Rhythm and Rhyme

on November 12, 2012 in Misc

I got sidetracked this evening.  I was planning to write for y’all an Ode to 007 in honor of Skyfall’s release and the 50th anniversary of James Bond movies.  But I wasn’t sure about the rhyme scheme.  Should it be in limericks? Or like the Dr. Seuss-style poem I wrote here?  How about patterning it after a Beatle’s song that was playing in my head?

For an idea I pulled out an old anthology of poems that I hadn’t looked at in ages.  That’s when my concentration did a 180 and before you could stop me I was moving back and forth through the pages and reading lines I used to know by heart, and wistfully wishing I could put words down on paper with such power and force and raw beauty.

I don’t know about you, but when I was in high school and college I assumed that, besides writing novels, I would of course also write poetry.  Not flowery, sentimental crapola, but some good work with words that might outlast me.  That never happened, and no surprise.  If you don’t have the inborn talent for poetry, forgetaboutit.

The closest I got to this ambition is when I made my character Quentin in The Compass Master an elderly retired professor of English and Irish poetry.  He’s the one who quotes T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats and Theodore Roethke.  And Layla also quotes Yeats at one point:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

I’ve heard those lines quoted in many a dark movie or TV show.  The rest of the poem, “The Second Coming,” is equally grim, and boy, does it stick with you.

BTW, the opening line of Yeat’s “Sailing to Byzantium” gave Cormac McCarthy the title for his book which was in turn made into movie, “That is no country for old men.”  And Clint Eastwood reads Yeats to a paralyzed Hillary Swank in Million Dollar Baby.

You want haunting words about the destruction of war? I’ve always loved this stanza from Thomas Merton’s “The Bombarded City”:

And there no life is possible
Because a weeping childvoice, thin
Unbodied as the sky,
Rings like an echo in the empty window:
And thence its sound
Flies out to feel, with fingers sharp as scalpels,
The little bones inside the politician’s ear.

In great poems, the words are set down with a rhythm that’s so right their very movement captures your emotions.  One non-fiction writer who has that talent is Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air, Into the Wild).  I noticed the strong rhythm of his writing way back when, and just recently I came across an interview with him in which he talks about how he really works on the rhythm of his sentences.  It shows.

Tonight I also rediscovered the poem I read at my father’s burial service, Stephen Spender’s “I Think Continually of Those.”  It brought tears to my eyes.

But I should end this too-long post with something lighter.  Here’s an Ogden Nash ditty.

There’s something about a martini
A tingle remarkably pleasant
A yellow, a mellow martini
I wish that I had one at present.

There is something about a martini
Ere the dining and dancing begin
And to tell you the truth
It’s not the vermouth
I think that perhaps it’s the gin.

Has any poet or poem ever really moved you as a writer?  Inspired you?  Given you ideas for stories?

12 Responses to “Rhythm and Rhyme”

  1. I’m the last person you want writing a poem. The only rhythm I can master is with my guitar.
    Did you read that poem at your father’s service? I’d think that would be really difficult to get through.

  2. Helena says:

    Alex — It was difficult, and thanks. But hey, if you’ve got rhythm on your guitar then that’s great.

  3. If I were going to write a poem to 007, I would take a picture of Daniel Craig almost nude with that glorious gleaming chest of his, put it into photoshop, and then blank it out to make it all artistic so that you just saw the curvature of his many muscles.

    Once I established this “canvas” I would put my words on his chest and make sure they followed the silhouette exactly. So essentially, each line would define his glorious body.

    That would be my poem.

  4. Helena says:

    Michael – There’s a scene in Cowboys and Aliens when Craig is running, he’s fully clothed, and all I could think was Hot damn, that man has a perfect body!

    You’re such an artist, Michael, you could create a poem/picture combo that would really be striking. I sure couldn’t ’cause I’m kinda on the stick figure level when it comes to drawing.

  5. Ciara Knight says:

    I’m not sure how you got through the poem at your dad’s service. That would be so tough. I wrote poetry in high school, but I just can’t seem to do it now.

  6. Helena says:

    Ciara – Maybe it was a typical high school girl phase I went through, since so many of us seemed to be scribbling down rhymes.

  7. I’ve never been much of a poet. A little free verse, or bad limericks and worse haiku. Poets receive a lot of admiration from me, though.

  8. Helena says:

    Carol – I love bad limericks.

  9. Oh,you love bad limericks? Have you hard of the Man from Nantucket?

  10. Helena says:

    Michael — I’ve heard of the Nantucket man in several versions. I like just about all of them, except for the ones that are really gross.

  11. Old Kitty says:

    Now I want a martini! Shaken not stirred!!! Unfortunately Skyfall did a big deal thingy with Heineken beer so Bond didn’t mention his favourite tipple throughout the film! Boooooo!!

    Anyway, I’m getting all sidetracked!! I always liked that scene in Hannah and Her Sisters – when Barbara Hershey quotes ee cummings!

    Take care

  12. Helena says:

    Old Kitty – I know just the scene in Hannah that you’re talking about. I tried looking up cummings’ poem bit never found it.

    I heard that the Bond producers made a deal with Heineken so that the beer company would promote Skyfall. Guess it really paid off!