Jen was late, but when she did arrive she contributed to the proceedings with her poem: I got a Owl. The poem was constructed from three sestets with the rhyme scheme ABBACC. Wisely Jenni chose to mix half and full rhymes together in an interlocking pattern – written in iambic tetrameter.
The piece essentially explores the meaning of Christmas. The narrator recounts the story of a small child – who receives a knitted owl on Christmas Eve as a gift. The next day, the child repeats the refrain: ‘I got a owl.’ The point being that he is too young to know that it is Christmas Day and that all of the many presents under the tree are for him! The poem laments on the loss of innocence – as well as the commercialization of the festive period.
Jenni thought the final stanza was a bit ‘too didactic.’ I’ll be interested to see how she modifies the poem. As a special treat for us all, she brought in two great poems to read – Innocent’s Song by Charles Causley and The Donkey, by G.K. Chesterton.
I loved the brutal simplicity of Innocent’s Song, written in a traditional ballad style with both second and fourth lines rhyming on each quatrain. Many of the rhymes are perfect – but that for me does not spoil the beautiful harmonies of the poem; indeed,
‘Who is the smiling stranger
With hair as white as gin’
He then goes on to describe a man whose tongue is made of ‘gingerbread.’ And whose eyes:
‘Burn like saffron buns’
In the final guillotined line – all our questions get answered with a brilliantly tactical line:
‘Herod is his name.’
I love the punchy conclusion – its intelligently crafted reversal, it’s flawless construction. Causley was known in his lifetime for compiling poetry with carefully thought out narratives. Both John Betjeman and Philip Larkin admired him as a writer.
Jenni’s second poem, The Donkey, by G.K. Chesterton is a brilliant example of the ballad form. Chesterton uses a device I like to use in my own poetry in order to pull in his reader – it’s called the interesting first line. He does it so wonderfully – in a first line that reads:
‘When fishes flew and forests walked.’
The thing is that he keeps it up through all four verses – the quality of writing is delicious, his stanzas are luminous.
The narrator - an anthropomorphic donkey describes himself, in the following manner:
‘With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings
The devil’s walking parody’
‘Errant wings’ – sheer brilliance – two words and the image is complete – that’s what I love about poetry. Chesterton is a master of economy and subterfuge. He puts words into the mouth of this beast; who as he says, is a ‘tattered outlaw of the earth.’ The author remarks:
‘… I am dumb
I keep my secret still’
Again, just in case the reader hasn’t got the point – Chesterton reels him back in with this lovely hook. The donkey is unable to speak about the sublime nature of his experience and in a sense, this incommunicable knowledge is like a curse around his neck. A numinous understanding leaves him ‘dumb’ and speechless about the enormity of the occurrence. In an oddly moving final line, we find out why – the donkey is the creature that carried Christ on his back, thus the narrator notes:
‘There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.’
It’s just lovely. This is what I call a positive stinger – a line that switches from a negative beat to a positive one and yet, still engages the reader with the cleverness of its reversal. Chesterton uses this technique to move the audience in unexpected ways. Just love the poem – it’s a classic constructed by a lexical craftsman.
This week I took on Jenni’s challenge to write a parody. I did a political satire on Rudyard Kipling’s infamous poem – If. I think I did rather well considering the difficulty of the brief.
I imagined a pep talk between Nick Clegg and his father on election night. I constructed a cynical character – a cross between a rather fired up Kipling and the Antichrist. Anyway, the poem was fairly amusing and made Jan and Jenni giggle. I’ll workshop the poem in tomorrows meeting in the Sound Studio and see how it goes…
That’s all for now.