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Poetry Challenge Week 6: Ballade

Well, I’m nearly a week late and things have been crazy but I’m still going! I wrote the majority of this poem last Sunday and left it alone for the entire week. Part of why I haven’t touched it this past week is because it was just sitting there in the back of my mind and I didn’t know what to do with it. But when I sat down tonight to hash it out it just kindof sprouted up and I’m actually a little bit fond of it.

The Ballade is made up of three octaves and an envoy (which is a quatrain that sums up the poem). It’s rhyme pattern is ABABBCBC (3x), BCBC. The final line of the first stanza is a refrain that is repeated as the last line of each stanza. Though it does not have a prescribed rhythm (yay!), the rhyme and length are still rather restrictive, as well as crafting a refrain that is both versatile and specific enough to connect the four stanzas. The tone of a ballade is typically formal and solemn, and contains symbolism and classical allusions. I didn’t dive too deep into the symbolism or classical references, but I actually had a subject/idea that I had on the table a few poems ago and set aside that I thought of right away that seemed to fit this form really well for several reasons.

The subject is the three original muses of Greek mythology. The three muses preside over memory, thought, and song, and I thought about the significance of all three things to me. Thoughts are what I am constantly getting lost in, all of my young and upcoming ideas and creations. Song is a way I express myself, calm and uplift myself, and worship my incredible Savior Jesus. Memory is something I’ve learned to cherish more as I’ve grown older and move on from certain to new seasons of life. I thought of how I’ve been inspired by these three Muses and what each one means to me. And in referencing this classical mythology and using it to represent three very important parts of me, I had the perfect space, one stanza, for each of them to voice themselves. So each stanza represents one of the three, and the envoy is spoken once again by Memory. This is because memory is part of time, which connects, organizes, and governs so many parts of our world, and her personality just seems so motherly and enveloping.

While I tried to stick to the rhyme scheme, my rhymes are NOT exact. And the rhyme is supposed to be ABABBCBC repeated in each stanza, but I switched it up every stanza. I did this partly because let’s be honest, people. I didn’t want to find that many rhymes. But I feel like I can justify it in good conscience because each Muse has her own personality and voice, and speaks differently. All this to say, I definitely broke some rules. Anyway, this poem is not finished, but it is complete.

The Ballade of the Muses

Mneme:

Pulling back the curtains of time to graciously usher you in

And uncover the things that have been hidden away,

Stored up for the times when the heart is worn thin.

Dip your feet in the waters of passed-away days.

The warmth spreads out in far-reaching rays

To the parts of the past worth resurrecting from the dust.

Though it is always discolored by loss and pain

Memory is the part of the soul that has been most loved.

 

Melete:

A teeming wilderness in which to get lost

Sometimes dangerous, sometimes kind.

One moment flickering flames, the next biting frost

A tightly-bound web for you to unwind.

Volatile, hot-blooded creature

Living inside of your head, too shifting to trust

But a deep and wonderful sea, sure

As the place the soul goes to be embodied and touched.

 

Aoide:

The deepest, most personal presence

Far beyond how words can engage us.

The Spirit breathed out in its essence.

When emotions expand and outgrow their cages

They leave the body and escape us

After calming and sanctifying, no longer subdued.

Sometimes beautiful, a little wild, and always courageous.

Song is the sound your soul makes when it is most moved.

 

Mneme:

The firmest ground, the warmest comfort, the greatest teacher.

For the hours you need to get lost in something real but unreachable.

When the thoughts are dark and dangerous and the voice is weak and rough,

Memories will always be the part of the soul that knows what it’s like to be loved.

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Poetry Challenge, Week 5: Sonnet

There are a couple different forms of the sonnet, and several variations within those. The 3 main things they have in common are the rhythm (iambic pentameter), the volta (a change or shift in mood or perspective), and the theme (typically admiration for something).

I tried several different exercises for both Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnets. A Petrarchan sonnet is written as an octave and sestet, the volta beginning the sestet. The rhyme scheme is ABBAABBA and CDCDCD/CDEEDE/CDDCEE. A Shakespearean sonnet is written in 3 quatrains and a couplet, with a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG.

Sonnets are very strict rhythmically and in rhyme. There are so many layers going on, so as I started to work with the form I first just chose a subject and wrote 14 lines about it, thinking about the volta. In another poem I’d focus on the rhythm. With a different one I’d think about the rhyme. I worked with one layer at a time. Though the structure of the sonnet is very prescribed, it can be tweaked, and many examples I read had rhythm irregularities, adjusted the rhymes, had extra lines, or were even completely unrhymed. There are definitely liberties that can be taken. However, since the point of this was to understand and attempt the form, I wanted to write a poem that fit strictly inside the sonnet box. That being said, I didn’t achieve that!

