Category: poetry theory

Poetry as visual Art

Poetry as Visual Art

Whilst poetry has an aural tradition we also read it and look at it. Therefore you should consider the look of your poem as well as the way ut sounds. Poetry should be visual art as well as gaving musicality and flow. Therefore the poet needs to also consider the visual aspect of the poem.

Poetry is also a visual art and if the words of the poem are centred it can suggest a spine of ink down the centre of the page, with the white space encroaching on it.
Take this poem by Dennis O’Driscoll for example – the lines look as if they are stacked up in a precarious Jenga tower, which contributes to the poem’s theme:
Life
Life gives
us something
to live for:
we will do
whatever it takes
to make it last.
Kill in just wars
for its survival.
Wolf fast-food
during half-time breaks.
Wash down
chemical cocktails,
as prescribed.
Soak up
hospital radiation.
Prey on kidneys
at roadside pile-ups.
Take heart
from anything
that might
conceivably grant it
a new lease.
We would give
a right hand
to prolong it.
Cannot imagine
living without it.
Dennis O’Driscoll

Unfortunately internet sites often mean we lose deliberate formatting which loses us a dimension in our poems impact.

Here is a poem by Miroslav Holub as you will see it on most websites

Go and open the door.
Maybe outside there’s
a tree, or a wood,
a garden,
or a magic city.
Go and open the door.
Maybe a dog’s rummaging.
Maybe you’ll see a face,
or an eye,
or the picture
of a picture.
Go and open the door.
If there’s a fog
it will clear.
Go and open the door.
Even if there’s only
the darkness ticking,
even if there’s only
the hollow wind,
even if
nothing
is there,
go and open the door.
At least
there’ll be
a draught.

The Door
by Miroslav Holub

Shaped
Go and open the door.
Maybe outside there’s
a tree, or a wood,
a garden,
or a magic city.

Go and open the door.
Maybe a dog’s rummaging.
Maybe you’ll see a face,
or an eye,
or the picture
of a picture.

Go and open the door.
If there’s a fog
it will clear.

Go and open the door.
Even if there’s only
the darkness ticking,
even if there’s only
the hollow wind,
even if
nothing
is there,
go and open the door.

At least
there’ll be
a draught.

The Door
by Miroslav Holub

This is how it was designed to be read. It adds another dimension.

And if the poem is aligned to the right this might instil a sense of instability, with the reader casting their eyes about looking for the start of each line which is floating in space rather than aligned left, where we usually expect to find it when reading.
For example this unsettling poem by Sam Riviere is made more unsettling because of its layout:

Gothic Poem
wider than a library
& strewn with flyleaves
torn from 2nd-hand novels
a grave lays in a plot of sun
like an abandoned picnic
& somewhere nearby a green bonfire
in the background a maroon lawnmower rides onto the pavement

Compare it to this more traditional way of alignment:

Gothic Poem
wider than a library
& strewn with flyleaves
torn from 2nd-hand novels
a grave lays in a plot of sun
like an abandoned picnic
& somewhere nearby a green bonfire
in the background a maroon lawnmower rides onto the pavement

The imagery is still unsettling but the whole thing feels less jarring.

This is another dimension to consider in writing poetry in particular free verse, line length, line placement and use of white space. In addition to your imagery, words and metaphors.

© S. Beardon

Lines in poetry and found poems! 

Poetry is made up of lines and stanzas….in prose it would be sentences and paragraphs.
So what is the difference between the poetry and prose variations? Don’t they do the same job? ….Well not exactly
The line is a unit of words typically written to have a specific effect…such as a line break …a pause, a rhythmn, a highlight, a shape.

Lines come in different lengths and those lengths can add different meanings, emotions and rhythmn to the poem.

The line in a poem is not usually the width of the paper as in prose, but ends where the poet wants it to.

The use of the lines and the white space around them is very much part of the poetic effect.

