Friday, January 4, 2008

Haunted by Rhyme

Have you ever had a line worm its way into your brain, and refuse to leave? It sets up residence, like a sing-song piece of hell lodged between your ears just begging to be birthed onto paper. "Type me and I'll leave you alone," it pleads, even though you know you'd be tempted to write something around it to lock it down, to give it somewhere to belong. "I know I'm no good - write me and get me out of your head," it beckons, enticing you with the promise of sweet abandonment once you've labored it into actual physical being.

This is my topic today, because I have a hell of a singsong line in my head. Right now. It's been following me around since Saturday, though I've done everything in my power to avoid it. I could type it into my hugely unwieldy poetry document in Word, and let it languish with my other fragments. But it irks me. It irks me because it rhymes. I am haunted by the small book of poetry I wrote when I was young, and have been forever scarred by my juvenile ABCB-DEFE-GHIH rhyming. I know very few poets who can pull off rhyme well. Most of them are dead, and nearly all did it well only within a formal structure like the sonnet (which which I have an ongoing love/hate relationship).

So, what's the problem? you might ask. Well, the problem is I like the sentiment behind this annoying snippet. Here, let me share:

forging something out of nothing when there's nothing to be had

as much the realm of poets as it is that of the mad.

*Sigh* I love it a little bit. It's even got a good beat to it. I bet Dido could pick it up and toss it whole-made into one of her melancholy songs on what would have been a B-side, if CDs or mp3s had 'sides.' A better poet than I would simply write it into something beautiful and haunting, an ars poetica for the ages. And all I can do is stare at it, and listen to it running in circles in my head, and wish it didn't rhyme. Rhyme undoes me, and leaves me on shaky, newborn foal-legs, afraid to stumble around and land on my ass. I will admit that I am poor at prosidy. I've never counted feet, I know what the definition of iambic pentameter is but likely wouldn't be able to identify it. And while I realize that rhyming well is a matter of skill and practice, and that I will simply have to work with it, I find myself recalcitrant. (Note: recalcitrant, adj. - Marked by stubborn resistance to and defiance of authority or guidance.)

Why? Because I have been inculcated up to this point that rhyme is predictable and hokey. Rhyme is a child's game, and not worthy of a poet(ess) who actually wants to write something good that will eventually be published, according to some. Mostly, I know that I personally find it hard to create surprising, refreshing, and meaningful rhyme, and the thought of it wearies me (am feeling a tad lazy and grumpy today).

Perhaps it's also a little bit because of the sentiment. Forging something out of nothing, indeed! Likening a poet's need to create to madness! Not at all an original sentiment of course, others have said it, and just as well or better (and within entirely finished poems instead of fragments, natch). Byron, Shelley, Poe, Dickinson, Plath...if I do go mad, at least I will be in good company, though likely less remembered. I rarely ask myself "What's the point in writing?" The point is obvious, to me. I write to improve myself and my way of communicating and my dexterity with language. I write in the hopes that someone, somewhere, will read something of mine and find a piece of themselves they hadn't been able to articulate in quite that way. I write to capture and cage my demons, as it were, to a page, where I can lay them out and conduct autopsies on my fears and passions. I could list infinite reasons, and so I am unable to simply dismiss my desire to write as 'worthless.' So why does it upset me so?! Mostly because I want others to see it as a fruitful endeavor as much as I do, and not think me loony for spending hours cramped over a legal pad or laptop; I want someone to nod wisely and attach some worth to what I do. There. I said it. I want to be valued as a writer. I want to be vindicated of this obsession!

That is unfair, of course. I have some wonderful writerly friends who not only pore over my work and offer critique, which is a depth of commitment from a friend few can claim, I also have a great mentor within my writing program, the opportunity to workshop with talented writers, and some editors have been kind enough to pick up some of my children and present them to the world - or at least, those who cared to see them. I am just occasionally overwhelmed and want to whine that it shouldn't be this difficult, why can't things just fly, golden-right and perfect, straight from my pen/keyboard/mouth? I am overwhelmed by the angles I could take on this! I could write something funny about we crazy-ass drunken poets, or I could craft some type of mournful elegy around it, and make it a dirge that self-sacrificing poets could quote to prove their outsider status. Whining, I know. And the process is what improves us as writers, after all; our work matters little if we haven't found ways to improve upon it.

Is it possible to be overwhelmed with responsibility? The responsibility that you know something could be crafted into something gorgeous and sleek, but you also know that your clumsy hands will most likely crack it, or bludgeon it into something not nearly resembling the sublime thing you had envisioned? I'll admit, this is the sort of thought that keeps those blank canvases staring at me in my kitchen, with the lids tight on my paint, and my sketchbook closed on the clumsy drawings that hold the miscarriages of what I can see so clearly in my head, but can't get onto paper. This sort of thing rarely rears its head in my writing, though. I believe in the power of revision, after all, and a mighty fix is just a keystroke or a cross-out away, isn't it?

Isn't it? Or does making a faulty stroke in the beginning leave that marring to bleed up to the surface, eventually? I believe that people do not change, but I always thought I knew that ideas were fungible and flexible, and if we are writing our own, we have all the space we need to make the sort of fundamental changes we can't effect in the physical world.

Perhaps I am mad. Of course, the admission is the first step to the nut-house, so I'll have to keep it between myself and the internet. I could always hold it as proof of my poet-hood, I suppose.

What a rambly post this has been! All of this from a snippet of a rhyme that was birthed full-formed in my head on a walk with the dog. I haven't yet decided whether I'll hide these lines in the body of a poem somewhere or actually tackle it within a form. Feel free to use it as your own prompt, as you please, and let me know how you like your product.


Drew said...

It is a beautiful rhyme, though. I should hope it goes somewhere. Reading your post, though, I know what you feel. Often times I find myself with a snippit of an idea, and no logical way to present it so that it works outside of my headspace. And so, at any given time, I have three or four notebooks full of crap that should, someday go somewhere. Usually, though, anything that makes the notebook, stays there--I don't often resurrect. But I've found that if I stick to my snippit, play around with it, work at it, it will eventually grow into a concrete something. I hope you make yours into a something, and not a forgotten bit on the page...

The Peripatetic Poetess said...

Drew -
It's funny' I'm actually in the process of moving my 'snippets' out from the massive Word document that holds all of my pieces and to somewhere more accessible. Happily, I do tend to 'resurrect,' as you put it, though it can take awhile.

And you're right - it usually is just a matter of buckling down and working on it. (I am working on shedding that expectation of sudden inspiration in favor of regular old sweat.) I finished Richard Hugo's "The Triggering Town" last night, and it was a fantastic little book on craft, and how it really is just a matter of work. (I'll be blogging on the book shortly. Very incredible, all writers should have it.)