Magazine August/September

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David Campbell
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Magazine August/September

Post by David Campbell » Sat Aug 05, 2017 11:41 am

Hi All

As I’ve invited those who disagreed with my magazine articles about standards in written competitions to post them here on the forum so they can be discussed, I’ll kick things off with a response to some of the relevant comments made in the August/September issue.

To begin with, thank you to Neil for publishing the articles, and I particularly appreciate the supportive comments he made in his editorial. It’s an important subject which needs public discussion, and it’s been an opportunity to (among other things) draw attention to what Brenda Joy and Ellis Campbell have written about the importance of correct metre, and the award-winning poems by Shelley Hansen and Will Moody which exemplify that. (My “A Man Alone” has also just been posted in the poetry section.)

To begin with Freda Harvey’s letter, I understand exactly what Freda is saying and I’m sure there are many others who share her frustration. Just as there are poets who don’t measure up on the performance stage because it’s simply not their “thing”, there are those who have difficulty coping with the ABPA requirements for written competitions. (And it’s worth remembering that the vast majority of the population can’t do either!) We have to play to our strengths and, as Ellis says “…metre comes naturally to some poets, most have to work hard at it and some seem to find it impossible to grasp.” It’s obviously easier for those in the first category, however there are plenty of poets who have struggled at first, but learnt with practice and guidance how to rise to the occasion. It’s something that needs to be worked at, and success rarely comes quickly. The brutal reality in written competitions is that a judge usually has to make decisions between several poems that have strong stories, so it may be a stumble in metre, rhyme, or grammar that makes the difference. If performing is Freda’s strength, as Neil says it is with him, then concentrating on that may be the most logical and satisfying way to go. It’s up to her. I’ve pointed out before that I’m never going to be any great shakes as a dancer, and that’s just the way it is despite what I might hope for. Needless to say, I don’t enter dance competitions!

Then there’s “The Mongrel Bard” by “Bandy Bill”, which is hardly worth a comment. It seems to be about performance rather than written competitions, and the fact that it’s hidden behind a pseudonym says a lot.

Which brings me to Tony Hammill’s “Bush Poetry for Dummies”. It puzzles me that something with this title and the suggestion that what I’d written must be “pretty daunting” to an emerging poet then goes on to hit the reader with a mish-mash of technical jargon that would make even an experienced poet’s eyes glaze over. Nevertheless, let’s analyse what was said.

To begin with, nobody is suggesting that all a judge does to check metre is count syllables. That’s absurd. Counting syllables is simply one indicator that something might be wrong. Of course it’s important to identify the pattern(s) of strong and weak stresses, and I thought I’d made that abundantly clear by example in the June/July issue with the nonsense stanza about seagulls (with the specific instruction “focus on where the stresses fall”) and the “Metric Madness” poem. Both were aimed at showing where the stresses are, what masculine and feminine line-endings are, and how it appears when metres are mixed up at random. But perhaps Tony overlooked that. Still, it’s pleasing to see that he agrees on the importance of metre: “The metre is the vehicle that carries your wonderful story and it must not be a jalopy! Both are important. And you must choose words whose natural rhythm fit the rhythm of your metre.” Precisely. And later on he emphasises the importance of “full rhyme and not assonance or part-rhyme”…again exactly what I’ve been saying.

In between, however, he unnecessarily complicates matters by getting tied up with tetrameter, pentameter, and heptameter. Surely the “emerging poet” doesn’t need to be saddled with this terminology on top of references to the iambus and the anapest? They’re not exactly terms regularly used on this site for, if we’re talking about line-length, it’s usually in terms of syllables…the common 14-syllable line, for example, rather than “iambic heptameter”. I’m not going to get into a detailed iambus-anapest-heptameter-pentameter analysis of TMFSR here. Suffice to say that I tried to apply Tony’s theory about Paterson’s use of the anapest and iambus to lines other than the very few he quoted and it nearly did my head in. Anyway, all in all I’m rather confused by this article, which purports to “…demolish some common myths about poetry construction and, at the risk of being tedious to some review the basics.” But it does so by agreeing with the essential thrust of my articles while suggesting it’s doing something different, adding an extra layer of complexity, and making a statement such as: “Poetry is not about rigid uniformity; it is about a few basic rules which set the stage for VARIETY.”

