Narrative poetry

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Thread: Narrative poetry

  1. #1

    Narrative poetry

    I was looking back on some older contests, mainly last year's Grand Poetry Challenge and I noticed some of the judges criticized my narrative poem for not having metaphor - I'm reading that it was more like prose and not "poetic" enough (not judging the judges here, just questions that have occurred to me).

    I know there's a thread on prose poems, but I'm wondering on narrative poems in particular. Do I need structure, rhyme, metaphor, imagery and so forth to make a narrative poem more poetic? Or is this just a matter of taste?

    I like the narrative/ballad types of poetry because I like telling stories, and it's happened a few times here - sometimes I question myself; is it better to turn this poem into prose or leave it like it is?
    "Self-righteousness never straddles the political fence."


    "The bible says to love your neighbor. It's obvious that over the centuries it has been interpreted as the opposite."
    (sarcasm alert)


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  2. #2

    Can't wait to read responses. All I know is this: I know it when I read it. Bet you do, too. Now, to define it is quite another matter. "Out, Out" by Robert Frost is considered to be one.

    For me, it must have a poetic theme; or outcome; maybe a yin & yang aspect.

    Thanks for the question.

  3. #3
    Oh lords above, below, and sideways--save us all from yet another attempt to 'define' poetry. You two sidestep it adeptly! Defining poetry is like bottling smoke in an intense bank of fog. Let us leave it over there. I think, however, that I can make one reasonably intelligent (notice the qualifier. No way I'm running off the end of the plank. . .) statement about narrative poetry: in narrative poetry, the PROCESS of 'getting there' is as intriguing and absorbing as is arrival at the destination. Put another way, as reader/hearer you are attracted to the 'telling of the tale' because of the intensity of the mode, as much as you are to the parameters of the story line and its conclusion. Poems as diverse in story and 'theme' as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The Lady of Shallot, and The Shooting of Dan McGrew are unquestionably poems FIRST because their poetics are dominant throughout. And if that reasoning seems tautological that's only because the reasoning is tautological . . . and always will be when it comes to any kind of discussion about 'what is poetry?' Of parallel intrigue are stories that are certainly 'stories' first (because you're eagerly turning pages in the grips of what I call the 'and then. . .and then. . .and then principle) but written with such poetic flair that you want to pause frequently in admiration: Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales, Cormac McCarhy's All the Pretty Horses. Still, in those two examples, the elements of Story dominate. This post is skilfully structured to obfuscate Midnightpoet's original question to the max.

  4. #4
    Thanks, Clark; you've hit on the crux of the problem - I should have told the critiquer who claimed my narrative poem wasn't poetic enough to go fly a kite. Actually I agree with you, we've had way too many discussions on defining poetry.

    I do second guess myself at times, and I was curious. Usually I expect rhymes or at least rhythm and cadence. Similes, metaphors, and such. Basically I know it when I read it.

    I'm telling a story in poetic form and I have to remember everyone has an opinion but no one is perfect either - take what advice you think will work and ignore the rest. Even though you send a poem to 20 publishers with no luck doesn't mean it's the end - even Kipling was originally panned.
    "Self-righteousness never straddles the political fence."


    "The bible says to love your neighbor. It's obvious that over the centuries it has been interpreted as the opposite."
    (sarcasm alert)


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  5. #5
    Kipling is a superb example, Midnight (does that mean yer a nightowl too? Sometimes I start writing at 10 PM and continue writing until breakfast (fortunately--or unfortunately, depending on which need isn't being satisfied--I don't have a wife to nag me), because he's a consummate yarn-spinner with a superb stylistic flair, occasionally poetic. My father had a multi-volume complete works of Kipling, and from my age 3 until about 12 he read to me, sometimes for hours, and I've 'listened' for da beat in novelists ever since. that's why I love Cormac McCarthy's style so much. I wrote a poem about Dad reading Kipling to me. You might enjoy it. I'll send it to you as a PM.

  6. #6
    Thanks, Clark - I've used Midnightpoet in various forms (Midnitepo8, MidniteRider) for over 40 years. Originally I coined it because I thought it was cool, but lately I often do wake up in the middle of the night several times for various reasons and I've done a good bit of writing that way.

    Kipling has always been a favorite, as well as Burns, Poe, Sandberg, and many others.
    "Self-righteousness never straddles the political fence."


    "The bible says to love your neighbor. It's obvious that over the centuries it has been interpreted as the opposite."
    (sarcasm alert)


    Hidden Content Hidden Content

  7. #7
    One aspect that is being overlooked about metaphors in narrative poetry is the fact that it is the readers and not the writer who ultimately determine whether or not they are reading a metaphor. The writer's intentions, while entirely their own, become a moot point once a piece is in the hands of the readers. As a literal writer I understand this on an unusual level. Numerous times readers have found metaphors within the fairy tales and nonsense I specialize in. As a writer, my intent and the reader's takeaways are two very different things. I tell the story and what the reader detemines what it means to them is entirely shaped by their perceptions. It is part of what make the why behind various critiques so intriguing to read.

