Sunday, 30 November 2014

Poems Have Feet

Poems have feet. At least according to a lot of people. They are the units, some say, out of which lines of poetry are often constructed. In English (and many other languages) they relate to syllables and analysts look at how these are either stressed or unstressed and link them together in groups, over which, once again, there is only a limited amount of agreement. This becomes basic to other important areas of poetry  - so its not just a matter for those who want to analyse poetry. It links to rhythm and rhyme.

Rhyme (like most things) has been argued over forever. Some of the greatest writers do not rhyme; Shakespeares plays are in the main in blank verse. So is Miltons work. Others including some from the 20th and 21st centuries use rhyme but until you look closely it can remain hidden. See much work by Auden and Larkin. Contemporary poets interested in these formal matters also introduce rhyme - see Sinead Morrissey for example. Another Irish great, Seamus Heaney, is famous for his use of half rhyme. Please look them out and follow this argument up.

This is intimately related to syllables which as Ruth Padel says, are the molecules of a poem, linking the whole structure together into a whole, a journey - and you need some sort of feet for that journey.

You could also say you have to feel that journey, feel the beat of the poem. Once again this is to do with syllables and indeed feet. In doing so, you, as a poet, take a journey and take others with you. You may walk a very familiar path yet take yourself and your listener or reader with you. They, more often than not, dont want to know about the end point of that journey youre writing about but what it tells them about their own travels, so dont be afraid to leave things open. Your auditors will fill in the gaps and they may understand their own journeys much better. Now, thats a good thing wouldnt you say?

A couple of books that say more on these matters:

S. Fry, The Ode Less Travelled, Arrow Books, 2007.

R.Padel, 60 Poems for the Journey of Life, Vintage, 2008.