"Talking Writing"

by Lennox V. Farrell

Writing is like a tree. In the same way that a tree has two parts, the roots and the trunk; so, too, does writing have its root and its trunk. For example, grammar can be compared with the root. Then there is the trunk, or literature. In addition, just as a the root and trunk of a tree have branches, so, too does writing have its own branches.

Therefore, to compare writing with a tree is helpful, even though each of these, the tree and writing, is very complex. However, while they differ from each other, they are also alike or similar in many ways. Grammar has, or is mostly made up of the parts of speech. These could be in the shape or the form of a word, a phrase, a clause or a sentence. When more than one sentence is linked or joined in a group, they create or form paragraphs. There are different types of paragraphs. Among these are formal ones used in essays, and informal paragraphs, used as direct speech, or dialogue. "I say," that this is the type of writing found in drama or plays when different characters speak to each other.

More than one formal paragraph is called an essay. There are also different types of essays. Generally, some are formal, and others are informal. If grammar is like the root of the tree, then all of these, the parts of speech, words, phrases, clauses, sentences and essays are the small and large sections of this main root.

In addition, Literature, the trunk, has two main branches. One of these is poetry. The other branch is prose. Prose includes the short story and the novel. There are different types or genres of these forms of writing. Among many others, there is the romance novel. There is also the historical novel. Poetry, the other branch of literature, is the highest or most refined form of writing. In other words, if writing was like gold, poetry would be its twenty-one carats.

Poetry can also be sub-divided into at least two parts or divisions. One of these is Narrative poetry. Another name for this is Dramatic poetry. All narrative poetry has both rhyme and meter. An example of narrative poetry is the ballad. The second division of poetry is the Lyric poem. Only some forms of lyric poetry have rhymed verses. An example of this is the sonnet. Other forms of lyric poetry called free verse, do not rhyme. So, literature, the trunk of writing is divided into the branches of prose and poetry. These are further sub-divided into smaller branches. Are these branches further sub-divided into twigs and leaves?


Based on the information above, test yourself on the questions that follow. Instructions: Circle the answer that is most correct?

1. Writing is said to be like: a) a tree; b) twenty-one carat gold; c) a root; d) a branch.

2. Which of the following is not compared with a root: a) free verse; b) a clause; c) a part of speech; d) a sentence.

3. If grammar can be compared with a root, then literature can be compared with: a) prose; b) poetry; c) rhymes; d) a trunk.

4. Grammar is primarily or mostly made up of: a) sentences; b) words; c) parts of speech; d) clauses.

5. More than one sentence linked together forms: a) a clause; b) a paragraph; c) an essay; d) a narrative.

6. The different types of literature can also be called by the word: a) poetry; b) genres; d) phrases; d) verses.

7. The words formal and informal describe different types of: a) essays; b) paragraphs; c) sentences; d) parts of speech.

8. If grammar can be compared to a root, then free verse can be compared to: a) a trunk; b) a branch; c) another root; d) a twig.

9. If grammar can be compared with a root, then rhyme can be compared to: a) a twig; b) a leaf; c) a branch; d) a trunk.

10 Two different branches of Literature most likely are: a) rhyme and meter; b) the short story and the novel; c) prose and poetry; d) informal and formal essays.

11 Prose can be divided into: a) narrative and dramatic poetry; b) rhyme and meter; c) the short story and the novel; d) rhymed verse and free verse.

12 If writing was like gold, then poetry would be: a) brass; b) silver; c) ten carat gold; d) twenty-one carat gold.

13 Narrative poetry is the same as the: a) Dramatic; b) Lyric; c) Novel; d) Romance.

14 All forms of this poem rhyme: a) Lyric; b) Dramatic; c) Prose; d) Romance.

15 The type of poetry that does not have rhyme is: a) the Lyric; b) Dramatic; c) Narrative; d) Free verse.

16 The sonnet is an example of: a) Narrative poetry; b) Lyric poetry; c) Prose; d) Dramatic poetry.

17 The ballad is an example of a) Narrative poetry; b) Free verse; c) Rhymed verse; d) Lyric poetry.

18 Lyric poetry can be divided into: a) Rhymed verse and free verse; b) rhymed verse and prose; c) Free verse and prose; d) sonnets and ballads.