    To flip the issue of metaphors on its head, I've encountered the opposite problem...A narrative poem written merely for the sake of the story. No greater meaning intended yet critique came back saying the metaphors were too deep. The piece was imbued with profound meaning it never possessed and was not taken as the overt nonsense that it was written to be. As such much of a poem's meaning is decided by the reader and their mindset. Readers who request a why as to a writer's intentions usually get a more rounded picture than those who don't.

    The reader has their own set of ideas as does the writer.

    - D. the T.

  8. #8
    Darkkin -- yes, of course, the reader is always the oft-overlooked third component in the piece, whether poem or fiction, and in any genre of either. Once the writer has released the piece to the world, individual readers will bring their life experiences to their 'sense' of the piece, and the writer has no control whatever over the efficacy (or lack thereof) of the 'sense', vis--vis the writer's intent. I am puzzled, nonetheless, by one of your statements, in the first sentence: ". . .it is the readers and not the writer who ultimately determine whether or not they are reading a metaphor." Structurally, a metaphor is a metaphor, is it not? "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" or "call her one, me another fly/We're tapers too and at our own cost die". Within the structure of the poems, in those two examples, metaphor definitely being used. The reader cannot deny its literal presence. The mercurial quality of metaphor--as you point out well, later in your post-- comes in when the reader assigns value​ to the metaphor, value that might differ dramatically from the writer's intent.

  9. #9
    As a literal translator, I don't write or look for metaphors. I do not understand them. 'Subject A implies meaning Q.' An object is the sum of its parts within its context, not a complex commentary of the human condition. It is why things like philosophy seem a bit pointless.(It is akin to a Vulcan appreciation of humour. 'It is a difficult concept.') It is a personal failing from the reader's (my standpoint), not the writer's. The majority of readers get the metaphors, but some will not. As such, it is the reader who determines if they are reading a metaphor, as not all readers have the capacity to extrapolate the extended meaning of an author's intention. Not everyone has the ability to determine the 'value' of a metaphor. As such it remains a simple sentence.


    Sadness = Blue giraffe. A metaphor, yet there is no congruency between the idea and the object. Where is the logic that supports the parallels? The argument presented, well the writer intended to portray depression and sadness. What about the fourth wall? How do you know? Is there supplementary text to support the writer's intent? No? Hmm, the reader just has to accept that this is what it is supposed to mean, without thought, without question? If confirmation comes from the writer via a reply or an interview, that is evidence. Without it, why does a reader have to accept another reader's translation of the text? That is an opinion. I've spent enough time crossreferencing whys to truly appreciate the value of an author's reasonings.

    A subtle narrative has the power to evoke parallels without having to work at it. Rowling does this well with Harry Potter. As screwed up as it is, I can see the parallels she draws within the fictionalized realms to those throughout history, more specifically those pervasive in society through the 1920's, 1930's and 1940's, as well as those of today. Neurotribes: A History of Autism by Steve Silberman does an amazing job of illustrating the same issues from a historical and psychological standpoint. Fiction and nonfiction running parallel on separate, yet even planes. An illustration of String Theory. Story to fact. It comes down to how well the story as a whole demonstrates the conguency through a medium that keeps the reader's attention and imparts a lesson. How much has it made the reader think? It isn't about a metaphor, but the pieces supporting the whole. Systemic parallels within a linear construct, those make sense if context supports the idea. If the context doesn't line up, if an argument does not provide empirical evidence...Well, a person has a right to an opinion and the evidence is the difference between an opinion and a fact. Good narratives draw clear parallels for the reader, something that is relatable, not obfusticated by an overindulgence of symbolism.

    If people draw a parallel, it is their right to do so, but if a writer's intent is story for the sake of story, how is the reader to know? More crucially, does the reader care about the author's intent? Outside of academia, how many readers stop and ask: Is this idea what the writer intended? I know other writers write in metaphor, but as my brain structure does not allow for the processing and appreciation of metaphoric profoundity. Does it impair my skill and understanding as a writer, a reader. No doubt.

    'No two persons ever read the same book.' A quote by Edmund Wilson. Some narratives have taught the unteachable, those deemed less because they do not think in a 'normal' fashion. A lesson learned through the journey and struggles of another's eyes. Lessons taught by empathy, not overt symbolism. It is the story told in a piece called Necessary Ink. Hero of a Thousand Faces gives voice to this way of learning; it is the corner stone of storytelling and has been around far longer than the delineated parameters of the modern metaphor.

    Good narratives tempt us to linger, to think, fostering tangents within the ideas, not limiting a meaning to a turn of phrase. It is the whole theory and practice issue. Theory is great, but it is inert. Just as philosophy, while it can be interesting, never comes to a resolution, it just keeps spinning in circles. Yet my nephew (aged 5) understands the lesson of The Glass Girl, as well as those found in The Journeys of Violet Bright. These are fairy tales, narrative poems written for the sake of the story, not a metaphor to be had. A practical application of a narrative poem. Does it mean that metaphors count for less, certainly not. But dissertation of metaphors like philosophy is passive, whereas a narrative that keeps the reader sunk in the mind of a character's plight is active within the reader's mind and emotions. Which lesson is going to stay with the reader longer? It depends on the individual.

