Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Pantoums, villanelles and sestinas, oh my.

Have I said, recently, how brilliant the Open University courses are? A215, of course, can't really be beaten, even if people do weep over the poetry TMA. But A363 threw up some absolute gems in chapter 13, which I turned to with a complete creative blockage akin to a week without vegetables. The work was about metaphor, and set some lovely exercises and examples to play with. My favourite was Sylvia Plath's wonderful You're, which is a kind of riddle, as she piles on metaphor after metaphor.

'...Trawling your dark as owls do.
Mute as a turnip from the Fourth
of July to All Fools' Day

O high riser, my little loaf...'

She also describes the baby as 'our well-travelled prawn', fantastic!
But, in poetry and certainly prose, less is more.

These are my 14.3 exercises:
  • The telephone operator spidered to her desk by a web of calls, looping in copper silk.
  • The basket weaver, thumbs reworking the tree into coracles for cats.
  • The ploughman: Horses work the land, dragging the tools, surging forward in harness like waves against a boat, like sails dragging the furrows to the shore, dragging the man in their tidal wake.
  • The blacksmith plays his ringing music, hammer spitting off sparks, the finale drowned in a veil of steam.
 Then, starting chapter 15 (again) I started looking at pantoums, having bodged a sestina over the weekend.

We sat on slated steps, to watch the light 1
fade into bat colours, grey 2
misting with midges in smoky flight 3
the swallows in their last pass stay 4

Then you use line 2 and 4 as the first and third line of the next stanza:

fade into bat colours, grey 2
the orange glow tints the limewashed walls 5
the swallows in their last pass stay 4
screaming their came-for-the-summery-calls  6 ... and so on

It forces you to come up with some really good lines and reuse them to mean different things, like sestinas. It's really easy to write a rubbish one, but I'm looking forward to putting something better together. On to sonnets. I have found Stephen Fry's An Ode Less Travelled invaluable,
especially in the examples and the explanation of the different styles of sonnet. I think it's a really funny read and really helped me find my way through metre especially. Bizarrely, I have to be careful not to 'publish' something that I might use in an assignment. I don't think of a blog as published, since it's only you and me reading it, and I'm not too sure about you!

In my blocked phase I sat down and wrote a scene by scene synopsis of chapters 1-9 of the novel, spotting big inconsistencies along the way. If I can't get on with clearing those up I hope to at least start chapter 10. Meantime, my tutor has thrown down the gauntlet about a comment I made on our tutor forums about almost marrying an invertebrate!   


  1. Foreign language to me. I love that pantoum -both the word pantoum (reminds me of french pantouffle) and the one you posted above.

    Oh dear, I didn't notice inconsistencies when I read your chapter. Oops but maybe a sign the story was just too compelling...

  2. Hi Downith, I think most of the problems were from chapter 7, and I want to tidy that up before showing it around. I love the word pantoum too, so much fun to write! I managed a sonnet on being engaged to an invertebrate too, getting my head around structured poetry.