National Poetry Writing Month (NAPO)

April is nearly here and that’s the National Poetry Writing Month, or NaPo.  Organized in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets to celebrate poetry, one of the offshoots is National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo).  Started in 2003, the object of NaPoWriMo is to push the writer into working for thirty days straight on making new poetic work during the month of April.  That’s 30 days, 30 poems.

Here at Nettlesting, I won’t be sharing my drafts, but I will be sharing my ideas.  I’ve “done” NaPo several times now and have come away with at least two good chapbooks of poetry.  Not everything in April will have promise, but I’ve found that by sticking to a theme it gives me greater focus and I can build upon that focus over time.  But, like everything else, after NaPo I’ve got 30 drafts which need revision or just plain tossing, so to that point, I take a break and then buckle down and “git down to it” revising the works.  I try to get that done by November.

If you want to post your daily poem here as a comment here at Nettlesting, I’d love to see it.  Sharing that you’ve written a poem helps keep you on track.  There are poetry related sites which accept daily posts.  The links below are reference links, hopefully inspirational to keep you going during the drag of thirty days, thirty poems.

The Official Site:
http://www.napowrimo.net/

Oulipost will have daily prompts / ideas
http://www.foundpoetryreview.com/oulipost/
http://thewaters35527.yuku.com/topic/10861/Oulipo-Constraints#.Uy4rp1PvhFq

The Guardian’s website:
http://www.theguardian.com/books/series/poetryworkshop

James Fenton’s Master Poetry Class
http://www.theguardian.com/books/series/jamesfentonspoetrymasterclass

Ashley Lister’s 6th of the Month blog at ERWA’s blog
http://erotica-readers.blogspot.com/

The Academy of American Poet’s Events
http://www.poets.org/national-poetry-month/about-celebration

and their National Poetry Month
http://www.poets.org/page.php/prmID/41

Read others’ work to egg you on.  Send me a link to your site if you’re blogging yours.
http://nationalpoetrymonth.ca/themes/npm2015/closed.html

http://www.napowrimo.net/participants-sites/?page=3&ipp=24

Other reference links which give you something to browse:
Bob’s Byway of poetic terms
http://www.poeticbyway.com/glossary.html

Bartleby.com
http://www.bartleby.com/339/

Poetry Foundation’s Forms
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/glossary-terms

Poetry Foundation’s Essays on Poetic Theory and check out their Learning Lab
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/essays

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/

Edward Hirsch on “How to Read a Poem”

After one bit of commentary on one of my poems referenced it taking more than one pass to grasp what was going on, I found it oddly synchronous when Brain Pickings referenced this book in an article I read. While I haven’t read Hirsch’s book, I did run across this article he published in 2007 in conjunction with poets.org & The Great Books foundation.  It is a concise article which is remarkably jargon free and simply written:  How to Read a Poem
Hirsch opens with a clear statement of assumptions people make when faced with reading poetry,

“Most readers make three false assumptions when addressing an unfamiliar poem. The first is assuming that they should understand what they encounter on the first reading, and if they don’t, that something is wrong with them or with the poem. The second is assuming that the poem is a kind of code, that each detail corresponds to one,
and only one, thing, and unless they can crack this code, they’ve missed the point. The third is assuming that the poem can mean anything readers want it to mean.”

This little article breaks down the mechanics quite neatly to those who don’t want to spend months, or even years, reading books about the technicalities of the craft.  But better than that, he addresses some of the inherent ambiguities of crafting a poem – one of the most powerful, I believe, is that a poem can be “more than the sum of its parts” and might reveal “ideas that may not have been foremost in the writer’s mind in the moment of composition.”

This latter part is one of the qualities which the reader brings to the poem.  How the reader might actually be participating in the making of the poem, the way an actor participates in the making of a play.

I can say for my part that there are often times where no matter how starkly I write about an actual experience, a reader will bring another connotation out from under the bushes and place it at my doorstep that I would never before have imagined.

