Sunday, 25 May 2014

Poetic and prose devices, by no means exhaustive but guaranteed to be useful

This week we will be rounding off this poetry session and I hope it has inspired and instructed you all well enough to create your own masterpieces, unlike the villanelle I shared with you all a few weeks back, which even after all this time needs deconstructing and fixing. I thought this week I could give you all a quick intro to poetic devices and concepts, for more advanced poets out there, looking for a challenge. So I will give a quick mention to anaphora, epiphora, assonance, caesura, metre, enjambment, heroic couplets, imagery, juxtaposition, internal rhyme and generally the rhyme.

            Most of these are fairly basic poetical devices that you would use all the time without knowing what you were doing, but no doubt some out there will ask, why should we know about these and are they really going to help? Well I will point out now, that after you have read this, any poem that you have written to date will no doubt contain one or two of these features; those who can use not only one but several, and integrate them well into a poem is a poet well on their way to being worth their salt.
So, starting on what feels like will be, but certainly is not even a fraction of what I know, my non-exhaustive list of poetic devices and their use or function in poetry.

1.      Anaphora, the repletion of words at the start of a line/sentence/clause, this is a good pace setter and good to draw emphasis to or away from a topic, you can see this in villanelles to a certain extent, but this is not anaphora.
2.      Epiphora, this is repetition at the end of your line/sentence/clause. This is better at slowing your pace, at least in my eyes, or at least regulating it. Poetry with plenty of end rhymes could contain this.
3.      Assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds in words which are in close proximity, too much assonance is annoying to read, if you’re going to do this, keep it classy and purposeful.
4.      Caesura, a pause in the middle of a line, this could range from a comma to a full stop. It is an effective device to stop your metre suddenly, change topic or direction, this is a powerful and difficulty device to manage well so do your reading before usage!
5.      Metre, possibly your most important device, this is the pace of your poem, you must remember to keep your pace pretty regular, unless there is purpose for breaking it. A regular pace usually works in iambs but will contain other devices such as dactyls, spondees, apapest and trochees, all of which you can look up and master in your own time, when out of practice I have to practice these. With metre remember, keep it regular, or be purposeful.
6.      Enjambment, this device is where you run your sentence on to the next line, it is good for repairing your metre and is used a lot in sound poetry, very often you can get away with it in sonnets, as I have done more than once.
7.      Heroic couplets, one of Shakespeare’s favourite devices, putting two lines that rhyme side by side, even if the poem has no regular rhyme scheme these two lines will stand out for this feature.
8.      Imagery, this is more advanced than it sounds, an image requires that you construct it, and in which way you portray it, then you need to consider if you will develop the image you have painstakingly pieced together or if you will tear it down or compare it against another. Remember, no one will pull a punch if your imagery is poor.
9.      Juxtaposition, the device of putting two contradicting words side-by-side, such as ‘a raucous silence’, perhaps a more advanced device to add to a beginner’s arsenal.
10.  Internal rhyme, where you make rhymes within a line, rather than only at the end. This creates an unusual rhythm that defines a lot of poems with a special metre.
11.  The general rhyme, which can have many branches again. This is a device that many poets prefer to omit because it is seen as ‘the standard’ of a poem. Many starting poets believe that all poetry must rhyme, whereas in fact countless poems do not rhyme at all. I personally love poems to rhyme as it gives me a sense of the poem’s direction, but I’m not averse to writing without them.

So this ends the whirlwind tour of devices, hopefully I’ve imparted some good advice to you all from my own experiences, and I look forward to reading you all later.
Until next time, read, write, live.

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Sunday, 18 May 2014

Let your verse be as free as your creativity

            Hello again everyone! Nearing the end of my time in France and I’ve been busier than ever with new and old projects. This and next week will contain the last of my poetry focused blog posts. Now I’ve explained two of the harder forms, leaving some other forms free to explore in the future, this week we will be hammering on the immeasurable form, or non-form we call free verse. This kind of poetry, as you may guess from its name cannot be approached like the last two forms so far.
            Free verse is one of the most recent forms of poetry, born as blank verse it evolved, coming to light as we know it today in the early 20th century. Most notable users of this form include John Milton and T.S. Eliot. The reason I, perhaps a little zealously claim that free verse is of the 20th century is because there is a clear cut evolution to blank verse. A short list, by no means exhaustive will be described this week, these forms include; concrete poetry, beat poetry, urban poetry, stream of consciousness and sound poetry.
            Concrete poetry focuses entirely on how a poem is displayed on a page, sometimes the words on the page can have a direct meaning on the poem, sometimes they have nearly no significance on the poem’s meaning, they are just there for display. It is a type of poetry which I, myself have only limited competence with, preferring more formal types of poetry.

