Poetry 101 - End of Term exam


Susan Omand gives you some revision notes on her series of Poetry101 articles that tried to de-scarify poetry and gives suggestions for where to look next...

OK, OK I'm kidding there's not an end of term exam but you felt that old familiar feeling didn't you? The heart-fluttering nausea of feeling unprepared even though you've read everything several times over and have notes written up your arm that you hope your shirt hasn't smudged (just me?) but, believe me, you are indeed now prepared to at least try reading some poetry on your own.

You know now that not all poetry has to be deep and meaningful, it can be fun and stupid. Poems don't have to rhyme unless you want them to but some kind of rhythm or structure is important... or it's not, depending on what you want out of a poem. Poetry is about the words, the shape and sound of words and how they sit beside each other on a page.

You see that's the thing about poetry, you can read anything you want and find the poetry in it - any writing that makes you feel something, that evokes an emotion, good or bad, can be called poetic. It can be pure, visual, descriptive mind-painting, it can tell a story and be full of action or it can be somewhere in between the two. So go out into the big wide world with your new-found knowledge and find some poetry. But where?

Because poetry can be anything you want, you can find it anywhere you want to look for it. Yes there's books - and the best place to dive into poetry books is your library or the local charity shop where you can pick up some absolute gems and not worry too much if it's not "your thing" as it can just go back in the next time. But remember there are other places too. Think of the device you're reading this on. There are many, many poets who may not have "proper" books published but that make their work freely available to read on the internet - Google "poems" and you will find hundreds if not thousands of sites' worth to choose from, from compilation sites to poets' personal blogs. "I can't find any" is not an excuse. There are more poets yet who use social networking as a creative medium. My twitter timeline is full of people I'm following because I really enjoy their creativity. The constraints of 140 characters make each tweet poetry anyway because each word is carefully chosen and placed to have the maximum impact.

Or why not create your own? I can hear the collective sharp intake of breath from here... but hear me out. It's all about, like I said, finding the poetry in normal things. Indeed there is actually a style of poetry called Found Poetry which is created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and rewriting them as poetry, simply by making changes in spacing and lines, or by adding or deleting text, to give it new meaning. Think of it like the collages you made as a kid when you cut pictures your mum's magazines, much to her annoyance, only doing it with words.

Here is an example constructed from William Whewell's scientific manual, An Elementary Treatise on Mechanics, Volume 1

Hence no force, however great,
can stretch a cord, however fine,
into a horizontal line
which is accurately straight.

Don't believe me? Have a look.

science book with line in

See? Poetry is everywhere. One of my favourite wastes of time is making Google poems, when you start to type a phrase into the Google search box and see what the autofill comes up with.

google poem fingers

google poem shadows

google poem some stories

google poem I wa

Brilliant isn't it? So don't be afraid of poetry any more. Remember what I told you, read the smudged notes on your arms and go out there and give it a go - you'll pass with flying colours.

Images from Google
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