 

Why erotic poetry?

Death, misery, love, and joy have been written to dirt and commented upon endlessly, while analogy, allegory,  and connotative verse rim the poetry of human sexual experience.  Rarely is there poetic work which directly expresses raw human desire.  Prose at least has a history even though it is not, for the most part, well written.  Still, it exercised, criticized, read, and commented upon.  It’s alive, even if it is a battered genre being as it is steeped in gymnastics and lurid prose.  Still that makes those occasions where art rises even more brilliant.  Erotic prose has both sides of the equation:  readers and writers.Herculaum - hinds house - wall next to it with frescoes

Erotic poetry, well-crafted poetry, is more often sublime to the point of PG-13, suitable for those who could watch the Harry Potter movies.  The poetry is rarely explicit to hit the category of “R”, much less “X”.  Most work simply doesn’t qualify even as “soft-porn” to modern sensibilities. To find well-written, “transgressive” work?  That is even more difficult.  And while there are fewer writers, it might be difficult to find the readers as well simply for the fact that each magazine

While I am not an academic, and have no desire to be so, I can at least lay claim to the practical trade of engineer.  I read, I deconstruct, I write, I critique, I comment, I come to poetry as a crafts person with a low tolerance for boredom.  I will not spend my time reading work which does not intrigue me.  So, Byron is out for me, and I can barely tolerate Whitman.  Yet, I love many, many other poems and poets.  My intent in this blog is to address both the basics of the craft of poetry as well as the theme of erotica.  I will do what I can but I haven’t the conceit that “I know” shit all about either poetry or erotica.  I will do my technical best in maintaining this blog in the interest of others who might wish some reference to the craft of poetry as well as some considered thoughts about (what I call) “pornetry” or “whoretry” – erotic poetry.  This is my attempt at promoting poetry.

So first stop:  “read more poetry”.  I’ll start a collection of linked works as I find them.

Coming Becomes You, by Dennis Lee

Words I cannot form

There are very few writers out there who write about the topic of erotica and on erotic topics. Fewer still are worth reading, not just because the writing is either dry, prurient, gymnastic, or pedantic, but because they often lack intellectual rigor or come with a predisposed hypothesis to denigrate the expression.  Those writers I do enjoy, I’ll share.

One of the most important writers on the topic of the erotic and the genre is the writer pseudonymously called “Remittance Girl“.  She writes in several places on the net, including her blogRG In my opinion, she’s the preeminent writer on erotica that I’ve read.  While I don’t always agree with her, I find most of her erotic topics to be fearless, well-researched, and cogent.  Her fiction is timeless, but her critical pieces are priceless for the erotic literary genre because they are commonly researched into deep, considerate work.  I’m an adoring fan and can do little but paraphrase her, if not outright quote (with appropriate attribution  – please gawd don’t let me cock that up) her.  More often than not, I’ll just say, “You should link / like / look / read / revel in her blog,” and post a hyperlink.

I’d like to bring your attention to her current article at The Erotica Reader’s blog, Problems and Pleasures of the Myth of the Uncontrollable Urge, about rape fantasy, ethics, mythology, power, and the whole tumbled megaijinss around the topic. She turns what is usually the simple gymnastics of non-con into an interesting exploration of this difficult topic.  One of my favorite essays of hers is the 2010 article, “The Ethics and Eroticism of Non-Consensual Sex in Fiction.” Unfortunately, the two blog posts she’s responding to have disappeared into the internet.  Her novella, Gaijin, which, by the way is not sold on Amazon, (but is still available at SmashwordsBarnes & Noble, and Apple) deals with non-consent in an erotic context.  The desire reflected in the piece is complicated and unresolved.  Gaijin is well written with complex characterization, but if you have a trigger for rape, you need to avoid this work because it is unreservedly erotic, aka “hot”.  The fantasy is dark and there is pleasure.  Because she writes of the enjoyment, RG’s Gaijin could be considered a more difficult read, than Harriet Daimler’s, Darling, because Daimler initially gave us what we expect of the rape of a “frigid” woman.  Her middle and end were as intensely brutal as RG’s, but still, the act itself was not eroticized, so was much more “black and white.”

