Poetry could be described as subtlety's favorite medium. While literal and figurative meaning is taken from the words, poems also convey through line breaks, line lengths, diction, syntax, rhyme and meter. During the Alabama Writers' Conclave …
Poetry could be described as subtlety's favorite medium. While literal and figurative meaning is taken from the words, poems also convey through line breaks, line lengths, diction, syntax, rhyme and meter. During the Alabama Writers' Conclave conference held in Fairhope in mid-July, Beth Ann Fennelly held a workshop entitled The Balancing Act, where attendees studied the balanced or imbalanced nature of poems in regard to furthering the plot or the speaker's motive.
Fennelly's bubbly nature and energetic presentation captivated the audience as she demonstrated the balance in poems like Alexander Pope's “Rape of the Lock” and W.B. Yeats' “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.”
Pope's poem offers a balanced example, using cezura (two beats, comma, two beats) to regulate the poem.
Fennelly explained, “It's balanced in length, rhyme and meter; it has comparisons with the same syntax and pauses even though it's comparing two very different things.”
Yeats offers the certainty and confidence of a soldier with ABBA rhyme scheme and four stresses per line.
“It's a line you could march to,” Fennelly demonstrated, her feet hitting the floor at the stresses as she read.
Walt Whitman's “Song of Myself,” showed both balance and imbalance as it repeated words and ideas, yet offered varied line lengths and lack of rhyme.
Just as in all of us, in the human spirit, there is good and bad, varying moods, situation-dependent reactions and subjective perceptions.
In contrast, she pointed out the unbalanced nature of poems like Whitman's “Noiseless, Patient Spider”and Louise Gluck's “The Racer's Wife.”
Whitman uses free verse to express the isolation of the spider and the speaker. The lack of balance shows a lack of connection to the surrounding world.
Similarly, Gluck's free verse and enjambment (sentence continues on the next line with no pause) show the distress of the widow who watched her husband die in a car wreck.
“There are times where you can create balance or imbalance and it helps you get what you want from them (poems) or helps them (poets) get what they want … ” Fennelly revealed.
She challenged workshop students to write their own poem using balance or imbalance to further demonstrate the speaker's state or the meaning of the poem, employing the skills of the kenetic line.
She is currently co-authoring a book with her husband, Tom Franklin, whose workshop will be featured in the Aug. 6 Arts & Entertainment section.
For more information on Fennelly, visit mfaenglish.olemiss.edu/2012/01/06/beth-ann-fennelly-2/; for more information on the Alabama Writers' Conclave, visit alabamawritersconclave.org.