I love poetry. I love being the poetry editor here at Quantum Fairy Tales. We get a lot of great submissions and some not so great ones, but I love them all. Am I a masochist? Maybe. But really, is there anything more steeped in emotion than a poem written on the other side of a teenage heartbreak? Those awkward lines and phrases carved right out of someone’s broken heart pieces? No. It’s pure emotion shoved on a page. It’s gorgeous.
My job, however, is to take that wild emotion and help shape it into something that the whole world (or a good part of it) can read, and feel, along with the author. In order do that you have to know the rules.
Yes, there are RULES for poetry. Lots of folks dabble in lots of different artistic endeavors, but here at QFT we take the written word very seriously. We want to hear from you and we want you to get better and even make a living off your hard work someday. With this goal in mind, I have a few little poetry lessons I want to post here over the next few weeks.
Am I a master poet? No. But I have served on the staff of two poetry journals and have been writing poetry and taking classes for the past 25 years. I have written a lot of crappy stuff. But I’ve also written some stuff I’m pretty proud of, and all of the really good stuff was the stuff that I took the time to apply the rules too.
Don’t worry, I’m going to keep this short, sweet and hopefully interesting. Everyone knows how to rhyme, and I hope you already know what meter is, these are the old school basics. We’re not going to talk about those. We’re going to talk about some fun stuff you might not have considered before, or heard of in your college classes. And as always, I appreciate feedback. If you have a great idea for one of these posts, a trick you’ve picked up somewhere and want to share, or if you think I’m dead wrong, please comment! The more the merrier.
So without further delay, here’s lesson number one.
NO YODA SPEAK
Write like Yoda, you must not. Even if it means ruining your rhyme and meter. This little cartoon is a great example of how Yoda speak can ruin any great poem.
If you find yourself placing the subject after the verb in a phrase or sentence, you’re going to ruin anything great you’ve got going on. Don’t do it, it’s a bad idea. Trust me. Why? Because people don’t intuitively read English like that. They want to know the WHO or WHAT and then the ACTION. It’s cumbersome to read or listen to Yoda. It takes up all your brain’s extra cells, and you don’t want your reader to waste anytime trying to figure out your bad grammar. You want them to see your words, feel your meaning quickly and enjoy themselves.
If you are totally stumped right now and asking yourself, “What’s a subject and a verb?”, then you need to go study some English grammar and sentence structure, STAT! If you want to be a GOOD poet, possibly great, you have to understand sentence structure. Good poetry has a reason for every single word in its place, even free flow writing. Either because of grammar or artistic license. The old adage is true in this case, you have to know the rules in order to break them properly. You have to be able to defend yourself if you want to use Yoda speak and you better have a super duper iron clad reason for it other than “well.. fuzz rhymes with was.” Or you’ll get your poem handed to you on a plate with a fork in it by some editor not nearly as kind as I am.
Now you get an assignment. (HOORAY! HOMEWORK!) Go back through a poem that you feel is good, or even great, and look for examples of Yoda speak. It happens most often in rhyming verse, but I’ve seen it thrown in free verse as well and lots of other places. It’s funny, when you pick one thing to look for specifically, suddenly it pops up in places you never expected.
When you find that Yoda speak, I want you to CHOP IT WITH YOUR DOUBLE BLADED LIGHT SABER! Kill it like a flea bitten wild dog trying to chomp your leg off on the highway to hell! Have NO MERCY. I don’t care if it turns your poem into a heap of useless letters. DO IT. Use the force, use your brain, get rid of it. You’ll thank me later. Then report back here and let us know how the experiment went.
The Clockwork Gnome