In neither of these works is the rape taken as the literary vehicle to relieve a virgin of her “unwanted” state, nor is the “hero” / rapist redeemed.  In the ’70s (and through the 80’s, but I ignored the whole genre until the 2000s)  there was much written about the “unwilling” woman who was seduced / forced / succumbed to the ravishing ravisher.  Sharon Green‘s turned me off such work, but she does have a following.  Not my cup of tea though because it struck me as coy and repetitive.i should break your face

But I leave it to a writer like Remittance Girl to help us evaluate and understand this draw to the darker side of such fantasies.  I can’t contribute much sense to the conversation besides the fact that, yes, I too have written non-con and do find it arousing to read but no, I have no desire to be raped.  I’m as hard core a feminist as you could find, who does not feel bad about her sexuality and really wouldn’t do very well dominated by a man.  As my DH says, “Oh hell no, I’m not gonna try spanking you, you’d whine.”  Yep.  I would.

Stressing about stress

I failed in understanding the rules for metrical stress when discussing poetry in high school or college.  I thought trying to evaluate metrical works an insurmountable obstacle based upon a rhythmic deficit which runs through my family.  I inherited my father’s singing voice.   I have a tin ear, and couldn’t carry a tune if I you gave me a bucket. When I tap my foot, I sound like a heart attack.  Not even my husband wants to dance with me.  So, it was a surprise to me that when I was studying in the posh halls of the early internet bulletin boards, I found people who could break rhythm and stress down for me to evaluate.  They showed me an almost mechanical approach to evaluating or drafting works for stress.  I don’t see that as an insult.  I’m an engineer, so of course I love mechanics.

I’ve found these little cheats, little ways of looking for, writing with, or evaluating rhythm work for the most part workable.  The variances though, would fall down along the lines of any dispute about literature.  And since I ain’t an English teacher, I doan worry ’bout it.  If you’ve already got a sense of rhythm, maybe this will help explain what you do unconsciously.  I couldn’t carry a rhythm through an entire poem without conscious evaluation to save my life.  This is just how I do it.

To demonstrate the steps of evaluating for stress in a line of poetry, I’m going to use a stanza of mine from an exercise.  I wrote the poem with 3 lines for each stanza unit (technically, this is called a tercet because there is a rhyme scheme as well) and I wanted each line to have four stresses.   Here is the stanza we will use for evaluation.  It comes from the muzdawidj I wrote called, “Spring Melt”.

He goes to her in the darkness found
in midwinter; slips between the down-
filled duvet and her body, warm

In my simple brain, there are basically 4 steps in the evaluation, with the fifth step being an “excuse”.

To start:

Step 1)  For multi-syllabic words, break the words into their phonetic syllables.

he goes to her in the dark ness found
in mid win ter; slips be tween the down
filled du vet and her bod y, warm

Step 2)  Show the primary & secondary stress on those multi-syllabic words by ALL CAPS the syllable.  When I write stuff by hand, I underline.  When I type, it’s the CAPS.  In an English class you would use the accent mark (‘) to show a stressed syllable and a little curled thingy above an unstressed/less stressed syllable.  This is not an English class.  This is the internet.  For all I care, you could highlight in lipstick.  But if you would like feedback from me, using this email system – just indicate stress using ALL CAPS.

I do is work with a dictionary (heresy!  heresy alert!).  My favorite is Wordsmyth.net.  It is American Standard English, so other English variants will not be reflected here.  I love this site because it shows stress with the use of underline & BOLD on the characters in the syllables.  The syllable with the most stress will be underlined and bolded, other syllables which might have stress, but a “lesser” amount (secondary stress) will simply be bolded.  Simple.  Easy to read.  Easy to understand what the heck is going on with the word.  You don’t need a legend.  It’s also got a great thesaurus function.