            Beat poetry is much more international, born in New York in the 1940’s, reaching its height very quickly, even today it is still going strong. Beat poetry focuses again on the aesthetic usually set in the city, many poems in this category feel as though you are pounding the pavements in the city, remarking on things that you don’t usually remark on in everyday life.
Urban poetry is the umbrella of many forms of poetry that focus on the everyday, but this on its own would be boring. Urban poetry is especially good at the technique of ‘othering’ making the everyday seem foreign or alien so that we become familiar with them all over again, touching or smelling these things for the first time, twice or several times.
The stream of consciousness is another form of poetry that is regarded by many as a very hit and miss branch. This type of poetry permits no editing, if you want the real deal, quite simply you can combine this with any type of poem or none at all. To describe it bluntly, you start writing and let your mind take you away with the poem, stopping once your train of thought has ended – thus you have a completed poem, for better or for worse.

            The final branch of free verse I will mention, sound poetry, is the polar opposite of concrete poetry, its appearance on the page bears little or no significance, what is most important is the sound of the words and the image they conjure in the reader, or rather listener’s mind. At the moment this form of poetry seems to be in vogue.
            There are no rules to writing Free verse poetry, so I can’t really make too many practical suggestions in devices to include in your poetry. And by this point, if you have mastered the other mentioned forms then you should probably need no suggestions in this. I would suggest, two things however, some forms in urban poetry often are written in the first person, having an inwards commentary or addressing the reader, they can blur the line between poetry and prose very often. Remember though poetry that you become too emotionally attached to may often not reach it’s potential, it is important to measure passion with technique in poetry.

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Sunday, 11 May 2014

Villanelles, it’s all in the pace

Hello, bonjour à tous! This week I have a special treat for you all. I will be laying out how to write Villanelles, one of my favourite poetic forms to write. This was the last form I learned in the traditional method back in college, for me, I feel it’s one of the easiest forms to learn, because like the sonnet, it’s a flexible form, but at the same more rigid.
            Let’s get right into this one; Villanelles have been shrouded in literary mystery for a long time, it took theorists what seemed like an eternity to distinguish the origins of this form. Originally it was believed that Villanelles originated from the Villanella, a type of Italian and Spanish folk song, however scholars now agree that only one true villanelle was written during the Renaissance: a poem by the same title, penned by Frenchman Jean Passerat. Because the form was considered complex on the continent, its form remained unpopular until the 19th century. It finally became popular when Theodore de Banville took up writing the form. Since then many authors, including James Joyce have been writing them. This 19 lined form has been described as some as the ‘exquisite torture wrapped up in 19 lines’.
            So, where do we start in learning this poetic form? The Villanelle is built, literally built in my mind, from five tercets and a final quatrain. In each line one can have between 6-11 syllables, averaging about 8 per line. The first and last line of the first tercets are repeated alternatively on the last line of each tercets until the final quatrain, where the final two lines are used consecutively to round off the poem. In This form it is important to have the first and third lines of the tercets to have a strong rhyme scheme, half rhymes, or slant rhymes are possible but they may often not work work when in the last quatrain.
            Some key vocabulary:
Tercet: a three line paragraph in a poem.
Quatrain: a four line paragraph in a poem.
Half rhyme: A general term for a rhyme where the last syllable is not a strong rhyme in spelling but in sound or sight, or in some other way.
Slant Rhyme: alternative word for half rhyme but these specifically apply to technical features such as sound rhyme, eye rhymes.
            Villanelles may typically look like this:


For me this style of poetry comes naturally, but we must remember that the form you write your poem in will change on the subject and your aim, but that is another more integrated topic. The benefit of the Villanelle is a strong rhythm which rolls throughout the poem, its resolution repeated throughout but separated until it rushes together climaxing the poem. Today I’ll do something a little different from last time and use one of my own poems as an example:

 Broken Record

I am a record, broken of course
Never changing my tone, same note
By that needle, always so coarse.

