "playing tennis without a net."

Linton Robinson
June 18th, 2010, 05:34 PM
BTW There are, if you are interested, some poetic forms that are sort of "halfway houses" between the structure of a sonnet or rolling iambic pentamer and verse that is strarkly free.

Villlanelles and sestinas, for instance, are non-rhymed, non-metric forms that are nevertheless stuctured (the sestina by a forumlaic pattern of final words in each line, the villanelle by repetition of two chorus lines)
Both are a lot of fun and have some of the advantages of both formal platform and free verse.

Probably the most famous villanelle extant:


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

This form could easily be adapted to a lot of sensibilities, including a hiphop posture.

Here's a beautiful sestina by Elizabeth Bishop, a major but under-rated American poet. You can see the perumtation of last words and how it can be mutated and played with... and how sheer poetry just bubbles out of it all over.

Sestina by Elizabeth Bishop

September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

It's time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle's small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac

on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.

It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.

As a sort of exercise in what I meant by poetic here, take a look at this line:

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.

Now, isn't that a cool thing to say? What does it mean? Obviously it's gibberish viewed as English words with known meanings. What it REALLY means is up to you, though within a channel supplied by the poet. The non-meaning goes far deeper than any literal meaning, and you create it yourself--a wordless significance that is a collaboration between you and Ms. Bishop.

June 18th, 2010, 05:42 PM
Nice explanation Lin, I think I get it. Now let me try composing some. Buwahahaha!!!

June 18th, 2010, 05:45 PM
BTW, I'm still reading the .exe ebook you sent me. I'm on the Illustrated part now, and I'm loving it.

Linton Robinson
June 18th, 2010, 07:00 PM
Now let me try composing some.

I always end up creating monsters.

June 18th, 2010, 08:31 PM
naw... try posting it, and lemme see your baby.