Anatomy of a Poem

There are two types of writers, planners and pantsers. I’m a pantser normally, writing semi-stream of consciousness seat-of-the-pants stuff that’s spews onto the page. Even within this space there is a form of planning and editing that occurs as I play with words inside my head as I’m putting pen to paper.

 

On other, rarer, occasions I’m a planner. In these instances I will brainstorm, research, draft, redraft, share and rewrite. These poems are painful, rarely recreating the quality I’d imagined. I am critical, cynical. A humble, pessimist at heart, I rarely place much value on what I write… which is why being a pantser suits me; I can claim any perceived lack of quality is a symptom of the lack of effort.

 

The poem below is the product of planning AND its recently been published – so it can’t be terrible.

 

Themis and her fortune

 

Themis and her daughter

splash and swim

in the crisp, clear water at Bondi

while the white sand

blows over their scales,

partially burying them.

Australia, the lucky country:

provided your particulars

reflect party policy.

Uncle Sam

might have declared

that all men are created equal

but the Little Boy from Manly

has borrowed Fortuna’s blindfold,

not in an effort to remain impartial

but to blind himself

from our misdeeds.

Our boundless plains

are ours alone –

turn back the boats,

incarcerate the indigenous –

while a UN investigation

reveals how un-Australian

we really are.

 

So, the poem was created to submit to a themed anthology on social justice. I like when opportunities like this arise because they promote creativity. Don’t win the competition/don’t get published; it doesn’t matter, you still come out of it with a new poem and that’s more than you had before (or, at least, that’s how I’ve been told to see it in the past).

 

Anyway… here’s a few bits and pieces that went into the creation of this piece.

 

Allusions

For those not familiar with the term, an allusion is a reference to a person/place/thing – it’s not when you pull a rabbit out of your hat, that’s an illusion. If you get the two mixed up, Run DMC would tell you ‘you be illin’ (that’s an allusion and a deplorable attempt at humour).

 

Many of the allusions stemmed from my research into social justice and weren’t part of my existing knowledge.

 

Themis – a Titan from Greek mythology. She is the personification of divine order, law and custom. Her daughter is Natura (nature).

Uncle Sam – the personification of America, Uncle Sam share his initials with the country he represents (U.S. – United States).

Little Boy from Manly – the national personification of New South Wales and later Australia, the Little Boy represents Australia as a young country.

Fortuna – was the goddess of fortune and personification of luck in Roman mythology. She is often represented as veiled and blind (Fortuna and Themis are often linked to the Roman goddess, Justitia, who is more widely known in modern circles as Lady Justice and is depicted in statue form holding a sword in one hand and scales in another).

 

Aside from these characters, there are also the following allusions:

The ‘lucky country’ – The Lucky Country is a 1964 book by Donald Horne. The title has become a nickname for Australia.

“all men are created equal” – is from the United States Declaration of Independence.

“Our boundless plains” – is from the Australian national anthem.

There’s also historical references to Australian policy and events.

 

Alliteration

This is the repetition of consonant sounds at the start of words close together; think tongue twisters, these rely on heavy alliteration.

 

In my poem, the opening sentence uses alliteration to enhance the aesthetic beauty of the setting. This is juxtaposed with the repeated ‘p’ sound of the following sentence which would come across as unappealing if someone read it aloud, making a sort of spitting sound.

 

There are other examples of alliteration in the piece, most of which are just designed to highlight the aural qualities of those lines and encourage the reader to focus more on them.

 

Other

The only other ‘technique’ worth mentioning is the quasi-repetition of ‘un’ as the poem ends. Whereas the alliteration enhanced the aural aspects of the poem, this was a deliberate decision to link themes visually.

 

The first use of ‘un’ was in reference to the United Nations and their unfortunate investigation into Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. The second usage was as a prefix as part of a despised cultural label. By connecting them visually, I was trying to highlight their literal connection – that Australia’s historical treatment of its indigenous population and those who seek asylum on our shores contrasts with the ideals referenced in our national anthem and the notion of ‘a fair go for all’.

 

Anyway, there’s some of the thought processes behind the piece. If you’d like to read the poems published alongside it, check out First Refuge by Ginninderra Press.

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