Last night, poet and author Chris Lynch was our Writing Race’s special guest.

 

Chris shared many fascinating insights into poetry, which we’d like to pass on to you:

‘Later in the year I’m performing at the Queensland Poetry Festival. For anyone in Brisbane in late August, I’d encourage you to come along–not because I’ll be there, but because it’s the most laid-back, down-to-earth festival of words you’ll find–not a beret in sight! A really enjoyable weekend.

‘I got into poetry while living in Japan and writing a haiku a day, and I’m a great advocate of the habit for all writers, even those who don’t write poetry. Aside from working with words on a small scale and gaining a feeling of completion, it gets you in the habit of noticing moments in daily life, and I’ve found it really feeds my other writing, even when the haiku isn’t particularly great.

‘Poetry in fiction is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. There’s a Japanese literary form called haibun that involves a paragraph of prose followed by a haiku. The key to effective haibun is that the haiku needs to stand on its own, but also add something to the prose, and not simply be a restatement of it. I think that’s a good rule of thumb for all poetry in fiction–it needs to introduce a new element, and often the more elliptical the better, to take advantage of what poetry provides. Dreams are often used in fiction to bring out the theme, and I think poetry can serve the same purpose, if used well. It often isn’t.

‘As for the poet’s eye, I think in many ways it’s similar to the writer’s eye–simply noticing what usually goes unnoticed. But poetry heightens the awareness in some way, makes the ordinary strange. It’s similar to speculative fiction in that sense, and is probably what attracts me to both.

‘Rhyming has a lot to answer for. Very few contemporary English poets make use of it–though like any technique it has its place–so it’s strange that we all grow up with the sense that poetry is rhyme and sonnets. That idea put me off poetry for many years. In some languages, there’s no tradition of rhyme in poetry at all.

‘As I said, I’m a big fan of haiku. It forces you to focus on the nuances of words, and pick out a single image from what could be a very mundane day. It doesn’t need to follow the 5-7-5 rule–that really only works in Japanese–so most English poets go for short-long-short, in 17 syllables or less. Something with two apparently opposing images, that can be said in a single breath.

‘One I wrote recently:

two eyes
and a veil twitch–
she’s smiling

‘Based on nodding to a woman on the street.

‘Haiku are good for images, but less so for cadence. There’s something mesmerising about reading poems or prose with good cadence out aloud. Whenever a sentence isn’t working, I usually read it aloud, and watch for where I pause or get tangled up.

‘I think it’s important to take a break and put a piece of writing down for a week or two, or a month or two, then come back to it with fresh eyes. Cultivating a group of fellow writers, rather than family or friends, is also a good idea.’

To read Chris’s blog, visit www.chrislynch.com.au

 

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