So, CAPs the multi-syllabic words showing their stressed syllables:

he goes to her in the DARK ness found
in mid WIN ter; slips be TWEEN the down
filled DU vet and her BOD y, warm

Step 3)  Stress is given to parts of speech in progression:  verbs, nouns, prepositions, modifiers, pronouns, articles and so on. So, my next step in evaluating my tercet is to evaluate for verbs and nouns.  I’m starting with just the verbs and nouns and after that will make another pass for the other parts of speech.

he GOES to her in the DARK ness FOUND
in mid WIN ter; SLIPS be TWEEN the DOWN
FILLED DU vet and her BOD y, warm

Evaluate the lines at this point to check if “they’re complete”:

he GOES to her in the DARK ness FOUND
This line evaluation is NOT complete b/c there are only 3 primary stresses and at least three syllables in a row which are the same level of stress – i.e., no 3 unstressed together, no 3 stressed together. Those are: “to her in the”

in mid WIN ter; SLIPS be TWEEN the DOWN
This line is complete b/c there are 4 primary stresses on the line and no 3 syllables in succession with the same “level” of stress shown- i.e., no 3 unstressed together, no 3 stressed together.

FILLED DU vet and her BOD y, warm
Line evaluation NOT complete b/c there are 3 syllables left with the same “level” of stress shown.  Those are “vet and her”

Step 4)  Here’s where the rules start to get sticky.  I have what I call (and others, but not as pithily as I phrase), “The Rule of Three”.  When I was being taught scansion, the guy who was teaching me told me that in English there was difficulty in holding the same level of stress for three words in a row.  So, the quick way to look at a cheat, was three unstressed syllables in a row, middle one gets “promoted”.  Three stressed syllables in a row, middle one gets “demoted.”  So, I just call out Rule of Three in my head when I’m faced with certain choices.

he GOES to HER in the DARK ness FOUND
*** I promote “her” because it is a pronoun and because of the Rule of Three. This finishes the evaluation because there are no further syllables left with the same “level” of stress.

in mid WIN ter; SLIPS be TWEEN the DOWN.
** already completed, so not evaluating

FILLED DU vet and her BOD y, warm
** This is an interesting line. We cannot ignore the stress of the primary syllable “DU” in the word “duvet”, but then we have a lot of light syllables in the middle “vet and her”. I would argue that the word “Filled” should be demoted while the word “and” be promoted because of the Rule of Three. There are a variety of levels of stress here. Often times, you’d see exercises numbering the levels into 1, 2, or 3 instead of the simple (binary) “unstressed” / “stressed” version I’m introducing here. The discussions surrounding the stress levels can be quite heated. Me, I’m not a dogmatist. So, yes, I would agree that “filled” does have “some level” of stress, but I’m really about keeping my scansion simple. So, I’m going to show a demotion on “filled” because the word “and” gets more stress to my mind because of its relative position. I also promote “warm” because it is an adjective.

So, the line looks like this to me now:

filled DU vet AND her BOD y, WARM

One last final “rule” to consider:
Step 5)  You can have fewer than 8 syllables on a line with four strong beats.  That’s because a missing syllable at either the begin or the end of the line could be “counted” as an unstressed syllable.

So, to summarize (bends over, puts hands on her knees, takes a breath)…

To analyze your metrical works:

  • The basic unit is a line
  • Break all your words into their phonetic syllables
  • Show the primary (and if it exists, secondary) stress on all multi-syllabic words
  • Show stress on your verbs and nouns
  • The “Rule of Three” – begin evaluating the remaining syllables based upon three unstressed syllables or three stressed syllables in succession.  Promote first based upon parts of speech, but also, commonly, the word in the middle is either promoted or demoted.

