"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde
National Poetry Writing Month started in the US, but it belongs to us all now. Lots of you are having a go at writing a poem every day this month. Here once again is my own list of 30 brief prompts to give you a creative prod every day. Click here to see it and (I think) CTRL + click on each link within it, to see the poems I mention.
There’s one tool for writing good poetry that sometimes gets neglected during this month of frenetic writing. To write well, you have to read well. Read wide and deep, read things you don’t like as well as those you do, and ask each poem why it works – or doesn’t.
Every day this month, I’ll post a poem for you to read and think about. There will be classics and brand new poems, comic and tragic, complex and simple. The first one is a jolly little number…. have a read. Enjoy it, and have a look at my comments below.
I’m sure you will be very happy with this bra, Madam,
she said, her manicure seriously red as she tapped the till.
Of course I did not ask her how she knew.
Who is rude enough to challenge the clairvoyant,
the diagnostician, the prognosticator?
But she was right. As soon as she folded up
the lacy garment – its ticket swinging insouciantly –
and handed it across the counter
in its raspberry-pink bag, my spirits rose.
Outside, traffic parted for me like the Red Sea:
the sun appeared and gilded passers-by
who nervously returned my random smiles.
The days, the weeks, wore on in a numinous haze
of goodwill. Who knows why? Be cynical if you must:
I only record the sequence of events.
Connie Bensley uses a perfectly ordinary comment as the starting point for her poem – I’m sure you will be very happy with this bra, Madam. But she turns that phrase around, and considers all possible meanings for it. What if a bra really did make you happy? What if it could change everything in the world around you? Anything at all can be a trigger for a poem. Noticing the phrase, the body language, the small incident is the key thing. Judith Wright called this ‘the artist’s isolating eye’ in her own poem Request to a Year.
Line breaks. Do they work? For the most part, each line break follows the grammatical sense of the sentence. Occasionally they break it up – as in ‘a numinous haze/ of goodwill’. This one creates a tiny cliffhanger – a numinous haze of what? Oh I see, of goodwill. The stanza breaks are pretty straightforward too, each one following the sense of the poem. The exception is ‘she folded up//the lacy garment’. Does that have a logic to it, or is it there because Connie Bensley wanted each stanza to be the same length?
Adverbs – as a rule, words ending in ‘ly’ are to be suspected in a poem because they do work that can be better done by the right verb. Bensley doesn’t for instance say that the traffic parted ‘magically’ because we understand that. But the words ‘nervously’ and ‘insouciantly’ both add something to the mood and the information of the line.
The beginning and end are just right. We are straight into the action of the poem – there is no shilly-shallying, no ‘I went into the department store and then, in the lingerie department…’ She just gets right to the point. The ending makes us smile; we’re invited to draw the conclusion that the bra caused all this happiness, but like a good storyteller Bensley walks away with an air of mystery.
Off you go, NaPoWriMo folk. But don’t forget to read as well as write; I’ll be here every day in April with a titbit to reward you for your efforts.