by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
|Click to Enlarge Image|
Sometimes I find my way into a poem through the window of meter. I adore playing with meter, but when I find myself relying too heavily on the same syllable counts again and again, I turn to songs.
If you wish to write with meter but do not know where to begin, choose a song, any song: "Twinkle Twinkle" or "Happy Birthday" or "Three Blind Mice." Or don’t choose a song but instead, choose a poem with a meter you like and want to try. Write it out. Then, count out the syllables and mark the stresses.
Next or first, select a topic, maybe something new or perhaps something you have already written about but wish to try in a new form. Now, on a fresh page of your notebook, write the syllable counts down the left column of your page. Experiment with writing within this syllable and stress constraint. You may choose to vary a bit, or you may not, but either way, you will have tried something new. And to test if the meter works, sing your words to the tune of the song. Listen carefully and revise based what you hear.
In April 2015, I wrote from a different song meter each day. One of these poems ended up in my book With My Hands (Clarion, 2018). I always tell students that books have secrets, and one secret of With My Hands is that "Painting" (found in the image above) can be sung to the tune of "I’ve Been Working on the Railroad!"
Part of the work of a writer is stretching oneself. Experimenting with meter and song is one way to do this.
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is author of books including FOREST HAS A SONG, EVERY DAY BIRDS, READ! READ! READ!, DREAMING OF YOU, WITH MY HANDS, and POEMS ARE TEACHERS. Amy lives in Holland, NY, blogs for young writers at The Poem Farm and Sharing Our Notebooks, posts on Twitter @amylvpoemfarm, and visits classrooms all around.