Thursday, February 22, 2007

Fife? Rife? Strife?

I did some revision on a sonnet earlier this morning, one I wrote a few months ago called My Friend, Marie. It was one of these poems that was almost working – but not quite – and being on the brink is never sufficient.

Part of the problem was its Petrarchan structure and a stupid –ife rhyme I’d chosen in the octet. Do you know how many –ife words rhyme perfectly? Not many. I’d used wife, knife and life. So I had fife, strife, rife, and not much else to play with, to finish off the octet. The line I’d drafted was the poem’s main weakness – far too bland and obvious.

This morning I found something much better, but I'm now reflecting on whether I’ve achieved the desired meshing of form and content, or if the form has scored a point against the content. I don’t want to post it here, as I may be about to send it to a magazine, but it strikes me (not for the first time) that a single word or phrase is enough to kill off an otherwise strong poem.


Colin Will said...

I agree with you Rob. As editor of Poetry Scotland's 'Open Mouse' I get lots of submissions, and I couldn't begin to count the number I don't accept because of a single word or line that jars. Most often it's because it's a 'forced' line, trying to be clever or funny. It seems to me to boil down to whether the line respects the truth of the rest of the poem. If it doesn't, it shows.

Rob said...

I got a letter from an editor recently rejecting a couple of my poems and explaining why. I later fixed the first poem's problem by inserting a single word, and the second poem's problem by changing one line.

But that's the difference between acceptance and rejection. It was a high quality magazine and I am trying to learn the lesson.