I play Jazz, though nothing morose
I survived the jukebox but-
I am a record, broken of course

I’m even a grandparent, loose
Are my CD children, unhurt?
By that needle, always so coarse.

Though the dust settled only once
Will Rap or the robot end my lot?
I am a record, broken of course

They still listen, smiles toothless
Partying no more in the night light
By that needle, always so coarse.

I repeat lines like a river’s course,
I will always proudly put-
I am a record, broken of course
By that needle, always so coarse.


It is one of my older pieces which I still can’t fix, but everything I have highlighted is on show here. I discussed last week how free verse and sonnets could interact, making the sonnet popular today, with this form, there is no room to update, as I know it yet; it has a form, with free meter and rhythm, but the form cannot change and nor can the rhyme scheme. Interesting devices to combine with this form can include extended metaphors, similes, alliteration and allegory. This has been another quick-how to and history of poetry.
            Until next time, read, write, live.

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Sunday, 4 May 2014

Sonnet writing for dummies and the literally obsessed.

As promised I’m beginning my late contribution to NaPoWriMo, (I’m getting tired of writing it too), as I don’t have the time to write poetry, I’m going to pass on wisdom from someone who spent years learning how to write it, until I have time to work on poetry again. I’m going to structure these next few posts to save myself some worry about how to write them. Poetry in nature is something you need to learn the rules to create well, meaning effectively and artistically, but doing it this way, you destroy the art which you have sought to create; thus I will add, once you have learned to follow and reproduce these rules, for lack of a better term, you then destroy them, and thus art is born.
I would like to start off this explanation with a short history of the form we are going to approach. For me, learning the history of a poetic form is like learning the culture attached to a country and its language.
In the 13th century an Italian poet named Francesco Petrarch created the original poetic form, as we know now as a Petrarchan sonnet. It held the monopoly on this poetic form, as one of the most refined and romantic styles of poetry, thematic mostly on the idea of courtly love for a beautiful, unattainable lady for 300 years until it was brought over to Britain by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey. Notable masters of this form include some of my favourite writers; Spenser, Sidney Sidney’s niece Mary Wroth and of course Shakespeare, who evolved the Petrarchan sonnet into the classic British Shakespearean sonnet. The main difference is in Shakespearean sonnets we deal less with love and more with comedy, notably Shakespeare ended many sonnets on a rhyming couplet, something never seen in Petrarch’s work. The sonnet is a form that has survived the ages because although rigid in how it must be constructed it has an adaptability that many formal poems have not. Among the best-known British writers of sonnets are John Donne, Milton, Wordsworth, W.H. Auden, and Dylan Thomas, all of whom I enjoy reading for examples of how it is done right.
Sonnets are formed in several ways, but usually the form can be seen as fourteen lines of iambic pentameter and a Volta, indicating a change in rhyme scheme in the last third of the poem.
Some key words:
Iamb: an iamb is a unit of sound
Iambic pentameter: five iambs, usually made up of two beats per iamb.
Syllable: a single unit of sound that is traditionally a vowel enclosed by consonants.
            Volta: a sudden change or revelation exclusively used with sonnets.

Rather than explain the rhyme scheme of sonnets, traditionally the last syllable taking the form of a,bb,a,a,,b,b,a c,d,c,d,c, or the c,d,e,c,d,e or in Shakespearian sonnets c.d.c.d,e,e etc, I will explain it with pictures:


Just one example of how many people would write the form, also showing again its versatility.
            I would suggest all those who are new to using the form to start from scratch and learn how to write a Petrarchan sonnet, including the theme of courtly love of an unobtainable woman before moving on to Shakespeare’s form. Everything beyond these two is down to universal interpretation, but they are where most people will start to learn the form before breaking it with free verse.
            Incorporation of this form, or non-form to some, means that you no longer need to follow all the rules described so far. When you combine forms like this, the only thing that needs to be maintained is the number of lines and a Volta, the rest is down to your artistic interpretation.
            To finish off this rather long winded explanation, sonnets are considered as one of the most sophisticated forms, because when done traditionally they are exceptionally difficult to write well. Useful poetic devices that can be used in this form, which I will explain in a few weeks, include, end stopped lines, caesura, run on lines and metaphors.
            Until next time, read, write, live.

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