the thing about poetry

imagesEvery time I write a poem, it starts with the first two lines. Maybe I’m experiencing an emotion and the words come tumbling out.

The tears do tumble down my face,
the one who doesn’t cry.

Or perhaps I’m riding my bike on a cool summer evening, or walking beneath the stars.

Empty streets, and she awake,
the one who walks alone.

Maybe I’m in the supermarket, or listening to birds outside.

Little birdie out my window,
chirping, calling, “Come and play!”

Whatever it is, those first two lines are the key to the rest of the poem. They will either make or break it…

But it’s more than that, too. In order for a poem to work, I have to know — or at least have a general idea about — what I want to say. I cannot write a poem in chaos. Rather, one idea has to flow to the next, and, in my case, the words must have rhythm and rhyme. I will never be one to write free verse poetry. It just isn’t in me. I look for a beat, even in prose. After all, as Robert Frost said:

Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.

The fact is, it is human nature to look for patterns, and that includes patterns in sounds. There’s a reason Julius Caesar’s “Veni, vidi, vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered”) has withstood the test of time. While traditional English courses would tell you repeating the “I” over and over again is redundant, the listening ear tells you “I came, I saw, I conquered” has far more impact than “I came, saw, and conquered.”

The trouble with poetry, then, is finding that rhythm. Unless you know the pattern ahead of time, reading poetry can be frustrating. That’s why all of my college professors encouraged me to read poetry out loud. Reading aloud makes it easier to identify the beat. It can also help writers find choppy places in their work. I read everything I post on this site aloud to myself before I ever hit “publish.”

In any event, I recently had an idea. I wanted to find a way to record myself reading my poetry out loud, and then post it here for you to listen to while reading the words. In this way, maybe I could make finding a poem’s rhythm easier? . . . I have to admit, I’m a little bit shy. My voice is . . . since my rock-climbing accident . . . Well, you’ll see.

Empty Streets

By Jess

Empty streets, and she awake,
the one who walks alone.
She will not the world forsake,
and she’ll do it on her own.

There’s a love, it is an ache —
it’s all she’s ever known.
While her love the world did take,
to her, it’s never shown.

Not to say the world’s a rake,
or one she would disown.
But the moonlight makes her quake —
it’s here her heart is flown.


So . . . What do you think? A good idea? Should do this with, “The Butterfly”? Others?


Image: Google

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56 thoughts

  1. I don’t have sound so I couldn’t listen, but I enjoyed reading about your process and the poem you provided I am a big fan of form…my favourites being the Sonnet and the Huitain.

    • Nice to hear from you! Sorry you couldn’t hear the recording… Or maybe I should be glad? Lol. I definitely need have some practice to do…

      I’ve never tried to write a sonnet. Maybe I should… and now I need to look up Huitain. It’s been a while since I studied the various poetry forms. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! I hope you have wonderful weekend. :)

  2. I like it, just because it breaks down the walls a little bit, as before we had no idea what your voice sounded like. Very cool.

    • Thanks, Sreejit. I actually got the idea a while back from a blogger who read one of her stories aloud. I don’t think I’d ever bother to do that with prose, but with poetry it just seemed to make sense…

      It is funny how sound can bring something to life. Pictures and words are one thing, but… So, yes. This is me, breaking down walls, saying, “Hello!” :)

  3. I think you are correct. Poetry should be read aloud – in the first instance, by the poet. And, I think there is an art to reading poetry aloud – I know that the great NZ poet Sam Hunt is especially well know for that.
    Your voice is just fine – almost nobody likes the way their voice sounds when it is recorded – I know I don’t. I think all you need is a bit of practice reading your poems aloud – so do record the others; be confident, be exuberant, let your emotions shine through in your reading. :-)

    • I’ll try, Pat! Thanks for the advice. My voice is scratchy and I have difficult being clear since my rock-climbing accident. It seems there is always phlegm in my throat — I often get asked if I am sick! …especially if I’ve been talking for a while. :P

      But, yes. I will have to practice reading my work out loud. Today was the first time I’d ever tried recording it. I was pleased with myself for figuring out how to convert my audio files from .mov to mp3 formats. A silly feat, I know, but still!

      Anyway, glad to know I’m not the only one who thinks poetry should be read aloud. It *definitely* should! Hope you have a great weekend! :)

  4. Nice rhythm! Poetry is meant to be heard. You should look up spoken word artists. They bring a whole new performance level to poetry. I think your voice adds a new level to the poem that it didn’t have before. Thanks for sharing. I find it difficult to listen to my own voice but I’ve been forced over time to record my stories and poems and listen to them later. I like to put it away for a week or so and listen to it while I make edits to flow. But my voice is so horrendous to my ears. Have a great day!

    • Hey Matt. Yeah… I’ve never liked listening to my recorded voice, but I dislike it even more since my rock-climbing accident. Now, I have trouble being clear. There always seems to be phlegm in my throat… My voice gets really tired when I have long conversations, lol.

