Tools for New Poets and a Brief History of Poetry

Poets have been around as long as there have been human beings. Way back, they acted out or drew on cave walls, the poems and stories of their lives. Ancient Greece and Rome offered poets whose work would endure to present day. The Far East as well, you can still go to a Barnes and Noble and buy a book of Rumi’s verses. Whether you read the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Bible, some of the oldest poets’ words endure in those pages. King David, for example, was a poet. Psalms are poetry. So, don’t feel funny if you ve been touched by the Muse. You are in good company. Nb: the Muse is sort of what poets call their God of inspiration.

Two important tools for poets across history and all languages are metaphor and simile. Poetry tells stories like any other form. It can be fiction or non fiction. It can rhyme or not. It can take one of. Many forms or be free verse. I ll talk about forms another time.

We never outgrow our longing to have a good story whether we ‘re following stories on TV, movies, on our Kindle, laptop, magazine article or a book borrowed from the library. It is all about stories.

Poetry should be clear even though by its very nature, poetry often uses imagery in language unique unto itself that might at. First be difficult to decode. Poets use tools like any other artist. Let’s talk metaphors.

What is a metaphor? A metaphor compares the thing you really want to talk about ie. anger or a fight with your mom, to something you are using to symbolize anger ie. a dragon. In my poem, The Apology, I use the dragon and my relationship with her through the whole poem to talk about
controlling an angry outburst and making up with whomever the other was.
The Apology

” I will tame the dragon for you
And call her, tumble from the skies,
All bronzed purple steaming skin
And violet violet eyes.

Beckon her onto the roof peak
All gleam tooth and smiling claw
Peering down at me she creaks.
And lie with you on her chest,
Beneath a fold of heated leather wing.
Listen to her rumble so deep you almost
Cannot hear her voice, we keep.” RZI (c) 2005

This imagery or way of thinking about anger and fighting is much more interesting than if you walked into a room and said, ” I had a fight with my mom.”

Emily Dickinson’s poem, ” I’ m Nobody” compares humans to chirping loud frogs.
“How dreary to somebody,
how public like a frog,
to tell your name the live long day
to an admiring bog.”
More fun than saying, ” That guy talks about himself all the time.” Technically within her metaphor comparing humans to frogs, she did include a simile. The point is her comparison with both tools is consistent.

Simile is the other comparative tool for poets to use. What is this? It compares one thing to another using the words ” like” or ” as”.
From the novel ” Moo” by Pulitzer Prize winner, Jane Smiley, this example will probably be with me for my whole life …..since I love pigs.

“…….a speeding pig as big as a VW Beetle…”

I may be taking wee liberties with my memory, apologies to Jane if so. You really ” see” the pig bursting from the barn, don’t you?
In history Scottish poet Robbie Burns wrote this immortal simile ” My love is like a red, red rose.”
In your revision process and weeding out of all unnecessary words, you may find when using simile that you can remove the word “like” or “as” as British poet colleague Si Philbrook from Blackwater Poetry on FaceBook suggested I do awhile ago in revision of a poem about my mother. He was so right. I did not need it.

Facts for new authors: what two famous historical women authors, one a poet, one a non fiction writer, never saw any income from their work and were taken advantage of?
If you think you know the answer, please post it in the comments box. Stay tuned to find out.


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