    Still to do something a simple as taking a known idiom and make it literal, to give it a face, a name. To allow a reader to empathize with a character instead of a turn of phrase.


    A whipping boy, a scapegoat, and a scapegrace gives rise to The Whipping Goat.

    And idiotic, unseen fear, something that has a name, but doesn't seem to exist much like an extinct species. You have evidence, but no present proof = Terror of the Dodo.

    A being overlooked, small statured, prickly in personality, yet vociferious of voice when the ocassion calls for it = The Roaring Hedgehogs

    Systemic parallels told through narratives. Literal embodiments of foolish ideas...A practical application of narrative poetry written without thought for what the reader might take away from it. A writer telling a story for the sake of the story. In this case, if metaphors are found, they are determined entirely by the reader, not by the author.

    To whit:

    Lit and the Metafour: Spine of the Dragon

    Follow it South, a great spine of ruptured earth, shielding the sea, a wild wall,
    between the secrets and the known, wonders kept in the shadow of the stones.
    Go, child. Trace a dragon’s back, heed the echoes, find the source of the call.

    Trace the ridges, look for the grove where Monkey Puzzles Trees lord over all.
    And there, within a dell it dwells, a beast, the source of the world’s blue tones.
    Follow it South, a great spine of ruptured earth, shielding the sea, a wild wall.

    Feeding on the dew of stars an Azure Pygmy Giraffe, standing three feet tall.
    Due to his colour some assume he embodies sadness for he wanders alone.
    Go, child. Trace a dragon’s back, heed the echoes, find the source of the call.

    But how can all the sea hues, the heart of the skies, fit on a creature so small?
    Well, consider each blue, sky to sea to stone, the secret rests within his bones.
    Follow it South, a great spine of ruptured earth, shielding the sea, a wild wall.

    He is a creature of pure truth, a literal embodiment, the truest nonsense of all.
    Literal, the Azure Pygmy Giraffe of the Monkey Puzzle dell, a wonder honed.
    Go, child. Trace a dragon’s back, heed the echoes, find the source of the call.

    But know, Lit while small, is guarded by a Metafour, the oddest oddity of all.
    A lynx some say. A puma? No way. Just a stray cat of speckled fog tones.
    Follow it South, a great spine of ruptured earth, shielding the sea, a will wall.
    Go, child. Trace a dragon’s back, heed the echoes, find the source of the call.

    Consider what the world would look like without any blues. Remove the source and all the hues are affected. No blue, you have no purples or greens either. It is a primary colour. A weird perspective, but the effects of a loss of blue from the spectrum is proven by science. One small thing, huge impact. Literal is the literal embodiment of all blue and his removal from the world would have profound consequences. That parallel makes way more sense than saying Sadness = Blue Giraffe. As for the Metafour, well, no two people looking at it will ever see the same thing. All that is agreed upon is the colour and that it is a cat of some sort. Will most readers garner that idea from the poem? Probably not because it is garrishly literal and it is only one piece of a shoddy story. It is also part of the reason that the larger a narrative is the more intricate their lessons become. If done well readers will follow a tale deeper and deeper into the Hero's Journey.

    And yet to someone who is colorblind this reasoning makes no sense at all because they have no concept of colour...But in this case it is the concept of the metaphor (Subject A = Meaning O). The concept fails to register as it should, leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions. Yet they still have the capacity to ask for clarification. So how does one explain blue? Explain the concept of colour, its billions of hues and shadings to eyes that are inherently, irreparably monochrome. Easy, right?

    So how does one explain an impossible, wrong footed perspective to a normal world? I try in the way that I relate to it, through stories. Meaning through the piece as a whole. A work around for the total absence of all colour. (And until one has had to deal with these fundamental work arounds, please do not assume someone is being deliberately obtuse. It is because no one can understand that one does not have the capacity to 'see', muchless comprehend blue.) Can it be quantified as narrative poetry, as it is a story told in verse, yes, but qualitywise it is an entirely different matter. It's function is simple though, to draw in the reader just enough to make them glance things from a different perspective if only for just a moment. It isn't about profound meaning; it is about the empathy.

    I'm wondering if I'm wasting my time trying to write when I cannot attach a 'value' to a metaphor...

    - D. the T.
    Last edited by Darkkin; August 21st, 2017 at 04:44 PM.

  10. #10
    Hey, someone after my own tastes. I don't pay much attention to dogma as it changes to suit others needs, but I do know what I like to read. I've a couple suggestions to offer that might help settle your mind. The first is to read Jen's second published collection "Windfalls", specifically “The Great Japanese Earthquake of 1923.” The second, and more up "our" ally is Baxter Black's "The Buckskin Mare." A long time favorite of mine.

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    The simplest truths are written on the wall,
    where we see imaginary greatness in our fall.

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