Poetry, Poetry by Mandy Webster

Poetry Friday: “Rules for the Dance”

Cover of "Rules for the Dance: A Handbook...
Cover via Amazon

This week’s KidLitoSphere’s Poetry Friday Round-up is brought to you by Jama’s Alphabet Soup.

11:37 a.m.

Friday rolls around once more, and once more, I am attempting to participate in KitLitoSphere’s Poetry Round-up. If only I had a poem ready to share this week. But alas, I have yet to look at my homework for my kids and YA poetry class. I did just check out my syllabus, and it looks like I need to read pages 87-99 in Mary Oliver‘s Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse. So, I think I’ll talk about this for now instead of trying to pop out an off-the-cuff poem that will likely just fizzle and flop.

In addition to Rules of the Dance, we are also reading Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook. Each week, we must read a selection from one or both of these books, and then write a poem based on the reading. For example, last week I had to write a metered poem (didn’t go so well, in case you’re wondering.) This week’s reading will require even more metrical verse, and this is why I’m not in a hurry to try to pop out my poem for the week. This is going to take some time and thought.

So, my goal for this Poetry Friday Round-up is to discuss the process of writing a metered poem and hopefully bring you along on my journey. This is the first leg. I have stated my purpose and am about to throw up my link for the round-up. After that, I will sit down and read the necessary pages in Rules for the Dance. Then I will check back in here on my blog to let you know what I’m thinking. Hopefully an idea for an actual poem will be percolating by then.

Please check back throughout the day and see how I’m doing. If you have any suggestions or some great examples of contemporary metered poetry that might help me get my creative juices flowing, I would love to hear them. Please post in the comments below.

12:39 p.m.

Scansion: I still don’t get it. Time to do some Googling. Do you understand scansion?

3:00 p.m.

So, scansion has something to do with scanning a line to determine its rhythm… and then turning it into some type of hellish mathematical equation I don’t think I will ever get (Iambic Pentameter for example.) I’m sorry, but once you start twisting a poem into a math problem, it’s lost all of its magic in my eyes. OK, I can see when a poem has rhythm, but the idea of figuring out where the stresses are and counting feet… is that something I should even be worried about while writing the poem? Or should I just worry about writing something that has a distinct rhythm and then try to figure out what type of rhythm it is?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a poem that would have been perfect for this assignment. It came out metered and rhyming purely by accident. How did I do that? It seems that day, there was just a rhythm in my mind that wanted to live on paper. So, I typed it up and turned it in, simple as that. If only that would happen today!

But this brings me back to a passage from Rules for the Dance where Mary Oliver talks about discipline, something I am realizing far too recently that I have been lacking, at least in regards to my writing. Here is one more person telling me that, if you want to truly be a writer, you must “make a schedule of the times you will work, and adhere to it with careful and steadfast exactitude” (p. 94).

In her books, Oliver often talks about regularly meeting your subconscious at your desk at an appointed time rather than attempting to summon it at will. It’s no wonder my muse only shows up when she feels like it and gives me the types of inspiration she wants me write. She knows that if she doesn’t get ‘her’ stuff through me first thing, she may never get another chance!

But I digress, so back to the subject at hand.

After Googling “scansion” earlier, my productivity for the day pretty much, well, stopped. The cold I’ve been fighting all week suddenly hit me as I sat on my couch playing with some lines. I did get a few words scribbled, scratched out, and re-scribbled in a different order before drifting off for the past 2 hours. Back to the notebook!

4:10 p.m. (rough draft)

A second look at those scribbled, rearranged, and re-scribbled words from earlier revealed that I might have something to work with after all. A few more changes, and here’s a rough draft finally (yay, an actual poem in my poetry blog post!)

Oh, Time

Oh time, it flits so fast, unless
there’s someone waiting at home for you,
someone watching, yearning, missing,
and you can’t wait to see him too.

All day you wait and watch the clock,
and time it slugs, so slow, so still.
Tick-tock, the clock, it tocks and tocks,
when time is something to be killed.

Oh time, together, drifts so sweet,
not fast, nor slow, nowhere to go,
but in his arms, the time, it stops,
though hours will pass before you know.

~By Amanda L. Webster


So there you have it, I finally posted a poem. There are revisions to be made (of course,) but I will likely put those off for now since I have to go get my kids picked up. One of my favorite things about this poetry course I’m taking is the workshops. Each week, we review each other’s poems and tell each other what works, what doesn’t, what cliches we’ve used (like my line above about the clock tick-tocking, I know I need to come up with something more original.) So, perhaps sometime next week I’ll post my revisions. Until then, I’d like to hear what you think about my poem. Please post your remarks in the comments below.

And a happy Poetry Friday to you!


11 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: “Rules for the Dance””

  1. Thanks for the mention! Get your newspaper out and see if any short piece gives you shivers or a tingle- good indicator you can write your own take on it poetically. Or combine two or more short pieces. Good luck!

  2. Pingback: nurmaniamnsz

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