Drafting and drafting rhythms

Often times people who are new to writing metrical poetry are curious as to the process.  These are my notes as to the development of the metrical piece.  I am the first to admit that my understanding of writing formal verse is mechanistic as opposed to “natural.”  I am not someone who grasped what an iamb was, or how to recognize the stress within the syllables of the word “banana”.  I have the natural rhythm of a tone deaf bull elephant.  While I’ll go further into the details of the rules of

These are the first and second pages of my drafts for the April 12, 2014 NaPo poem, “The Garden”. I begin working with the rhythm on the 2nd attempt. I signify stress with underlining the syllable. The numbers underneath the underline are where I’m tracking the stresses on a line.

pg1 pg2

At some point, I felt comfortable enough that I wouldn’t “lose” my word choices that I moved to typing my draft on the computer.  This is about draft 8 or 9.  The work is shown below.  I literally break each of the words into syllables and go through first highlighting & CAPping the stressed syllables of multi-syllabic words.  Then I take a “look around” and proceed with indicating stress on verbs, nouns, then modifiers and pronouns.  Then I begin implementing “The Rule of 3” (3 stressed syllables in a row, demote the middle; 3 unstressed syllables in a row, promote the middle)

There are intimacies of the body
which only come with ten thousand days.
The mechanics can be as trite as saffron crocus,
but a moment arrives and your lover leans across
your softening body, touches you

with unexpected appetite.  They bloom
a black trillium when they take your left toe
into their mouth – that soft wetness a surprise
to a part of the body which knows only work
and occasional pain.  Or maybe they stroke

the back of your knee with their tongue.  Your scent – long gone
to the bite of pepper as your own roses withered
and dried at least five years ago – draws them
to sniff then take a tiny bite; their breath
alive on your skin. It is not a sin –

but time has furrowed you blind, not indifferent.
And the field  which surrounds you with each passing night
draws you into that furrow and you forget you sleep with a stranger; rather it is
the depth with which squill roots and spreads which brings
the sea of blue to a dry land.

There are in ti mac ies of the bod y

which on ly come with ten thou sand days.

The me chan ics can be as trite as SAF fron cro cus,

but a mo ment a rrives and your love r leans a cross

your soft en ing bod y,  touch es you 

with un ex PECT ed AP pe tite.  They Bloom

a black tril li um when they TAKE YOUR left toe

in to their mouth – that soft wet ness a sur prise

to a part of the bod y which knows on ly work

and oc ca sion al pain.  Or may be they stroke

the back of your knee with their tongue. Your scent – long gone

to the bite of pep per as your own ros es with ered

and dried at least five years a go–  draws them

to sniff then take a tin y bite, their breath

a live on your skin.  It is not a sin

that time has fur rowed you blind not in dif fer ent

to the field  and you for gEt that each night you sleep

with a strang er; rath er it is the depth with which squill

roots and spreads which brings

the sea of blue to a dry land.

The last stanza would not conform to what came before.  I actually wasn’t happy with l5 of each of the stanzas being only 4 beats and I couldn’t get a fifth beat up onto that l5 of s1, so I scrapped this format and began considering words to cut, like “saffron” on l3.  This is how I scan the finished work.

There / are in / ti mac / ies of / the bod (y)

which on / ly come /with ten thou / sand days. / The me chan (ics)

can be /as trite /as cro / cus, but / a mo  (ment)

a rrives / and your love/ r leans / a cross your soft / en ing

bod  y,  /and touch /es you  /with AP /pe tite.

They Bloom  / black tril / li um / when they TAKE /your  toe

 in to / their mouth /- that soft wet / ness a / sur prise

to a part /of the bod /y which knows on / ly work

and oc ca/  sion al pain.  / Or may / be they stroke  / the back

of your knee / with their tongue E / ven though / your scent

has long gone / to the bite / of pep / per – your / own ros (es)

with ered / and dried / at least / five years / a go

still it draws / them to sniff / then take / a tin / y bite,

their breath / a live / on your skin.  / It is not / a sin

that time / has fur / rowed you blind / to the field  / and you

for gEt / that each night / you sleep / with a strang / er; rath (er)

it is / the depth / with which squill roots / and spreads

which brings / the sea / of blue / to a dry land.

