Perfect Words (exploding poetry!)


I haven’t written a post about words for the sake of words in a while. I suppose I’m not really the kind of writer that plays with words for their own sake very often. Hence I’m a novelist, not a poet. I tell stories more than I create small exquisite works of art, painted in words. But I do love words…I adore language…And I have written poetry…

At a recent meeting of my writing group (Nottingham’s very own Sapphist Writers) we did a writing exercise which involved “exploding” a poem (and thanks to Nicki for suggesting this one to us…) The rules for this are as follows: Take an already written poem. Write a new poem, using only the words in your chosen poem, adding no extra words. You can repeat the words and you don’t have to use all of them.

The poem I worked with was Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43 (from ‘Sonnets from the Portugese’), also known as ‘How Do I Love Thee?’ I’ve always loved this sonnet, an incredibly strong and passionate poem, by a Victorian woman. I found working with the words a very moving and educational experience. It really forced me to look at the “building blocks” of the poem, the nature of the language, the way it hangs together. And creating my own poem with the same words taught me an important lesson about words too. The same words–with a bit of reshuffling–can convey an entirely different set of sentiments and ideas, a whole different tone. It really shows the writer’s craft for what it is. We all work with the same building blocks–words–but we all create different end products…

I lef the poem in my notebook for a while. It was just a writing exercise after all. But every time I see it, I love it. What I wrote actually has very great meaning to me. So I’m going to share it now.

First, here is Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s orginal:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

And here is my own poem, created with her words:

In my soul and my Being

My old passion I seemed to lose.

By candlelight I strive

To love thee.

My childhood’s faith lost.

With tears, purely

I turn from ideal Grace,

And God,

And choose

To love me

In the sun.

And my breath, my need

Reach the depth, and breadth, and height

Of my old passion.

Now, poetry experimentation over with, back to being a novelist and eagerly anticipating the release of Ghosts of Winter. It’s very soon!!

Oh, and in further news…I just signed the contract for my third novel. Watch this space for more details 😀


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