That’s very misleading. At no stage did I advocate “rigid uniformity”. Here’s what I wrote in the first article in the April/May issue: “For me, ‘clear mastery of metre’ means that the poet has to be demonstrably in complete control of the metric structure of a poem. There can certainly be variations within a poem, but they need to follow an identifiable pattern. So ‘clear mastery’ does NOT mean a haphazard mix of different metres, nor does it mean random combinations of masculine and feminine line-endings. If I see a poem with quite erratic metre in a written competition I wonder why the writer didn’t take a bit more time to get it ‘right’. Is it carelessness, a case of not considering it important, or a lack of understanding?” That, in a nutshell, highlights the problem a judge faces…determining whether a poet is “in complete control of the metric structure of a poem”. And at this point it is worth noting that the ABPA score sheet does anything but advocate “rigid uniformity”. It allows for more than one metrical pattern in a poem, and specifically encourages “unusual or inventive” structures. To help Tony refresh his memory, here is what the score sheet actually says regarding metre:

Poets should demonstrate, whatever the pattern (or patterns) used, a clear mastery of metre, avoiding inversions and laboured changes from the speech patterns relevant to the poem. Special recognition should be considered for any metrical pattern that is particularly effective because it is unusual or inventive.

Plenty of scope for “VARIETY” there!

Cheers
David

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Shelley
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Re: Magazine August/September

Post by Shelley » Fri Aug 11, 2017 2:44 pm

Hi All

I would like to express my support for and appreciation of David's two ABPA magazine articles on the need to maintain high standards in written competitions. I especially appreciate his assessment of one of my poems as a good example of correct rhyme and metre.

It's certainly true that every ABPA member contributes in his or her own way to our craft. Not all are writers, but every member plays a valuable part - for even those who are members simply for the pleasure of reading bush poetry are making their own contribution to its longevity.

It's worth noting what some detractors seem to have overlooked - that David's articles concerned competitive written bush poetry only, and were never aimed at performance poetry, or non-competitive written poetry. However some of us (myself included) choose to take up the challenge of written competitions, and it was for us and for those who judge us that David took up his pen.

Judging written bush poetry competitions will always be subjective. However, the diligent application of established and documented bush poetry guidelines must be followed to ensure that competition entrants have a reliable measure for self-improvement. To relax the rules makes this impossible. Many styles and forms of poetry (e.g. sonnets, limericks, villanelles etc) have set criteria. Australian bush poetry is no different. The criteria defines the genre. Changing it means the poem no longer belongs to that genre.

Also, if we allow relaxation of one aspect of the criteria, then we must allow relaxation of all. So, suppose a judge is faced with two poems. The first is definitively Australian, and it has a fantastic story, but its rhyme and metre is dodgy. Does the judge relax the rules on rhyme and metre? The second poem is absolutely perfect in its rhyme and metre, and again has a great story, but it is about life in Russia. No one would suggest that this second poem fits the definition of Australian bush poetry, and of course it would not be considered as a prize-winner. Yet it has failed only one of the criteria. The first poem has failed two. Surely the point is clear - neither poem deserves to win. Simply put ... neither meets the required criteria for Aussie bush poetry.

I absolutely agree with David that within the constraints of our poetic form, there is ample space for variety, individuality and fabulous stories. In fact I believe that a great story is only enhanced by the application of correct rhyme and metre, whereas poor rhyme and metre can actually lessen the story's impact. I personally enjoy the challenge of harnessing my sometimes "random" thoughts into a structured and controlled format. It gives me immense creative satisfaction - whether or not I win prizes.

As David vividly pointed out with his "extreme" examples, if you start relaxing the criteria, where does it stop? Before long we would find that competitive written poems which have been awarded prizes as the "cream of the crop", would be indefinable. Visitors to our website would be left scratching their heads as they read the prize-winning poems posted there. As custodians and devotees of Australian bush poetry, that is surely a situation that no ABPA member (writer or not) would wish to see.