      I really like your thought about recording your work and then listening to it later. If I were smart, I’d write my posts weeks in advance — let them sit for a while, and then post them later, after I’ve had time to forget and then edit them with fresh eyes. Alas, for the purposes of my blog, I don’t know if that will ever happen…

      Anyway, thanks for reading and sharing! Means a lot. Hope you have a great day, too!

  5. Great idea, and I love it. Since I am not a poet, and seldom read poetry, finding cadence in poetry is difficult…listening to you read it makes it much easier. With the poem being your own, giving it your rhythm is perfect.

    • Thanks, Randall! I never thought I was a poet, either. “Shift” is the first place I’ve tried to write poetry, really… And I rarely read poetry for fun, either. That needs to change if I want to improve my craft, but… One thing at a time. :)

      I’m glad the recording helped you… I think I’ll do this every time I write a poem from here on out… I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

  6. your voice records nicely….now you have entered a new art world of reading aloud…and we all will be blessed the more for it

  7. That’s kinda how I figured your voice would sound. It’s hard not to be shy about our voice, and I think it applies to our writer’s voices as well.
    I think you may have a future in this whole voicing thing. You sound sorta like the morning mist over a quiet lake.
    Hmmm…you’ve given me an idea. We should talk further

    • Hmm, now you’ve got me wondering about your idea… I look forward to hearing from you!

      Yeah, my voice is soft. It has a tendency to get scratchy when I talk a lot. I hate noisy restaurants, and I can’t scream at all… Sometimes I’ve been asked if I’m sick, but at others I’ve been told it’s sexy. More and more, though, people don’t notice it much.

      Also, I agree about being shy about the writer’s voice! About the only way I could ever feel fully confident about my writing is if I let it sit for six months before publishing anything. Alas, that’s *never* going to happen…

  8. Yes Please Do! Do you do poetry readings? You sounded really good Jessica. I would like you to read more of them. It would help me find your meaning better I think.

    • Hi, Terri! You’re so sweet. I think I will read a few of my old poems — my favorites — and post them as I go. Then, as I continue to come up with new poems, I’ll record those ones, too… And don’t feel bad if you don’t always understand what I mean by a poem. Oftentimes I don’t know, either!

  9. Well firstly, you have a lovely voice so there’s nothing to be nervous about. I’d love to hear more… I bet your voice and confidence will develop over time. But I get it – I’m not yet brave enough to perform any any of my work even though I think the best expression of the ‘novel’ I’m currently working on may end up being as spoken word.

    The point about rhythm is a really interesting one. I think there’s something in me that that rebels against conformity (not intentionally!) and so I rarely write anything that works to a regular structure. But I do also inherently look for a rhythm in my writing – it’s often the flow and beats and way that the words roll in to or against each other that is the real beauty in poetry, whether it’s formally structured or in a more free form of verse.

    • Ohhh, I know. There is more than one form of poetry out there, and that’s a good thing! I’m kind of boring with all my regularity, so good for you for being the opposite. Also, I fully understand what you mean about the words and beats flowing into one another. I am very conscious of that when I write anything. Word order is HUGE.

      And thank you for the compliment on my voice! I guess I need to get over being self-conscious. I’d love to hear your novel someday. I hope you *will* record it and share it with your readers. :)

  10. To be honest, I actually liked this one more as I listened to it. Maybe because I could hear the rythm you had in mind. That’s not to say I think you should do this with everything, but mixing things up a bit is nice.

    • I think so, too, John. I had fun recording this, even if I was a bit self-conscious about my voice. (Thank you.) I definitely plan to do this more in the future. :)

  11. Wow, c’est bon!

    The spoken word definitely adds another dimension to your poetry. You make writing poetry seem so easy, which is obviously a reflection of your rhyme and reason. I giggled when I read, “Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down” … gasp, guilty :P.

    Your voice is a testament to your strength. It sounds just fine and breathes life to your work. So yes, good idea.

    P/s how did the rock-climbing accident affect your voice?

    • I’m so glad you liked this, Bupe! During my rock-climbing accident, I was intubated for two weeks, which is the longest doctors advise intubation as longer periods guarantee serious vocal cord damage. Well, at two weeks my lungs were still unstable, so I had a tracheostomy, but even still my voice has never been the same… After the accident, it was very quiet and scratchy. To this day, I can’t project very well, and my voice gets very tired when I talk for long periods of time…

      Anyhow, yes, it appears to have been a good idea to record the poem. I’d thought about doing it a while ago but it’s taken me a while to get around to it.

      And don’t worry if you like free verse! Honestly, there’s a place for everything. It’s just that, like I said, I am always looking for a beat — it’s just how I am! :D

      • OK, I understand. So what about singing? I imagine it’s a little bit difficult as well, no? In any case, I look forward to hearing more recordings.

      • Oh, singing is terrible! I used to be a soprano and sang in choir all through high school. Now my range is about one octave, lol. But it’s okay. I found my voice through writing. ;) Thank you!