The poem I’ll share today is the result of an exercise writing a Shakespearean sonnet. The plan was to write 12 lines about something I love, and beginning the ending couplet with “yet” “and so” or a similar transitional word or phrase signaling the volta. It ended up being about 30 lines long, with a volta somewhere in the middle. So I decided to split it up into 2 sonnets. The volta is placed where it seemed to fit best (in other words it’s not where it is “supposed” to be 🙂 ) My sonnet is also unrhymed. The element I chose to focus on was the rhythm. It is *mostly* written in iambic pentameter.

I found it to be even harder to be concise with a sonnet than it was with a cinquain because I know I have so few words with a cinquain, but with a sonnet I have 14 lines. So there’s more room to breathe and fill out, but by the time I got going it was time to wrap up. Also, I chose to write this sonnet about my Grandpa Red, and there’s a lot to say about him. So here is my sonnet, “Red,” which breaks a lot of rules and which I cried while writing.

Red

 

It was a name to me before a color.

You used to either live across the yard

Or deeper down where it was warm and mild.

We’d count the days till you would come again

And you would always call to tell us when.

But usually you’d show up on your own time

And we’d see a truck the color of your name

Pulling in and we’d drop everything

To run outside and scream with sudden joy.

And when you lived across the yard in summer

We’d walk on over in the afternoons

To listen to your stories and play cards

And sometimes you would take your fake teeth out

And make that certain face we always asked for

Because you knew that it would make us laugh.

 

Red. It is a name, not a color.

Even though we wanted you to quit,

I’ve always liked the smell of smoky air

Because it always made things feel like you.

You were a pilot, firefighter, grandpa.

And then it got to days where you were different.

When you couldn’t think of words or important names.

We’d laugh because it made us all feel better

But it was hard to see your mind slipping away.

The worst times were when you knew things weren’t right.

And would realize you could not control the change.

And the worst day was when I realized I’d left

The country without thinking of the end.

I’d left not knowing I would never see you

Again.

Poetry Challenge, Week 4: Dramatic Monologue

My form this week is dramatic monologue. It has no set length, rhyme, or rhythm. It has one (fictional) speaker addressing an implied audience. Just choose or create a character, place him/her in an event or situation, and get him/her talking! That’s all there is to it, right? Easy, right?

WRONG and WRONG. I did not feel very inspired this week, which makes it an important time to keep going. It also means I’m breaking away from my usual, from my comfort zone. Because there is a zone in which I am always inspired, and could always write something. But I get a little lost once I step out of it. I stepped out of it this week.

I started a lot of different poems this week, and had a lot of different voices I tried out. Nothing seemed to go anywhere. Then I decided to bring back something I’ve kept on a shelf for a while.

This dramatic monologue is spoken by a dying man. The character is one I created for a story a few years ago that I could never really get off the ground. I feel like he fits in a poem better. In this poem, he’s sorting through his final thoughts.

My form for this week actually caused me to think about this character in a different way. This format suits him better and enabled him to express himself a little differently than anything else I’ve written for him yet.

 

Will I

It’s not that I’m giving up.

I just know when the fight’s over.

This couch is hard.

Or maybe nothing is comfortable when you’re dying.

No, maybe nothing is.

Is it true that your speech will slur and your mind get cloudy

When it’s gone too far?

Too late.

That’s what I kept thinking

With every step out of the wilderness.

It’s too late now, just get somewhere safe and dry.

Get somewhere safe to die.

My heart is getting faster

And my lungs feel hard to fill,

So I read the signs on the crowded walls

To try to slow down.

My limbs feel heavy like they take a million years to move,

But with my heart beating so fast and loud

And my lungs so desperate for air,

It feels like I’m leaping out of my body

And can’t keep still.

Those signs. Keep reading.

Todays’ special: eat it or starve.

love you more than yesterday – yesterday you got on my nerves.

don’t expect everything to be handed to me, just set it down wherever.

Keep calm and climb a mountain.

The kind of small town things

That look like they belong on the rough-hewn walls.

I’m shivering.

That’s the fever.

Is a window open?

No. But the curtains are plaid.

I wish someone would come,

Not because they could really do anything,

Not because I need the company.

I just want to be able to explain myself

Before they find me dead on their couch.

Sorry, I just couldn’t go any farther…

It’s been a rough week. Month. Year?

Nevermind, I’ve lost track.

What would I even say anyway?

