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Poetry

Index Read a book

The Badger and the Mongoose

Aurorielle

Portrait of the Artist as a Lone Tree

Iconic Rose

The Arthurian Project

Poetry readings

The story so far

'Aurorielle' (an Arthurian Fairy Story) is now on sale at Amazon.com, and also on lulu.com, where 'The Badger and the Mongoose' (comedy) and 'Portrait of the Artist as a Lone Tree' (a collection of my poetry from 2003-6) can also be found. You can buy them here.

'Iconic Rose', begun in 2007, is a work in progress. In this collection I have started writing 'as' people instead of 'about' them, which brings more power and immediacy.

The 'Arthurian' page presents my vision of writing an entire Arthurian cycle, starting with 'Aurorielle'.

To find out more about those works, click on the links or cover pictures, above. I have many other poetic projects in mind, but for the moment I am concentrating on my novel and my photography.

The 'Readings' page lists all the readings (of my own poetry) I have so far recorded, 160 to date!


In defence of rhythm and rhyme

(for the technically minded)


Who killed King Rhythm?

Click to hear (.mp3)


Who killed King Rhythm?

"I", said the poet – "let everyone know it!
I killed my best friend with a pen.
For only when comic is verse metronomic
acceptable, now and again.
I got so bored; my singing sword
desired to thrust and swish
without the crime of rhythm and rhyme
that barred my ev’ry wish."

"Remember the procession of the old time bards,
with their rhyme and their rhythm and their power -
those dismemberers of language with their verse forms vile,
listing rules they could prattle for an hour?
We have won, we have won,
they are gone, they are done,
and the silence of the metronomes
is the sound of the grave
‘neath the wind and the wave
that has sealed in a tomb all their tomes."

"Verse will bore when formed through laws;
words shall fail in rhythm’s cause.
Pour out prose from pens of chrome,
(and) damn the blasted metronome!"

The orchestra is silent;
its instruments discarded.
Their fate was swift and violent;
now all lie disregarded.
Rhythm is King, and Rhyme is Queen;
tedious flows the flood of words
guessing where'er the stress has been,
leaving the sound of song to birds.
A fad shall pass, its fate is sealed;
the Emperor's Clothes shall be revealed.

Just ask - who killed King Rhythm?

Comment



Rhythm and rhyme

Since 2003, I have been writing poetry about an endless variety of subjects, but invariably in rhythm and (usually) in rhyme. As T. S. Eliot wrote, "No verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job." ('The Music of Poetry', 1942). Whoever chooses rhythm and rhyme has chosen hard work; but to me there is no satisfaction in poetry without the results that they bring.


Rhythm

Having said that, what is rhythm? First of all it is not a thing that happens by accident - in natural English speech, a sustained rhythm is rare; we immediately notice it, if it arises, because of its rarity. To say that a passage of natural English speech exhibits a variety of rhythms is less true than to say it contains none. Rhythm is found in the persistence of a beat. It is entirely possible to write poetry with a more complex rhythm than the dry definitions of metre allow (and I often do) but unless a stress pattern persists, the concept of poetic rhythm is meaningless.


Stress

Stress is not a feature of all languages; it is absent from Japanese, which is why 'haiku' are defined on syllable count alone. Even the simple requirement of a syllable count for each line introduces a kind of rhythm, as long as the line endings are chosen meaningfully. But the rhythms of classical English poetry can have - when well used - a power and a grandeur that is almost hypnotic.


Rhythm as critic

When rhythm is used badly, the result is cacophony. If rhythmic poetry is to be written at all, it must be done well. That means chiselling away at one's words until they make sense and have rhythm, for whenever meaning is compromised for rhythm, the results jar so badly that one would be better not to have used rhythm at all.

As a side effect, writing in rhythm forces the writer to stick to the point. If you do not do so, this immediately becomes apparent. The reader will at once assume not that you are meandering, but that the author is incompetent when trying to attain rhythm.

The exception is writing apparently lucid gibberish. When admitted as such, this is a rare and beautiful skill in itself, one which Lear and Carroll were accomplished in. There is also a middle ground - where a meaning is not truly present, but is not admitted to be absent. That's an approach I consider to be deception, rather than art, unless the intent is deliberately to disorient the reader for effect.


Rhyme as critic

Rhyme, like rhythm, forces the writer to stick to the point. There is nothing so frustrating as a rhyme that goes against the meaning of a poem to achieve the hollow victory of rhyme-at-all-costs. So rhyme also calls for the most scrupulous care in execution.


Tone deafness and rhythm deafness

In summary, using rhythm and rhyme means we must be careful not to write ugly gibberish. One will only achieve art through rhythm and rhyme by first developing skill in their use. But this is not a reason for avoiding them. Music is created according to very exacting rules of rhythm and key, and the result of breaking those rules is cacophany. Yet we do not (usually!) applaud musicians for exploring cacophany in the guise of freedom. We call it incompetence.

Most people can tell when rhythm is defective in music, or when a note is played off key. Those who cannot are called 'tone deaf'; it is thought of as an incapacity. 'Rhythm deafness' might be ascribed to those who can neither write poetry in rhythm, or see value in it when it is present and well used. Short prose that lacks rhythm is not a new form of poetry; it is a dwarf form of prose. Poetry is not short because brevity makes prose poetic; it is short because it is hard to say anything beautiful at length, without eventually becoming mundane.


Music and Poetry

What, then, is the difference between the role of rhythm in music and in poetry? The answer, to me, is - very little, in principle. I believe we live in an age lacking musicians of language, whilst we have any number of poetic musicians. Thus the best practitioners of rhythm who are writing verse today are song writers; they cannot do without rhythm, whereas poets have eschewed it. Meanwhile, contemporary poetry has declined enormously in the esteem of the general public. This is because ordinary readers look for a music in poetry that they intuitively like, but are not skilled to explain. Yet today they find none. Unable to articulate their disappointment, they ignore contemporary poetry and listen to musicians, who are still giving them what they enjoy and find profoundly moving - rhythm in language.


Poetry defined in a meaningless way

The things I find most beautiful in poetry - and in song - are assonance and alliteration, used appropriately. But their power is lost, or barely becomes apparent, without a rhythm to dictate patterns of stress. Thus to write poetry without rhythm deprives reader and writer of the power of assonance and alliteration.

Without rhyme, rhythm, assonance and alliteration, we have prose. Prose may also be beautiful; but its beauty is the beauty of prose. To say that prose is poetry when it lacks rhythm, is to redefine 'poetry' to mean nothing at all. To assert that the boundary between poetry and prose is defined other than through rhythm, begs a question; how shall we define the difference in a way that enables all to say whether a piece of writing is prose, or poetry?

Rhyme, assonance and alliteration all derive great power from the presence of a rhythm. Without that rhythm, we have prose.


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