Friday, February 27, 2009

Rhyme Jockey update

Nb: those loveable loonies who have been following Brit's poetic 'career' may find the following post of some interest. Everyone else may prefer to skip down to the ones below.

To see if there was any mileage in them, I recently sent a cross-section of my whitey doggerel off to the Poetry Society’s Prescription service. This is where you pay some squids for a professional poet to rip you apart/proffer constructive criticism.

I got the results back yesterday and they were… interesting. I mulled the comments over last evening with Mrs Brit as we sat in a curious restaurant called Giraffe. (We are working our way through a host of upmarket chain eateries in the new Cabot Circus complex. You can get loads of 2 for 1 vouchers for schoolnights and also everyone tells us we should make the most of these precious last few pre-sprog months. (So far Café Rouge is the clear winner, but that might be because I had steak frites, which really can’t lose. Steak and chips is surely one of the great achievements of human civilisation. I had an enchilada thing in Giraffe (the menu of which is a very odd ethnic mix, sort of Tex-Mex-Carib-Afric-Vietnamese, well, that’s 21st Century England for you) and it was nicely done but as soon as a chap nearby had his steak and chips brought out I coveted it, and wondered, not for the first time, why I don’t just order steak and chips whenever possible.))

But I multiply digress.

I really didn’t know what to expect from the Poetry Prescription, but what I got back was, frankly, brilliant. Which is to say: thorough, honest, brutal, wise, occasionally as painful as a sharp kick in the knackers.

I deliberately sent a cross-section, and as I dimly suspected, my poems can be divided into three categories.

The full-on whitey doggerel such as Gymnasium and Ghosts of Christmas is, essentially, humorous light verse and has less chance of finding publication than an 800-page debut novel all about athlete's foot. My poet identified these as ‘fine performance pieces’ but otherwise kicked them to death. Well, I knew they weren't exactly W H Auden, but I wanted to know what they were, and now I know. They're performance pieces. The critic did suggest changes, principally: less rhymes, break up into stanzas, cut by 50%, less jokes, less, less, less. In other words, make them like the kind of poem that gets published and they might get published. To do this would, I feel, be a category error, destroying their essence. Their torrential, exhaustive rhyming nature is their raison d'etre. If that's unpublishable, I'm quite content.

More happily, a second, small and more serious category is, apparently, ready for mainstream publication now if judiciously placed.

The third category contains works which, with a bit of rather painful hacking, could make it into the second category.

In summary, if you dabble in poetry yourself you could do a lot worse than send them off for a similar critique. The advice is wise and, in some cases, brilliant. But it sets the bar absurdly high, eg. comparing my rhyming patterns unfavourably with works by the mighty Geoffrey Hill, amongst others. Well, duh.

There were some very tough comments, and some of the praise was mildly depressing because it essentially translates as: you are a rhyme jockey, the world’s least fashionable kind of artiste (“using less obvious forms might work to your advantage as you obviously have a talent for rhyming”; “Because of your facility [for rhyme and composition] it might be useful to look at the set forms. Whilst they are not popular [sic!], poets like Dale with his sonnets….”)

But I am somewhat heartened to say that the overall message was that there is some mileage in some of them, I have a clear way forward for new material (rhyme jockey stuff goes on the internet, sensible stuff does not), and the upshot is that I’ve accordingly taken down some of the Likely Candidates from the Think of England poetry site, leaving that as a pure and unsullied sanctuary for the unpublishable whitey doggerel you’ve come to know and love.

Thanks for listening.


monix said...

Exposing your poetry to critical analysis by a professional poet was a courageous thing to do - rather like entering your baby into one of those bonny baby contests. It sounds as if you had some good advice but I don't think you should accept without question the judgement of one who uses less when he means fewer.
(An unbiased fan)

Brit said...

Thanks, but trust me, this critic knew exactly what he/she was talking about.

(Also, the fewer/less issue is mine. (Also I don't think it should be an issue these days, 'less' is fine - common usage, you know. Like split infinitives, up with which you ought not to put.))

monix said...

Please don't discuss the less/fewer issue in the presence of your father - it is his number one rant-provoker at the moment.

Brit said...

'Courageous' didn't occur to me, btw. After all, what am I to he and what is he to me? It was pure curiosity.

Anonymous said...

It's a strange experience, getting clear criticism. Most of mine has been by idiots, e.g. "I don't like your main character, this book is stupid, you are stupid" - this by other would-be authors who will probably be published by now, on

But the good criticism i've had has been sobering & valuable, for my novel most of all. The only criticism that doesn't interest me is for my short stories, because i know they are good and i also know no one else will like them for a while.