So when reading a poem it is good to look at where the line breaks are, consider what meanings the white space may have on the overall meaning of the poem.

Lines tend to be grouped together to form verses or stanzas and this will vary depending on the poetic form the poet is following.
Line breaks in poetry are not necessarily punctuated so can act like a rest in music

The type if effects that can be produced by a line break are:

• Very short lines – doubt, suspense, tension • Irregular lines – sudden rhythm conveys anger or indifference • Short sentences – nervous energy • Short lines and broken syntax — forces reader to pay attention and focus on fragments • Harsh lines – dramatize meaning • Rough lines – physical effect • Enjambment – ending a line in the middle of a thought forces the reader to pay attention to that last word in the line because it is important to the theme.
So lines and line breaks are a powerful tool for the poet.
When reading a poem its important to honour the line breaks they are put there for a reason.

Thinking of line breaks it is interesting to take a piece of prose and turn it into what is called a Found poem. So chop the prose up into smaller lines trying to add dramatic impact, rythmn, highlight the tension etc.
Here is an example.
Extract from Gone Girl.
I began running, bellowing her name. Through the kitchen, where a kettle was burning, down to the basement, where the guest room stood empty, and then out the back door. I pounded across our yard onto the slender boat deck leading out over the river. I peeked over the side to see if she was in our rowboat, where I had found her one day, tethered to the dock, rocking in the water, her face to the sun, eyes closed, and as I’d peered down into the dazzling reflections of the river, at her beautiful, still face, she’d suddenly opened her blue eyes and said nothing to me, and I’d said nothing back and gone into the house alone. ‘Amy!’ She wasn’t on the water, she wasn’t in the house. Amy was not there. Amy was gone.

Found Poem.
I began running,

bellowing

her name.

Through the kitchen,

where a kettle

was burning,

down to the basement, where

the guest room

stood empty, and

then out

the back door.

I pounded across

our yard onto

the slender

boat deck

leading out

over the river.

I

peeked

over

the side

to see

if she was in our

rowboat,
Where I had

found her

one day,

tethered

to the dock,

rocking

in the

water,

her face to the sun,

eyes closed, and

as I’d peered down

into

the dazzling reflections

of the river.
At her beautiful,

still face,

she’d

suddenly

opened

her

blue eyes

and said

nothing

to me, and

I’d said

nothing

back

and gone

into the house alone.

‘Amy!’

She wasn’t

on the water,

she wasn’t

in the house.

Amy was

not there.

Amy

was

gone.
Would you have arranged that differently? Tell me how you see the lines.

What do you think of the effects?

The stresses on words and the rythmn of poetry

​The best way to read poetry is aloud.

The choice of words the amount of syllables and the arrangement of lines will dictate the rhythm

The time taken to say the word will depend on the amount of syllables and where the stress lies.

Punctuation affects rhythmn .

Line stops or the running of two lines into the other…also in speech the normal pause for a breath will change the way we read the lines.
We always use natural stress but learning and accent sometimes changes where the stresses go.

With writing one needs to stick to where the natural stresses are in words unless writing a poem in dialect
Where is the natural stress for you in the following words?

Credit  credit, controversy, controversy British British ??
Sometimes the stress will change according to the meaning or nature of the word.

Some times circumstances will change circumstances
For example if you took the Dr Seuss Poem  Green Eggs and Ham. You might read it so the stresses go like this:
i DO not EAT green EGGS and HAM

If you placed the stresses elsewhere, it might change the meaning of the poem:

I do NOT eat GREEN eggs AND ham.
This might suggest that the character would eat them separately but not together and it would not go with the rest of the poem. If you translated this stress change into sound it might go like this

I do NOT eat GREEN eggs AND ham.

DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da.
In terms of inflection in the first example the line ends on a rising tone in the second on a lowering tone.
American English and British English often put different stresses on words and although there is some commonality there are also distinct differences.
It needs some thought if writing for an international audience. Does it matter ?

What do you think?