This week, we learnt a new form of writing – poetry – and the basic techniques associated with it. Rhyme, figurative language and blackout poetry were all skills we learnt through practical application, as we were given an industry commission by the charity Porchlight to write poetry or a short piece of prose about homeless people.
Rhyme is making use of similar sounding words in order to create a melody, relying on the last syllable of that word to create the desired effect. ‘You’ and ‘blew’, ‘time’ and ‘lime’, ‘hero’ and ‘zero’, etc.
Figurative language and metaphors are both used to create an implicit message within the poem. These are sometimes extended metaphors that carry a comparison throughout the entire piece, such as comparing the element of hope to a small bird. The word ‘figurative’, by itself, is defined as:
departing from a literal use of words; metaphorical.
“a figurative expression”
Finally, blackout poetry is a variant on normal poetry. By using an article or a page from a book, most of the text will be crossed out with a coloured marker. The words left behind create a poem or short piece of text. An example of this can be seen here:
This picture shows that most of the newspaper’s text has been blacked out and cannot be seen. The words left behind create an entirely different context and, while short, tells a story by itself. While I could not get a picture of the work itself, I made some of my own blackout poetry in class.
You talk about him softly,
to forget about dying
But it’s no worse than hidin’ from us,
and as if this is over
He’s got used to seein’,
the most wonderfully still body
For two normal examples of poetry, this is an extract from Frank O’Hara’s Having a coke with you and Benjamin Zephaniah’s Rong Radio.
HAVING A COKE WITH YOU
is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles
We can see that this example is about spending time with someone, about enjoying a simple drink with a friend or loved one instead of travelling to distant places. The repetition of ‘partly because’ is used for emphasis and to keep the melody flowing. While there is no rhyming structure, there is a flow that keeps the poem going and the word choice has a warm, dream-like tone to it with an emphasis on the colour orange shown through ‘4 o’clock light’, ‘fluorescent orange tulips’ and ‘orange shirt’.
I’ve been listening to the rong radio station
My mind has been brutalised now the pain can’t be disguised
I’ve been listening to the rong radio station,
I was beginning to believe that all black men were bad men
and white men would reign again
I was beginning to believe that i was a mindless drugs freak
That couldn’t control my sanity or my sexuality
I was beginning to believe that I could not believe in nothing except
nothing, and all I ever wanted to do was to get you, and do you
I’ve been listening to the rong radio station.
This poem has less of a wispy and sentimental tone but instead an urban tone with political undertones. It talks about the influence that media has, how the man was ‘beginning to believe that all black men were bad men’ and that he ‘couldn’t control [his] sanity or [his] sexuality’. The signature line, ‘I’ve been listening to the rong radio station’, is further proof of this. As a poem, I am more inclined to like this than the other example, due to how the word choice and melody really work well with the subject’s tone, using more urban language and sounding more like rap or hip hop.
Before talking about the commission, we were given a warm-up exercise to make a poem with the title ‘having a [blank] with you’ or ‘mothers of [blank]’ where the blank spaces are replaced with a beverage and area respectively. I chose the former, as I felt it was easier to make something out of that.
Having a coke with you
Holds more weight than any breakthrough
As we crouch, we sit, we lean, we lie,
We look up at the sky together
And the stars sparkle brighter than before
And the cold air is nothing to us
And we talk with no subject
It all has no use
But we’ll remember this night the most
For my very first piece of poetry, I am happy with this! While not displaying the use of extended metaphors, it holds a sentimental and soft tone which I believe to be effective. However, the second line (right below the title) needs work. I struggled with it and despite coming up with a suitable word with ‘breakthrough’, I feel that another word could easily replace it.
Moving onto the main piece, we as a class were commissioned to create a piece about homeless people. To aid in this, we explored Canterbury and made notes on our surroundings as well as any metaphors we could use in our work.
Using whatever notes we had (or in my case, audio recordings), we began work on our poems. While I was unable to finish the poem for the commission, here is what I managed to make.
Each day, each night, the people go by
They see the art, all laid out on the street
But do they see the artists?
The ghosts, drifting from place to place
They hear, they smell, they see everything
But are they seen in return?
Diners and cafes, packed with people
All talking, all laughing
But do they see the ghost watching them?
Once I started, I first came up with the extended metaphor. As the poem’s theme and main comparison, it was vital that I came up with this factor first. Thus, based on my recordings, I believed ‘ghosts’ would be the best choice. By comparing the homeless people to ghosts, I could talk about how they were unseen and never noticed, despite being highly aware of their surroundings. It is this feeling of isolation that lines up closely with being a ghost, as they are believed to be all around us despite us never noticing them.
In a more practical sense, I think I did well as a person who does not actively pursue and has not as much interest in poetry. For a single stanza, I used the metaphor as much as I could and felt that the rhythm was decent enough for the piece to be called a poem. If I change anything on a broad perspective, I would do a different subject matter. For this, I would simply attempt to write more, though I feel as if it is too late to do so now.
- Kleon, Austin. (2010) Newspaper Blackout. New York City, NY: Harper Perennial.
- O’Hara, Frank. (1995) The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara. Oakland, California: University of California Press.
- Zephaniah, Benjamin. Naked. One Little Indian Records, 2005, CD.