  12. I like the recording a lot. I felt that it gave rhythm to the poem and gave the poem life. And that you added more of yourself to it…not that the poem isn’t your work in the first place! I tend to read slowly, so at first I was taken aback by how “fast” you were reading aloud the poem – or maybe this is a cultural thing.

    I thought you read very clearly, and your voice is quite high. I would’ve thought your voice would be lower. Now that I’ve heard how you sound, I think when I read your future posts, I’ll imagine you reading them aloud to me :)

    • Thank you, Mabel! Yes, my voice does sound kind of high, doesn’t it… Maybe less when it gets tired, I don’t know.

      Haha, the speed at which I read it is certainly not cultural. I think it’s mostly just me. So don’t worry about that. :) I plan to record some of my old poems now, and my future ones, too. I think it will be fun — for everyone!

  13. Very nice, I really liked listening to your poem. For me personally, listening has a bigger impact because you need to pay more attention and can’t ‘skim’ over the poem.

    • Thanks so much. Yeah, I definitely think the recording adds to the poem. Like I said, finding the beat can be hard unless you know going into it what you’re looking for…

      So nice to hear from you! Thanks for reading and commenting. Hope you’re having a wonderful weekend! :) Jess

  14. i think it is a great idea Jess. I often feel like when I write, if someone isn’t reading it the way I am saying it, the point is lost. This way you have it covered as you are using the voice in your head to tell us the point you are making, the flow and the sentiment. you have a great voice for this too I think! Keep the words too so we can follow as you read. Nice work!

    • Thank you! You’re so awesome. I really don’t think this was my best poem… With really good poetry, I’d hope the reader would be able to find the beat on their own. That said, even with really good poetry, I definitely think it helps to hear the author read it aloud. I remember listening a recording of Robert Frost reading “The Road Not Taken” a while back, and I *really* liked it!… Anyhoo, I’m glad you liked my voice. I plan to do this more in the future, even with some of my past poems.

      Hope you’re having a great weekend! I look forward to catching up with you and more of your “Dylanisms” very soon. :)

  15. Good for you that you have ventured into blogging with sound! You have a lovely clear voice, and yes it totally changes your piece, because then the reader has the opportunity to listen to the piece as was intended. When I did the Vlog of my short story it took me about ten takes before I got it right and I was happy with it, so in a way it’s a longer process than just typing it, but I think evidently worth it judging by some of the comments I received. It’s a lot more interactive, and I think you should keep doing it :)

  16. Jess your poetry is excellent. It is why you get so many comments, well, I’m sure your profile photo does too, but I wouldn’t know anything about that as I believe mine drive readers away. Another story.

    Your poetry is powerful stuff, and I think it’s uplifting in many cases, not bowing to the artistic status quo which is usually negative or narcissistic. I find that refreshing and it’s why I like dropping in when I come up for air to read poetry. Time is more scarce these days, it seems.

    • Hahaha, Mike. I laughed aloud when I read your comment. Yes, my gravatar image gets a few comments. I’m thinking about taking it down, actually… It happens to be a good photo, but it’s certainly not how I look every day… And I can’t imagine why your photo would drive readers away!! (I downloaded your book by the way — now just have to upload it onto my iPhone and get reading so I can leave you that review!)

      Glad you like my poetry. Somewhat surprised you find it uplifting when many people seem to think I’m terrible sad and lonely and depressed! (I’m really not, though I *do* tend to be a loner…) Also, I know what you mean about time being scarce. That’s why I really do appreciate that you take the time to stop by my blog.

      Hope you’re having a wonderful weekend! :)

      • Many thanks Jessica for downloading the book. If you find that the content helps people own, adapt, and sustain their training lives then this book will have fulfilled its purpose. If not, let me know how it could better fulfill that purpose. The purpose of the book was to diagnose and pitch individual, practical and principled ways out of the paradox of an unprecedented number of training approaches coexisting with exponential overweight and obesity stats. To be honest, I think my book faces an uphill battle despite feeling confident about its content. Still, uphill battles, if worthwhile, can achieve summits, i.e. Riva Ridge…

        Click to access Hampton.pdf


      • Mike, it’s my pleasure. I really like the idea behind both your blog and your book. Practical, sustainable ways to approach fitness are what we need. So many people are into crash diets and quick ways to get fit, but without something sustainable, well… You obviously know as well as I do what that means. And it’s good that you recognize the challenge of the publishing world. I myself haven’t attempted to publish anything yet… But maybe someday I will with my poetry. But keep your chin up! You’re right — uphill battles can achieve great summits. :) Cheers! Jess

  17. Poetry should be heard, or performed. It adds a dimension that a reader can only imagine at…especially important when the author is reading. Anyway, truly enjoyed this, you should definitely do more.

    • Hey, thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed it. I definitely plan to do more. And I agree that poetry should be performed — I guess that’s why they have poetry readings, lol. Your encouragement means a lot! :)

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