19 Literature is: a) the trunk of writing and is divided into prose and verse; b) the root of writing and is divided into prose and verse; c) the trunk of writing and is divided into the ballad and the sonnet; d) The trunk of writing and is divided into rhymed verse with meter and free verse.

20 Grammar is: a) the root of writing and is divided primarily into essays; b) sentences; c) parts of speech; d) prose and verse.

Answers to the above questions are as follows: 1a; 2a; 3d; 4c; 5b; 6b; 7a; 8b; 9b; 10c; 11c; 12d; 13a; 14b; 15d; 16b; 17a; 18a; 19a; 20a.

Now, let's talk poetry.

This is usually the first type of creative writing most of us attempt. It was also associated or used at our births, for birthdays, for other special days, like marriage; and it is likely that it will be on our tombstones. It can speak to our deepest emotions, highest ideals and most intimate sentiments.

Why write poetry? Most people do because they want to capture some special moment; some singular experience, awareness or idea. Poetry is always about special times, experiences and knowings. Sometimes these can be sad -tragic, even- sometimes these are refreshing and enlightening. The question is, should poetry have "meaning" in order to also have value or specialness?

How should one write poetry? This question is one that is ignored or neglected by many people who write "poetry". Anyone can call what they write poetry. Anyone can also say that they fly with angel's wings to pick up milk from the corner-store. Unfortunately, many people, who cannot spell single syllable words, write a proper sentence or know anything about a "figure of speech", attempt to write what is loosely referred to "free verse".

Well "free verse" is not for free. Rhyme, too, should not be expendable nor expedient. In other words, rhyme should not cheapen meaning in one's poetry. Like all good or worthwhile accomplishments, writing poetry is very demanding, expecting from the writer, among other things, a knowledge of "Rhymed verse", as well as other elements in poetry that follow the rigorous rules of meter, rhyme, etc. Writing free verse, is not the same as just jotting down one's thoughts, feeling good about them (or badly, too) and labeling it poetry.

Poetry is not drivel -unless, it were designed, constructed deliberately to explain the structure and functions of drivel. Trying to write free verse without knowing the rules or the Specific Poetic Features that govern the creation of "poetry" is as foolish, and possibly as dangerous as attempting to do stunts on a bike before one has even learned to ride. In other words, only they who know the rules very well can break them without suffering penalties.

You might say, well, isn't writing poetry supposed to be a free thing? Free as flying like a bird, a plane, superman? Well, "freedom", as Robert Frost, one of the greatest poets of this century said, "is being able to work easy in harness." Writing freely means among other things, knowing the rigors of what is legible writing; having a sense of discipline which keeps one humble about one's talents and having a crying sense of the "philosophy" required to create art and beauty and hope. So, don't fool yourself. Writing poetry means having respect for, and constantly and consciously improving on the best that is possible from your creative efforts. Anything less is a sign of self-disrespect!

After reading below, create a poem. Use different divisions like those of the narrative poem and the lyric poem. Step by step, create examples of the sonnet and of the ballad. Deliberately insert into your efforts, figures of speech based on comparison, on arrangement, on association, etc. Use slant and straight rhyme. Look at rhythm and meter. Are they different? Are they the same? Consider theme and characterization; meaning and aesthetics. Have a grand time! At the end, improve your ability to analyse a poem for its Specific Poetic Features (SPF), and then use this knowledge to create some, or to improve on poetry you or others have already written.

The following are examples of different divisions or categories of poetry. The first, "Individualisted" is an example of a lyric poem that is rhymed. The second, "For Akina and other Loves" is another lyric poem, but is unrhymed. The third, "1985 09 30" is a Narrative or Dramatic poem.

There are much better examples of these types of poetry. For the rhymed lyrical poem, read sonnets by Shakespeare or just listen to any of your favourite "love songs". Among my favourites are songs by Brook Benton. Unrhymed lyrical poetry includes the poem titled,"Desiderata". Amiri Baraka' s works are among some of the best to read.. For the Narrative or Dramatic poem, one of the best is "The Highwayman." Another is "The Gambler" and "Hotel California" sung by Glen Campbell and the Eagles, respectively. The Dramatic Monologue, another form of the Narrative poem was developed by Robert Browning. His classic in this genre is, "My Last Duchess".

