Calling the Poem: 13. ‘Crafting the Verse’

We stand on two banks of the river that’s flowing between us.
I’ll bridge my new thoughts out to you with a verse.
First I form key ideas – they need clarity, cleanness –
The bridge forms an outline, takes shape in my head.
Now that bridge must be built,
Built regardless of canyons, or mud flats and silt.

The pillars are images placed first for more of the bridge to traverse,
With my strongest words buttressing them so they’re not washed away.
Their positions are set by the distance and shores,
While the force of the water, the shape of the bed,
And the landscape and soil on my side and yours,
The allowance for possible earthquake or storm,
The demands of the load that the bridge will convey…
These determine the structure, materials, form:
For the best bridge will meet site demands
With both strength and matched style.
So the poet needs meter and rhyme, every trick he commands,
Or the verses won’t carry their burden, will fail to beguile.

Though you see stone or steel in the bridge, for the most part it’s air,
Rhythmic arches of unspoken airy allusion, illusion,
Outlined in hard words and designed to be elegant, spare.
So this poem’s a book, that’s reduced to an essay, reduced more compactly
To two hundred lines, sacrificing precision
To memory’s need for concision, elision.
Two hundred exactly?
No, not exactly. (Exactly!)

From the sweep, pattern, length,
To its delicate strength,
Whether old Roman aqueduct, young Golden Gate,
Whether flowing with water or people and freight,
Its clean shape was constrained by the structural needs and efficiencies,
Driving its strength and position and duty.
All unstructured words in the river are wasted deficiencies.
Poems will last quite as long as an old Roman aqueduct,
Bridging the banks, bearing brightly in rhythms of beauty,
If all ostentation and ornamentation
Support the key functions in what you construct.
Raise your sights to the Space Elevator, that cable,
That modern-day Tower of Babel,
To not just bridge over
A strait or the Severn
But up! to bridge up! at the same time, to heaven.

Cloaked gods were invoked,
And the tiger broke cover,
Your poem connects river banks.
Now give thanks.

*****

When I moved to Denmark in my early 20s I was intrigued to hear that engineering students at a local university began their studies, not with lectures on a variety of key subjects, but by being placed in teams and told to design a bridge that would meet the demands for specific use at a specified site. Materials, geology, weather, load, cost, elegance and everything else that goes into bridge design all had to be researched and included in the project. When students had completed a whole series of projects, they had earned their degree. It was a very different approach from the lecture-based university courses that I had dropped out of in the UK.

How does this relate to writing poetry? Well, it brings to mind Heinlein’s ‘first law of writing’: “You must write.” Also the old story of the would-be concert-goer lost in New York City, asking a man with a violin case how to get to Carnegie Hall and being told “Practice, practice, practice.” There are a lot of factors involved in writing verse – some are common across all cultures and languages while others are language-specific. They all involve ideas (and their mysterious origin), images and their expression in words; but making those words so effective that they evoke an appropriate response in the reader or listener, so effective that they can be remembered and recited, requires the use of a whole range of language-specific factors that are mastered by doing.

By the way, the “two hundred lines” mentioned above refers to the length of the entire ‘Calling the Poem’ e-chapbook that this is part of. This chapbook is a single work, though constructed of various formal and semi-formal pieces.

Photo: “Roman Bridge, Merida” by Jocelyn777 Love Europe is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

2 thoughts on “Calling the Poem: 13. ‘Crafting the Verse’

  1. Michael Burch

    Robin, your poem makes me think of one I wrote years ago about poetry being a bridge of sorts:

    The People Loved What They Had Loved Before
    by Michael R. Burch

    We did not worship at the shrine of tears;
    we knew not to believe, not to confess.
    And so, ahemming victors, to false cheers,
    we wrote off love, we gave a stern address
    to bards whose methods irked us, greats of yore.
    And the people loved what they had loved before.

    We did not build stone monuments to stand
    six hundred years and grow more strong and arch
    like bridges from the people to the Land
    beyond their reach. Instead, we played a march,
    pale Neros, sparking flames from door to door.
    And the people loved what they had loved before.

    We could not pipe of cheer, or even woe.
    We played a minor air of Ire (in E).
    The sheep chose to ignore us, even though,
    long destitute, we plied our songs for free.
    We wrote, rewrote and warbled one same score.
    And the people loved what they had loved before.

    At last outlandish wailing, we confess,
    ensued, because no listeners were left.
    We built a shrine to tears: our goddess less
    divine than man, and, like us, long bereft.
    We stooped to love too late, too Learned to whore.
    And the people loved what they had loved before.

    Keywords/Tags: traditional, poetry, meter, rhyme, reason, music, song, form, love, loved, monuments, bridges, unpaid, free, verse, score, classic, classical, Romantic

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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