Thursday, 13 February 2014

Purpureus Pannus

There is a tendency to assume that poetry is a patch of expensively dyed purple cloth, significantly different to the plain shades of everyday language. However, it is this falsehood which sees many new poets (and even those of experience) create work which fails the poet, the poem and the reader. Therefore, I thought I'd examine some of the 'techniques' which, if used excessively and without caution, could cause your poetry to become a little bit too purple.

Complicated Words:
Poetry isn't about replacing ordinary words with those that are more extraordinary, complex or lengthy, yet with a quick right click or a flick through a thesaurus this dangerous and misguided edit is fairly easy to implement.

Adjective & Adverb Strings:
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with adjectives and adverbs, but rather the risk is encountered when they are either used excessively or in a string. Poetry is about being concise, thus to have a string of four adjectives or adverbs - which fail to offer more than the singular modifier - is superfluous, and potentially a step towards making your poem wordy, even purple. For example,

His strong, pungent, heady scent...
The swan eased quietly, nervously and slowly through the water...

Purple Substitutions:
This tends to occur through a fear that normal is boring, unimaginative and not poetic enough, thus prompting the poet to substitute for a word or phrase that sounds less common. However, the problems arise when a) the substitution has been made so frequently by others it has almost achieved the status of cliché, or  b) because the substitution is too obscure and thus results in distracting or confusing your reader. An example of each would be:

a) 'red' becomes 'crimson blood'

b) 'heart' becomes 'abrasive organ pumps'
            (from a poem recently published in Maire Claire by Kristen Stewart)

Figurative Overkill:
Before my Creative Writing MA I used to do this excessively. I would place similes and metaphors wherever I could fit them, and yet with each one added the meaning and purpose within my poems was diluted rather than strengthened. I finally realised that one well-placed, well-timed simile / metaphor could illuminate a poem far better than ten -  that less can be more striking and surprising than more.

*          *          *

To illustrate my overall point I have 'purpled up' William Carlos Williams' poem This Is Just To Say (well-known for its brevity).

This Is Just To Say

I have devoured greedily
the blushing purple plums
that were residing in
the arctic Eskimo drawer  

and which
 you were probably
 saving patiently
 for morning's first meal

Forgive me, absolve me
they were divinely delicious
so seductively sweet
and so cold like winter

Thank you for reading,



Colin Davies said...

Thank you Lara,

My understanding of the 'Way of the Purple' is expanding rapidly like an extremist fundamentalist's excitedly charged self activated waistcoat. (is this too much)

Great post.

Adele said...

This is exactly what I want to learn about when I read a poetry blog. Intelligent people passing on constructive tips to fellow writers. Shared experience and exactly what the LDGPS hopes it can achieve. These are valuable editorial skills for all poets and writers. Thank you for sharing.

Ashley R Lister said...

Kirsten Stewart and William Carlos Williams cited in the same blog!

You should be proud of yourself for the ingenuity.