Honestly, right now I’m just trying to decide if I should keep my eyes open

As long as I can,

Or close them so I don’t die all wide-eyed.

Somehow, this is what hits me hardest:

I’ve known it’s been coming for a while, but now that it’s almost here, I’m wondering,

Will I recognize it when it comes,

Or will it still take me by surprise?

Will I know which breath is my last?

What should I do with my hands?

Will I have time to close my eyes?

Will I –

Poetry Challenge, Week 3: Cinquain

My form for this week is the Cinquain. This five line poem is unrhymed, and has lines of 2, 4, 6, 8, and 2 syllables. There are several variations, but I just worked with what I think is the American Cinquain.

A Cinquain has to capture a single, significant, powerful moment or picture. With only twenty-two syllables, each one has to count. It wasn’t hard to find a suitable subject – there were many moments, snapshots, images, that I wanted to create. But to capture them quickly and effectively is difficult. When every word counts its painful when you have to waste one. However, this form is good for me because I’m wordy! It really made me think about what words I was using and why, and which ones really communicated what I was seeing and feeling.

In preparation for writing this poem I read several Cinquains by Adelaide Crapsey, who developed the form I’m using. They were really captivating and powerful. A Cinquain should be startling – make you see something in a different way that leaves you thinking about it and reveling in the new layers of it. I’ve got a long way to go to come close to achieving that but working with this form caused me to practice the skills of being concise and precise, which I just really do need to get better at!

The poem I’m sharing this week is about a train whistle. Where I live there are train tracks close enough for me to hear, but far enough away to not be bothersome. There are many nights when I am lying in bed waiting for sleep to come and I hear a train whistle. To me it is an intriguing and wistful sound and I love listening to its voice in the dark. It’s a small thing and a quick moment, but for me it has a strong effect.

Train Whistle

Long tone

Drawn out and low

Calling out in the night.

Its song entices journeyers.

Siren.

train whistle 2

 

 

Poetry Challenge, Week 2: Ballad

My poetic form this week is the Ballad. Ballads are written about a tragic, comic, or heroic character and are centered around a single dramatic event. They are typically written in ABAB quatrains with alternating lines of 3 and 4 feet.

These are the questions I asked myself as I got started to get ideas flowing:

  • What is something that is hard for me to wrap my mind around? Hard for me to grasp, to understand? What makes me feel hopeless, like it doesn’t mean anything?
  • What is a tragedy that often goes unrecognized? The little things that get me emotional. Not the big, wild events. The small things that make my heart ache.
  • The lilting rhythm of a ballad makes it feel very nostalgic. What is something I mourn in my life or think wistfully back to?
  • What’s something that captivates me?

As I prepared to write this poem I thought a lot about what my subject might be and had SO MANY ideas. There is so much opportunity given current events and political situations,  as well as some less traditional subjects I wanted to try.  Most of what I really thought about as I wrote was rhythm, and I didn’t get to work with it as much as I wanted to, so that’s what I’ll focus on in my first revisions when I come back to this later. The biggest challenge was word choice to fit the rhyme scheme and effective rhythm choices, though once again, this form is simple.

This is a ROUGH draft, and one I’m looking forward to coming back to at the end of the thirty weeks to continue working on, as well as some of my other ideas.

The Trade

  • Another day waking up on the ground –
  • Oh, how the great have fallen.
  • The days of hoping to be found
  • Passed when the creditors came calling.
  • At first his hand stretched out to beg,
  • He even wore a sign.
  • His shame was nothing up against
  • The pang of hunger or thirst to survive.
  • It all went back to brighter days
  • He wasted in the blindness
  • Of glory that would never stay
  • That he traded for health and kindness.
  • The things he sacrificed for wild,
  • Wild days that last a minute…
  • He can’t even say he went down in style,
  • With every roll of the dice he thought he’d finally win it.
  • Now huddled up and gray and worn
  • With a face showing how much he bartered,
  • He walks between the lines of cars
  • Full of faces growing colder and harder.
  • Neck too weak to hold his head straight,
  • Feet too sore to lift higher,
  • His shoulders bent from carrying weight
  • He was never meant to acquire.
  • He calculates the price he’s paid
  • By counting up the quarters
  • If every hand in every car
  • Could spare one what he could afford is
  • Maybe a full stomach for one full day,
  • Maybe a blanket to sleep under.
  • Maybe enough for a night in a place
  • That at least could keep out the cold and the thunder.
  • So even the hands that reach out
  • Only push back the hunger one more day,
  • And the next day he’ll count up the change again
  • As if change ever happens anyway.
  • Got any change to spare, folks?
  • The question’s as tired as he is.
  • And every time he’s surprised that it’s him who spoke,
  • He keeps his head down so when they ignore he doesn’t see it.
  • He loses track of time, and the time before
  • But he’s still not used to crawling
  • Through cardboard flaps as his front door.
  • Oh, how the great have fallen.

