Okay, so first off, apologies for the lack of blogging on Tuesday… I didn’t have access to the internet.
Now that that’s over with, it’s time for the cool part of the post.
About a month ago, I was surfing through one of my local libraries (Yes, I am on intimate terms with four different libraries. It’s a bookie thing.), and I noticed a book with a magnificently punny title: The Ode Less Travelled. And then I noticed something else. It was written by the magnificent Stephen Fry. If you don’t know who that is, we can’t be friends. The first line in the book was “I have a dark and dreadful secret. I write poetry.”
Needless to say, the book came home with me. Turns out, Stephen Fry not only writes poetry, he’s also darn good at teaching other people how to write it. Now here’s the thing: I am not a poet. I suffered through various required poetry writing exercises in school, and promptly burned all of my efforts. (My brother, on the other hand, is actually a fantastic poet. I’ve always been slightly jealous.) I admire people who can cram so much meaning into the relatively small space a poem allows, but I had driven a stake. Poetry wasn’t for me. In spite of that, I figured it wouldn’t hurt just to read the book for fun. I’m a fan of Stephen Fry, and a fan of poetry, so why not?
The book came with an End User License Agreement. I had to agree to three terms and conditions before I could proceed:
- Take your time. (Okay, not a problem.)
- Don’t be afraid. (Well, I’m just reading it for fun, so also not a problem.)
- Always have a notebook with you.
Um, no. I’m just reading the danged thing, I’m not interested in actually, you know, WRITING anything!
But… sigh. Okay, fine. I agree to the terms and conditions. I’ll keep a stupid notebook with me and do the exercises. But don’t say I didn’t warn you, Stephen.*
And then I began the first chapter. The book was a delight to read. It was less like a poetry manual and more like a drive through the countryside with a friend, interspersed with shamelessly inappropriate hilarity. I began to lose my rebellious inner pout.
Sixteen pages in, and he told me to get out my notebook and write twenty lines of iambic pentameter.
Twenty. Cue the blurred vision, ringing ears, and accelerated heart rate.
But wait. The second condition was not to be afraid. Okay then. Just do it.
And you know what? I did it. And it was fun. And it wasn’t even that hard.
Cue the roar of the crowd, the rain of confetti, and other assorted symbols of glory.
From that point on, I was unstoppable. The book progresses from Meter, through Rhyme, and into Form, with a total of twenty exercises distributed throughout. I completed all of them, and I can now boast that I have, among other things, an execrable Villanelle, Sestina, Ballad, Rondeau Redouble, and Shakespearean Sonnet to my name. (Perhaps next week I will share some of my excrement with you. Ahem! Poetry that is. Only if I’m feeling brave, so don’t count on it.)
After completing the book, I still cannot call myself a poet, but I have much more confidence in my ability to use words as the tools that they are, as well as simply greater confidence in myself as a person.
If I can write a Sestina, I can do anything.
*In case you were wondering, yes, I did have silent dialogues with Stephen Fry while I was reading the book, and yes, I called him Stephen. Terribly disrespectful of me, but I couldn’t help it. I frequently told him he was an unfair tyrant, and that what he was asking me to do was JUST NOT POSSIBLE. And then I would suffocate myself trying not to laugh out loud at one o’clock in the morning and ask him if he was literally TRYING to kill me.