Cheers
Shelley
Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines
http://www.shelleyhansen.com

"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")

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Brenda Joy
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Re: Magazine August/September

Post by Brenda Joy » Fri Aug 11, 2017 5:05 pm

I do agree with all that David has said and thank him for his comments. I also concur with Shelley's remarks especially about the need to maintain standards. As I am currently on the road as a performer my answer is necessarily brief but I would just like to give an analysis -- to win an ABPA approved written bush poetry competition when you have errors in rhyme and metre in your work is comparative to winning an ABPA approved performance competition where you have had a significant memory loss.
I do just have to quickly add that poems that do win written competitions usually tell wonderful stories or have lyrical qualities comparative to and sometimes/often better than other contenders that contain errors. Accuracy and consistency do not mean that all poems that abide by these standards tell a dull story or are uninteresting.
It could be worth looking in the Poetry section on the ABPA website to see the wide variety of subjects, stories, techniques and rhythms contained in the poems in that collection.
Thanks to all who are interested in our wonderful craft and again thanks to David and Shelley for their well-informed comments.
Brenda
Sing HU to open your heart.

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David Campbell
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Re: Magazine August/September

Post by David Campbell » Mon Aug 14, 2017 12:09 pm

Many thanks for those responses, Shelley and Brenda, you've made some excellent points. As you've both indicated, there is plenty of scope within the ABPA written competition guidelines for variety and innovation. And there is a problem once you start down the slippery slope of relaxing criteria.

If anyone happened to buy a print copy of the latest "Weekend Australian", the three poems published after my article were clear evidence of where that can lead. All contained some evidence of metre and rhyme, but none of them would have passed muster here. Yet it's probable that, in the current mainstream poetry world, they are as close to traditional rhyming verse as most poets get. There has been a huge shift in perception since the days of Paterson and Lawson, and I think we have a responsibility, through the award-winning poems showcased on this site, to shift that perception and show what can still be done with good metre and rhyme. Especially if it can help bring people back to poetry.

Cheers
David

Terry
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Re: Magazine August/September

Post by Terry » Thu Aug 24, 2017 11:38 am

Magazine Discussion

I mentioned to David recently that I would keep out of this, because I felt that people were so set in their ideas that it would probably be a waste of time.
However I have given a bit of thought to the discussion of late, and remembered my reasons for entering competitions when I first started; of course like all of us I had hopes that I might actually win something. The other main reason was that I had decided I wanted to learn to improve my writing skills, and I knew that I would have to improve considerably to reach a standard, where my poems might even come into consideration to possibly win something.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the whole idea of entering written competitions – to me at least – is to help improve the quality of your writing – particularly when starting out - and if you’re not prepared to do that, then you are unlikely to be very successful in competitions. In other words you can have a great poem, but it’s riddled with mistakes, and I speak from experience (I still make them – mostly through lack of proper editing).
For most of us learning these skills takes time, so you need to be patient and if possible a good mentor is a valuable asset. Even someone who is not actually a poet but has a good command of English can be a great help to check for the silly mistakes and typo’s that most of us make from time to time.
Finally to me, competitions are a way of showcasing well written poetry.

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Shelley
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Re: Magazine August/September

Post by Shelley » Thu Aug 24, 2017 1:09 pm

Terry - you have hit the nail on the head!

Your experience with written competitions mirrors mine, and like you, one of my key motivations in entering them is to improve my skills and be the best I can be. Of course the occasional prize is a pleasurable bonus!

I have had the help of generous mentors over the last few years, and when I look back at my writing, say five years ago, I can see how far I've come by following their advice. However, like you, I still have to be wary of errors creeping in, and it's easy to miss them in your own work. Friends with good eyes for proof reading are a great asset!

David presents a compelling case for keeping the judging standards of written competitions high, which is the only way they can, as you rightly say, showcase well-written poetry.

Cheers
Shelley
Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines
http://www.shelleyhansen.com

"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")

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David Campbell
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Re: Magazine August/September

Post by David Campbell » Fri Aug 25, 2017 1:20 pm

Yep, right on the money, Terry!

Cheers
David

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