Break the rules (but follow these guidelines) – The Irish Times

Time to rhyme, or how to tell if you want to be a poet…

During lockdown, so many of us have rediscovered the empowering power of a damn good poem. But is it an art that is difficult to master? Catherine Ann Cullen, Ireland’s first poet in residence, says we probably all carry a decent poem within us.

Just this one?

“Yes, maintaining the quality is the challenge.” It’s the same with finding a topic. During Covid, Cullen’s Poetry Prompts provided daily inspiration. That’s the thing about poetry; It doesn’t have to be about how it looks. In fact, the topic is usually very different from the topic.

Isn’t that a bit leaving Cert-ey?

School can dampen your enjoyment of poetry, especially if you’re not a big reader. “Having to respond in a way that will satisfy an examiner, navigating a sea of ​​imagery, subject matter and language creates anxiety.” But sit down with a poem and, as Cullen puts it, let it “go through you sift through to find what’s left of it inside you” and reclaim the magic.

This feels better, so where do I start?

Inspiration can come from anywhere, and Cullen should know it. She is a poet, songwriter and children’s book author whose seventh book retells the story of Brigid’s wonderful cloak for children. Her next will be on Dublin’s lost street poets and tenement ballad singers: she’ll prove you can be both versatile and successful. Obvious starting points are “an event that sticks in your mind; a perspective you want to take, the voice of a character, creature, or object; a story you want to tell”.

give me the rules…

Poems you write for yourself can be different than poems that work in the world. “Like all art, it is therapeutic, but that is not enough to make it art. I hope this doesn’t sound elitist, but poetry has to be more than therapy for the author, it also has to be satisfying and made for the reader.” So first of all, poetry doesn’t have to rhyme. And while you might feel like trying out a sonnet, villanelle, or haiku, you don’t have to stick to a specific form. Poetically, Villanelle is not the charismatic assassin from Killing Eve, but a strictly structured poem of five tercets followed by a quatrain.

Stop it, you’re killing me!

“Rules have to be broken,” Cullen says, relieved. But guidelines help. “As with writing, it can be important to show, not tell. “Narrating” in a poem could mean over-directing the reader. Get off before you wrap it up!” It’s like a good short story, she says.

“You want to leave some work to the reader, you don’t want to end up like Aesop with the moral pair-in-hand. A good picture says more than a thousand words. Finding the right balance between what you want to show and the desired effect is a skill that takes time.”

I think I’ve got it: lots of pictures and a few fancy flourishes, yes?

No! “It’s a common mistake to be ‘poetic’ and overdo the pudding,” Cullen says. “As is “the use of ‘clawbreakers’, archaic words, or flowery language that strains your own ability to inhabit the poem and make it come true”.

Okay, how do I know when it’s done?

“Some poems just feel finished. They guide you in and through and guide you out or leave you with a lingering image. Some seem ready for the reader but not for the author,” says Cullen.

“I still get triggered by the occasional not-quite-right word or sentence in poetry I published years ago. Writing can be unnerving, stressful and elusive,” she continues. “But it’s also the most beautiful experience.”

Catherine Ann Cullen’s The Song of Brigid’s Cloak illustrated by Katya Swan is published by Beehive Books

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