Which works out like this:

There / are in / ti mac / ies of / the bod (y)
lame foot iamb (missing leading light beat) / iamb / iamb / iamb / hyper-syllabic iamb

which on / ly come /with ten thou / sand days. / The me chan (ics)
iamb / iamb/ anapest / iamb / anapest – hypersyllabic

can be /as trite /as cro / cus, but / a mo  (ment)
iamb / iamb / iamb / iamb (because of Rule of Three – promotion of “but”) / iamb – hypersyllabic

a rrives / and your love/ r leans / a cross / your soft  en ing
iamb / anapest / iamb / iamb / hypersyllabic iamb

bod  y,  /and touch /es you  /with AP /pe tite.
trochee / iamb / iamb/ iamb / iamb

They Bloom  / black tril / li um / when they TAKE /your  toe
iamb / iamb / iamb / anapest / iamb

 in to / their mouth /- that soft wet / ness a / sur prise
trochee / iamb / anapest / iamb (promotion of ‘a’ because of Rule of Three / iamb

to a part /of the bod /y which knows on / ly work
anapest / anapest / double iamb / iamb

and oc ca/  sion al pain.  / Or may / be they stroke  / the back
anapest / anapest / iamb / anapest / iamb

of your knee / with their tongue E / ven though / your scent
anapest / double iamb / iamb / iamb

has long gone / to the bite / of pep / per – your / own ros (es)
anapest / anapest / iamb / iamb /  hyper-syllabic iamb

with ered / and dried / at least / five years / a go
trochee / iamb / iamb / iamb / iamb

still it draws / them to sniff / then take / a tin / y bite,
anapest / anapest / iamb / iamb / iamb

their breath / a live / on your skin.  / It is not / a sin
iamb / iamb / iamb / iamb / iamb /

that time / has fur / rowed you blind / to the field  / and you
iamb / iamb / anapest / anapest / iamb

for gEt / that each night / you sleep / with a strang / er; rath (er)
iamb / anapest / iamb / anapest / hyper-syllabic iamb

it is / the depth / with which squill roots / and spreads
iamb / iamb / double iamb/ iamb

which brings / the sea / of blue / to a dry land.
iamb / iamb/ iamb / double iamb

So, all this technical work drove my word choices, line breaks, and then which imagery went where.  The final work looks like this:
The Garden

There are intimacies of the body
which only come with ten thousand days. The mechanics
can be as trite as crocus, but a moment
arrives and your lover leans across your softening
body, and touches you with appetite.
They bloom black trillium when they take your toe
into their mouth – that soft wetness a surprise
to a part of your body which knows only work
or occasional pain.  Then maybe they stroke the back
of your knee with their tongue even though your scent
has long gone to the bite of pepper – your own roses
withered and dried at least five years ago –
still it draws them to sniff then take a tiny nip;
their breath is alive on your skin. It is not a sin
that time has furrowed you blind to the field and you
forget that each night you sleep with a stranger; rather
it is the depth with which squill roots and spreads
which brings the sea of blue to a dry land.

Other Questions, Other Answers

I was working with the idea of trying to communicate gender neutrality in this piece.  For this year’s NaPo I’m writing 30 days worth of directly erotic work.  One of the things I want to address during the thirty days is the variety of ways in which humans can worship the body of other humans – the variety of sexual love that there is.
I specifically did not want there to be a M/F, M/M, F/F, he/she/it pronoun usage.  So, I chose to use the pronoun “they”, not to indicate polyamory, but to indicate a non-gender specific singular pronoun.  In the reading I did, this is controversial, but Chicago Style apparently is sitting back to watch how it all turns out.  I particularly disliked the s/he “pronoun” in this context, they/their seemed less intrusive, less self-conscious.