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"Like everything metaphysical the harmony between thought and reality is to be found
in the grammar of the language." --Ludwig Wittgenstein
Autumn, suspended between the long hot days of summer and winter's chilling nap,
brings days and nights of balmy saudade that alternate with refreshing, biting briskness.
Casting about one of those delightful evenings for this newsletter's message and reflecting
on poetry submissions for some competitions I have had the honor to judge, it seemed
some of the basic points of writing poetry were worth reiterating.
The items presented below are the mental fallout of a box of KFC, a couple bottles of stout
and a magnificent sunset. I give them to you in no particular order and without detail.
Use them if and as you will.
- Grammar and vocabulary are two of the most basic tools of your craft.
Learn how to use them well, and they will help you write finely crafted work.
- Style guides are not only for prose: have them and use them. Poetry is the essence
of prose and as such should reflect prose at its best.
- Expand your vocabulary. There are a number of online sites that will send you daily
emails with words you may wish to add to your toolbox. Some may be better to your liking
than others, but do check them out.
- If you choose to write in form, watch your rhyme and meter. Not much is more distracting
to a reader than broken form.
- About.com has an excellent grammar section, and they will send you interesting periodic
emails on various subjects.
- Watch your tenses; don't shift between first, second and third persons.
- Know the meaning of the words you use. Even if you think you know their meaning,
look at alternate meanings and uses. This information can add multiple layers to your poetry.
- Everyone should have a kindly "grammar cop." A friend that will read your work and point
out areas for correction. Writers' groups are also good to offer suggestions about areas
that might be improved.
- To bend or break the rules, you have to first know the rules.
- To create an effect, "broken rules" can be used sparingly and have a great impact.
Be prepared to answer to nitpickers: "Yes, I know that is not correct. I did it with purpose for effect."
- Use words carefully. Check for double entendre. If used intentionally, it can be dynamite:
unintentionally, it is frequently embarrassing.
- Don't trust "spell check." It will not catch all your errors. It will only spell them correctly.
- Crosscheck your references on spelling, usage, pluralization, subject-verb agreement, etc.
Don't be afraid to look at several sources. As an example, look up whether to use flyer or flier.
- Be aware of the differences between "American English" and other English languages.
Rules, usage, and spelling may be different for Britain, Canada, Australia, and others.
- Review grammar basics, sentence structure, punctuation, fragments, phrases, adjectives,
adverbs, modifiers, and articles. Know what they can do and cannot do. I know this is third
grade stuff (at least it was a half-century ago) but I believe that you, as I do, will often
find things forgotten or missed.
- Use "spoken language" only for dialog. Too much of vocal intercourse is dependent on
intonations, gestures, and expressions. If dialog is used, be aware of these shortcomings.
- Beware of plagiarizing others, subconsciously or otherwise.
Too often as writers, we get complacent with our abilities and forget that what we wrote
in years past or even yesterday is not good enough. Writers, just as the practitioners of
any craft, need to be on a path of continual improvement and expansion of their skills.
This is both the challenge and the joy of being a good writer.
Read the best of what you wish to write and ever, keep writing.
"Quality is not an act, it is a habit."--Aristotle
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