Poetry Challenge, Week 1: Acrostic

I’m starting small this week by writing an Acrostic poem. My 3rd grade class actually wrote acrostic poems this week, so it is a very simple form! In its simplest form, an acrostic poem is titled after its subject, and each line begins with a letter of the title so that the poem spells out the title vertically. The title can also be spelled with the last letter of the line, or the middle letter. There are also double acrostic poems, in which each line both begins and ends with the letter. The acrostic form is very flexible: each line could be one word, or sentences; the poem can rhyme, or not; the lines can all have an equal number of syllables, or vary. For the most part, there’s a lot of freedom.

As I wrote, the obvious challenge was finding a word that fit the tone, style, and subject of the poem, and started with the right letter! There were several words I tried that I ended up throwing out because the letters in the word were just too impossible.

I read some examples in which the thoughts just didn’t connect very well or fit together, and this was another challenge. I wanted my poem to flow and have a unique but natural rhythm, which can be hard to do while finding the right word choice. Sometimes I just really really wanted to start the next line with a certain word, and actually ended up drafting several versions of the poem that didn’t fit the form. Sometimes I found the right word, but it didn’t make grammatical sense and really should have had another word before it.

I will share four poems out of the ones I wrote and started. As I read some double acrostic poems, I had the idea to write a double acrostic that spelled out two different words, either contrasting or connected. One of my three is written this way. I had a few ideas of pairs of words to use, and once I decided to try it out I quickly realized I’d have to find two words that were the same length! So that limited me even further. I quickly landed on a simple pair that I decided to keep, although this idea is something I’d like to come back to later on when I have more time to really think about interesting words to pair.

When I tried double acrostic, I also realized that it is way easier to find a word that starts with a certain letter than one that ends with a certain letter! So my double acrostic is “finished,” but it’s still in the works.

Here are my acrostic poems:

Wonder

Wide open.

Onward.

Newly awakened.

Destination:

Ever onward.

Reaching.

 

Wonder

Will it ever be enough?

On to greater, wilder things.

Never arrived, quenched, snuffed –

Drinking in what each new wind brings.

Even when sunlight flickers past the edge,

Rising moonbeams wake the dead.

 

Light & Night (double acrostic)

Looming shadows yawn.

Immense mouths are opened, I

Grasp but the darkness is swallowing.

High up past the smoke and fog, high,

Timeless untethered hopes float.

 

Equinox

Every twice an orbit, equal night.

Quick moment sharing time:

United shadow and light.

In an instant they meet

No longer chasing, faces facing

One wide open moment before twisting away,

Xanthic gaze once more retreating.

 

30 Week Poetry Challenge

I was inspired by my mom recently to set some clearer goals in my writing than I have for a while and to create a challenge for myself, specifically connected to my blog. For a long time writing has been a very personal way for me of expressing and understanding, and something I do for myself. It’s not something I pressure myself about, or set deadlines for…it just pours out when it’s ready.

But I’ve decided that I want to challenge myself and try new things to grow as a writer. I write poetry a lot, but have not stretched myself in that area very much, so what I decided to do is to try a new form of poetry every week for the next 30 weeks. Sunday afternoons are my writing afternoons, and those are the days I’ll write my poem for the week. Any other time I find to write during the week will be spent researching the form and analyzing examples. Then on Sundays I’ll have a whack at it! I don’t have a particular order, and so far my list of forms is at 26, leaving me a couple of spare weeks for the tougher forms I might need some more time to work with. I’ve also got a couple of my own ideas/forms I’ve experimented with and would like to continue developing.

I expect to be challenged by the deadlines and short timeframes and that I’ll feel that I’m moving on before finishing or perfecting my pieces. I not only want to broaden my horizons in the poetry I write and to experience different forms of this art, but also to accept and embrace the imperfection that often holds me back from trying new things and taking risks. I’ll probably be putting out a lot of poems I’m not completely proud of or pleased with, and feeling self conscious about sharing that – and I think that will be good for me!

My goal is to post something every single week, even if I didn’t get the time I wanted to really work with the form, or really don’t have anything finished, or hate what I do have, to make sure that I keep going. Each week I’ll share the poem I wrote, a bit about the form I used, and some reflections on the challenges and epiphanies I experienced while exploring each form. I’m excited to start this journey!

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