The Words We Choose

The Words We Choose, 19 May 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.

T

he poetic process is a fascinating one, especially when it comes to the selection of the “right” words. Consider those instances where we choose words not only for their Content and Construction but their Capacity (to perform a particular function) and Cadence (to actualise a particular meaning).

For example, Heinrich Heine uses “hold” (rather than, say, “lieb”) in “So hold und schön und rein”1 to produce a progression of vowels that “opens” like a flower; and a word like “wandered” that requires a certain unhurriedness to convey its sense2 which a high-tempo stanza would undermine.

  1. “Du bist wie eine Blume, / So hold und schön und rein” (You are like a flower, / So lovely and fair and pure) from “Du bist wie eine Blume”.
  2. The inherent slowness of the act as evoked by the sounds and trailing syllables of the word.

On Modern Poetry, A Rant

A Rant, 16 May 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.

P

oetry is not without its rules, and just as in every other discipline they must first be assimilated before they can be effectively broken, so in Poesy, there are basic mechanisms a poet must grasp and diligently seek to master in his work.

In contemporary poetry, this is a skill notably absent.

A failure to comprehend and appreciate the principles of expressive language is a scourge upon it. Nearly all compositions in the style would be vastly improved had the poet a rudimentary understanding of what makes a poem a poem.

There exists a fine line between prose and free verse.

Writing something that resembles a poem does not make it one. How much of what one reads today has themes not worth contemplating, blurted out (for composed they are not) in lumbering stanzas that do nothing to give them form?

Not every man who fancies himself a poet can verse.

For a poem to be good, it must resound in the halls of human experience. It must elevate the mundane through a celebration of language and a distillation of thought that compels the reader to exclaim: Yes! I know—I feel—your meaning!

Is such a thing too great a task for the modern poet?

Perhaps. Consider what we who long for a sublimation of the modern experience are presented with in vers libre: the poetic equivalent of Yeezy—crude phrasal fragments that barely resemble language, unworthy of the ear and soul.

Wat swewe soos ’n wysie

Pronounced [vutt sweevuh swis uh veyssy]1, the above is a line composed for “Skaapwagterjie”, the Afrikaans counterpart2 of “Shepherd Girl”. It translates to “That floats like a tune”, which does nothing to convey the alliterative and onomatopoeic beauty that Afrikaans achieves in this simple string of syllables. Incidentally, I am unable to use the line as no configuration of the stanza in which it is meant to appear permits me; but what a joy to have conceived of it!

  1. The [uh] like the “a” in “about”.
  2. I now prefer “counterpart” as a description of “Skaapwagtertjie”’s relationship with “Shepherd Girl” rather than “translation”. Whilst the process is that of translation, my goal is an Afrikaans poem in its own right.