The Specific Poetic Features (SPF) of the first poem is done. Attempt the SPF of the other two. In a later writing, the SPF of these will also be listed.


Being so self-made
Surely is self-begot;
Already self-dead,
Beginning to self-rot?!

The SPF of this is based on the following: I. Form of the poem. a)This a lyric poem, dealing in one stanza (the four lines of the poem) with an idea in which language is concentrated, intense and focused. It is also rhymed. The ending of lines one (self-made) and two (self-dead) are examples of "slant rhyme". That is, the words sound alike but are not spelt alike. Slant rhymes can also include words which may look alike but not sound alike. Examples of such words creating slant rhymes (not found in this poem) are "though; rough". Can you think of others? Lines two and four are examples of "straight rhyme". Here, the words both look and sound alike. There are other examples of rhymes (internal) not used in this.poem. Other descriptions applied to rhymes are feminine and masculine, etc. b)The rhythm of the poem is felt in the number of beats in each line. For example, in the first line, the word "Being" has two syllables, as follows: "Be" and "ing". How many syllables does "Already" in line three have? If you counted the number of syllables in lines one and three you will total five. How many syllables will you find in lines two and four? These regular arrangements of syllables provide the poem with a "beat" like that from a drum. This beat is needed in lyric rhymed poetry, the kind most of us like and adore in our favourite love songs. Choose any love song and for each line count the "beats". Stated another way, this feature of rhythm is what is called "metre". These include the number of beats in a line plus the places in words where stresses are put. For example, take the words "Ape" and "Apple". In which of these is more stress put on the vowel, "A"? If you said the "A" in "Ape" you are correct. Take the word, "Icicle". On which of the vowels, "I" is there a stress?

II Literary terms/Figures of Speech used:

a)Alliteration is a figure of speech based on arrangement of words such that several words begin with the same first letter. One well-known example of alliteration is "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper.". In the poem above, can you find where the letter "s" begins, and is used in a series of words, "so self-made surely is self-begun."? Does this type of arrangement make the words move more smoothly, more easily on the tongue?

b)Repetition is also used in the word, "self." increasing in the words to which it is attached, from "made, begot, dead, rot." The word "begot" is used as a slanted pun on the word, "bigot". How does use of the word, "Being" in the first line change the meaning of the whole poem campared with the possible use of the word, "A man"? That is, "A Man so self-made." Is there an implied pun in "Being"?

III Subject matter

a)The poem describes some of the characteristics of individuals who pride themselves on their "individualism". They forget that, as another poet, John Dunn said, "No man is an island." For the individualist, who is self-made there is no sense of community unless he needs the solace that community with others can provide. In other words, so individualist is he that he appears to be also "self-begot" or born of himself and not through the means of a woman, etc.

b)The theme or concern which prompted the writing of the poem is the absurd and illogical nature of selfishness and self-centredness, as well as the possible consequences of these in one's life. The commentary is social, political and satirical.

III There are other features which the poem might have, for example, "run-on lines". The reader should also read other poets, consult other poetry sites on the internet as well as get a Dictionary of Literature for ideas, definitions and understandings that meaningful poetry needs. Among these are a knowledge of other figures of speech. Among these are those: based on comparison -simile, metaphor, personification; on arrangement -alliteration, oxymoron; on overstatement -hyperbole; on understatement -irony, litotes; on association -metonymy, etc.

For Akina and Other Loves.

If I could
Betroth all the black women I see lonely
I would
Take tenderness to them till death us do part.
But how could
I and still remain committed to the one
I should
Be true to?

What I would
Do is raise sons to be honourable men
Who could
Take care of her who in their fullness of time
They should
Betroth to, too.

1985 09 30

Eagle said to Beaver,
Come, do your bud a favour.
For well known are my habits,
Among the wren and rabbits.
Go, run about among them;
Try to calm their mayhem.
Make them feel: unstable
Is not vulnerable;
That my passions are not
As in the past, so hot
With imperial fires
To singe their desires.
See, my talons don't feel
As they are: lethal steel."
Beaver said not a word
As the deadly points bored
Firm and deep in warm flesh.
Beaver is bird relish.

The grammar and literature sections can be used as long as they are not used for personal profit in any form. Reference to the source must also accompany use.

"Talking Writing" by Lennox V. Farrell

© Copyright 1998. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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