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Monday, June 20, 2011

Tips in Poetry Writing

Tips in Poetry Writing
Melchor F. Cichon
August 14, 2010

Every poet has his own way of writing poems.

I have my way.

Generally before I write a poem, I read. Just anything. But if there is a book of poetry, I pick that up first and read it.

While reading it, most often an idea comes in.

Ideas come in like lightning. If you cannot record it, it will be lost forever.

Or if you can remember it, good.

So what I do is, I always bring a notebook, and a pen or pencil. Once an idea comes into my mind, I write it down.

Usually, this idea becomes the focus of my poem. If more related ideas come in,

I continue my writing until I finish the poem. Otherwise, I just leave it there for future use.

I write my first draft as it comes from my heart. But once I revise it, the writing will now come from my mind. I become the first critic of my work.

And I revise it without mercy.

How many times do I revise my work? I do not know. Perhaps once, perhaps two. Or even more.

If I feel that I have molded it the way I wanted it, then I stop.

How do I know that it has reached the end of it? When I feel that everything
that I hope to put in it is already there.

How do I revise my poem?

Is it wordy? If it is, I trim the adjectives that I believe should not be included in the poem. I prefer more action words. The shorter the sentence the better.

I check the spelling, the grammar, and the words and phrases. The whole sentence.

Is there unity? Is there logic in the arrangement of the stanzas?

Can I be understood? Are there words that are very difficult to understand? If there are, I change that to something that is easily understood.

Like Robert Frost, I prefer to use easy to understand words. Easy they seem to be, but they can evoke layers of meanings.

Let us take this poem:

Melchor F. Cichon

Inay, ham-at madueom ro gabii?
May buean, Toto, ugaling may galipud nga gae-um.
Inay, ham-at madueom ro gabii?
May bombilya ro mga poste't Akelco,
Ugaling may brown-out.
Inay, ham-at madueom ro gabii?
Ginsinindihan ko ro atong kingke,
Ugaling ginapinaeong it hangin.
Inay, ham-at madueom ro gabii?
Toto, matueog ka eon lang
Ay basi hin-aga temprano pa
Magsilak ro adlaw.
Indi, 'Nay ah!
Sindihan ko't uman ro atong kingke.

Here the words are very simple. But is it really easy? Does it evoke other meanings? Does it dig your senses, your feelings, your conscience?

If I find that the word I used is abstract, I try to change it with concrete words—or words that have pictures. Abstract words are words that confuse the reader.

Example, when we say, he is a well-known person, we do not know whether that person is liked or disliked. But if we say that person is famous, he or she is liked and well-known.

Concrete words describe things that people experience with their senses: red, cold, dog. A person can see red, feel cold, and hear the bark of a dog. This is related to image.

In using images in our poems, we use our five senses: smell (fragrance of a sampaguita), taste (the taste of heaven of durian), touch (soothing touch of mother), feelings (After you left me, a dull pin has been piercing my heart ), hearing (The sound of Jawili falls remind me of you).

Abstract words refer to concepts or feelings, like liberty, happy, love. A person cannot see, touch or taste any of these things. These abstracts words are common in greetings cards. That is the reason why poems in these cards do not reach the textbooks, particularly in anthologies. Many of the words used in greeting cards are clichés. Simply said, generally, texts in greeting cards have no poetic value.

Example: If I used flower, I change it to a specific flower like gumamila or sampaguita or rose. If I use tall, I change it to, say, flagpole so that the reader will have something to compare with it.

Look at these lines:

Good: She fells happy when she sees me.
Better: She jumps when she sees me.
Good: The palm of his hand is coarse.
Better: The palm of his hand is a cactus.

Here are some words that poets should avoid using when writing a poem.

Big, happy, tall, beautiful, great, little.

I also check whether I used a cliché. If I did, then that line should either be revised or be deleted outright. If I cannot create a fresh metaphor for that questionable line, I change the whole sentence.

Cliché is like a rose that has lost its fragrance and beauty.

A cliché is an over-used metaphor like: she is like a red, red rose. Here is a poem which is full of cliches:

Poor as a church mouse,
Strong as an ox,
Cute as a button,
Smart as a fox.

Thin as a toothpick,
White as a ghost,
Fit as a fiddle,
Dumb as a post.

Bold as an eagle,
Neat as a pin,
Proud as a peacock,
Ugly as sin.

When people are talking
You know what they’ll say
As soon as they start to use a cliche.

Here are some cliches that poet should avoid:

Being in the same boat
Building bridges
Clasping at straws
Cutting the Gordian knot
Earning brownie points
Getting a feather in their cup
Getting down to brass tracks
Missing by a whisker
Missing the bus
Muddying the water
Not having a crystal ball

I also check whether I used a passive voice. If I did, then I change the sentence into an active one.


Passive: My first visit to Miagao will always be remembered by me.
Active: I shall always remember my first visit to Miagao.

Many poets have been using poetic devices like assonance, metaphor, simile, irony, and other poetic devices. These devices really create great impression to the readers.

What is assonance?

Assonance is a repetition of vowel sounds within words like: "The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain."

Naghapay ro baeay ni Inday sa binit it baybay pag-agi ni Moray.

What is metaphor?
A metaphor is a statement that pretends one thing is really something else:

nipa hut--
my castle atop a hill
a witness to my tears
*****by Edna Laurente Faral

Your smile is my sleeping tablet.

