CRAFTING THE POEM
Take a look at my Push Broom “exercise” poem from the previous post:
like the ancient push broom
In the corner there,
I would be ready,
tuned to the moment,
my strength coils of fine steel;
ready, to unleash the power of bristle,
put it to the fine beige dust
of new wood and drifts of sand
onto the porch.
The old broom waits,
ready, asking to be used.
How can I deny it now,
itself dust-covered, longing.
We’ll consider this a draft. We may change a little, a lot, or nothing. I’ve decided to edit it instead of pitching it to the waste can, so to speak. It’s the challenge, isn’t it? And the challenge here is to give rhyme to its form, though this piece may benefit from its free verse rhythm. Still, I want to try rhyme, as well as a line pattern and meter (feet in a line). The first word, If, is a monometer, a single foot. Patient is a dimeter, 2 feet. Together, they form a trimeter, a three-footed line. Feet have syllables; hence, the first line of “Push Broom” contains three syllables, accented in a certain way. The unstressed syllable is denoted by the letter U; the stressed, by the forward slash (as below). If patient is a less common foot, the amphibrach. If a line by itself, if patient would be an amhibraic trimeter. Its stressed syllable is pā, while If and tient are unstressed.
U / U
This is an awkward form to build an entire poem around, so we’ll juggle words, add, and subtract, make other changes, and see what happens. Often, poems contain of mix of feet to keep a pleasant, natural reading rhythm. This avoids the monotony of a poem that sounds as if written to the beats of a metronome. Let’s see what occurs when we start first with rhythm:
If patient like the ancient push broom in the corner,
I would be ready, tuned to the minute,
my strength coils of fine steel, ready.
Ready to unleash the power of bristle,
casting aside the attitude of mourner,
aimed at this task as I begin it
the force of will making my hand steady
aimed with the precision of a missile
at fine beige dust, my brush no more forlorn or
without use, now has a war, will win it
emptying the porch of drifted sand, let be
the obligation of this vassal,
I, to my loyal aide, as noblesse oblige,
grant its own dust-covered soul a final siege.
So many changes! Let’s itemize: a number of new words rhyme, rhythm, and pattern. I’ve built one type of sonnet—fourteen lines, with the final two lines breaking the rhyme scheme, by rhyming with each other. They also offer a little twist. Is the meaning substantively different? I would say it is more complex, yet the relationship of the elements remains in kind with its free verse antecedent.
Now let’s look at the pattern, the feet, and the meter. First, the sonnet’s rhyme scheme is ABCDABCDABCD and FF. Notice the inexact rhyme of missile and vassal. There is nothing craven about this; it’s not cheating. Its use, again, breaks up predictability and helps to keep the poet honest, rather then forcing something exact that looks, well, craven.
If patient like the ancient push broom in the corner, A
U / U U U / U / / U U / U
I would be ready, tuned to the minute, B
/ U U / U / U U / U
my strength, coils of fine steel ready. C
/ / / U U / / U / U
Ready to unleash the power of bristle, D
/ U I U / U / U U / U
casting aside the attitude of mourner, A
/ U U / U / U / U / U
aimed at this task as I begin it, B
/ U U / U / U / U
the force of will making my hand steady C
U / U / / U / / / U
aimed with the precision of a missile D
/ / U / / U U U / U
at fine beige dust, my brush no more forlorn or A
U / / / U / U / U / U
without use, now has a war, will win it B
/ U / U / U / U / U
emptying the porch of drifted sand, let be C
/ U / U / U / U / U /
the obligation of this its vassal, D
U / U / U U / / / U
I, to my great aide, as noblesse oblige, F
/ U U / / U / / U /
grant its own dust-covered soul a final siege. F
/ U / / U U / U / U /
Ah. Look at that. You see we have a fair amount of irregularity. This allows the rhythm to be supreme in this adaption of “Push Broom.” While most of the lines are in pentameter (five feet to the line), a couple have one more syllable. The inconsistency is to accommodate, once again, a natural reading rhythm. As for types of feet, we have a mix of them: spondee (DUM-DUM), trochee (DUM-da), iamb (da-DUM), anapest (UU), and even an amphibrach (If patient). Read the poem aloud, as marked, and determine for yourself if the rhythm is that of normal, inflected speech.
Playing with a poem is a bit like playing with moist fresh clay: it can be molded, mashed into a pulp, formed anew, and given the fashioning of final touch. The difference is that clay can dry, grow hard, and crumble. A poem remains supple as long as a poet wants to continue playing.