What is a simile? It is a statement where you say one object is similar to another object. It uses "like" or "as"

"I knew; the light that lingered in ordinary things
like a spark sheltered under the skin of our days--
The light was you;
It did not come from."
*****From "Her amazement at her only child" by Karol Wojtyla

What is irony? Irony is the use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meanings. It is also a literary style employing such contrasts for humorous or rhetorical effects.

Here is a good example of irony.

Ni Alex de Juan

Kanila lang
Puno ng pawis ang tansan
na nagyakap sa bibig ng Coke.
Naghalakhak ang tansan
na gin-aywanan ang bibig ng Coke.
Nagtambad ang kalawang
sa ilalim ng bibig ng Coke.
Gin-inom ni Xela ang Coke.
Si Xela ay nagdighay
pagkatapos mag-inom ng Coke
dahil gusto ng tansan na maulit
ang tunog ng kanyang halaklak
sa paglaho
ng kalawang
sa ilalim ng bibig ng Coke.

Another thing which I check in my poem is the injection of moral lesson. This device has been used in many of the traditional poems. I was once a judge in Hiligaynon poetry contest, and I noticed this mistake in many of the entries. So avoid this, let us leave that giving of moral lesson to the preachers. Our business as a poet is to present what we see, hear, feel, smell, imagine, and dream of. And if possible, inject a little opinion and leave the rest to the readers.

Another technique in creating great poem is by subverting the ordinary:

Subverting is turning upside down. Here is a good example:

crossing a bamboo bridge—
a son holds
his father's arm
*****by Melchor F. Cichon

Using rhyme and rhythm is an effective way of conveying our feelings, but we must be very careful with them. For one, if we will stick to rhyme and rhythm, most of our ideas will be trimmed because we have to suit our words with them. This is the main reason why modern poets are now using free verse.

Using words thy, thyself, and other words common in the 16th century should be avoided, unless of course you want to be associated with William Shakespeare.
Great poems have conflicts, just like in a short story. There must be two opposing forces in the poem.

Let us take this poem:

Ang Matandang Ito
Rio Alma

Dahil mabigat ang liwanag.
Dahil pinakupas ng liwanag.
Dahil niluto ng liwanag.
Dahil tigib ang bibig ng liwanag.
Here is another one:

Sa Bangketa
Ni Rio Alma

Kalansing ng barya
Sa basyong lata.
Simula ba ito ng kasaysayan
Hinggil sa walang katapusang pag-asa?
O pangwakas na himala?
Another element of a great poem is its universality. The more universal the theme and topic of the poem, the more each individual reader can identify with the poem. You can express individual hurt (or joy), for example, but the reader must be able to see it as his or her hurt (or joy) as well."

Let us take these very short poems:

Old pond
A frog jumps in
A sound of water

By Melchor F. Cichon

I will definitely go home
To our house
Where we can see the clouds
Through the roof.
I'm fed up
With the twinkling neon lights,
But I have not yet paid
For the earrings that I got
From Mama San.
I need them so my tinkling
Will be louder and my hips
Will be heavier.
Don't worry, John,
This Christmas
You and I will create a moon
And through the roof
We two alone
Will grasp its light.

There are some more tips that I can offer.

Some writers are afraid to show their works to other people. That is Ok because they say they write for themselves.

But great poets think otherwise. They show their works to their fellow poets—for comments.

All great poets have written hundred or even thousand of bad poems—poems that use cliches, faulty grammar, etc. But out of these writings, come a great one. And that matters most. And that makes all the difference.

Here is one poem that is included in Sansiglong Mahigit ng Makabagong Tula sa Filipinas, edited by Virgilio S. Almario, 2006.

Owa’t Kaso, Saeamat
Ni Melchor F. Cichon

Owa ako kimo magpangabay
Nga tipigan mo rang maeapad nga handumanan.
Hasayran ko man eagi
Nga ring tagipusuon hay may husto eang nga lugar
Para sa imong mga pagbakho.

Owa ako kimo magpangabay
Nga taguon rang euha agud madumduman.
Hasayran ko man eagi
Nga gusto mo eang magsupsop—
Samtang may ona pa—it duga nga mapuga ko
Sa atong kaeayo.

Owa’t kaso, saeamat,
Paris it pagpasaeamat it eanas sa bulkan
Sa lava nga anang ginabuga.

All great poets have received rejections slips. I have my share.

Rejection slips have many reasons. Our works might not be suited to the editorial policy of the magazine or journals. It could also mean that our works still need revision.

But rejection slips should be appreciated—they are energy for us to cross bridges to write greater poems.

Do you know that two other publishers had turned down the first manuscript of Harry Potter. But now every publisher wants to be the publisher of this series.
There are times when you cannot produce a line for your poem. Do not worry. Ideas come like seasons: rainy season and dry season. And when rainy season comes, try as much as possible to capture in paper those bountiful ideas. And when the dry season comes, just relax. Walk around. Smell the flowers. See a movie. Listen to your favorite radio stations. Read a novel. Or just lie down. And in your relaxation, you will be surprised that you have a new line to work on.
The second to the last tip I can offer is this:

Give a surprise ending:

Here are examples from Aklanon luwa:

Sa ibabaw sang lamesa
May tiki nga nagadupa
Ginpudyot ni Lola
Abi niya ya maskada.


Sa tanan nga bata ni Nanay
Ako ang labing ma-isog
Kulas-kulas sa dapog
Una ako nanaog.


May manok akong bukay,
Ginbueang ko sa Ibajay;
Nagdaug pero patay.
Ginsumsuman ni Nanay.

The last tip is: Revise, revise and revise your work until you are satisfied.