Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Recurring debates on important poetry topics.
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Neville Briggs
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Re: Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Post by Neville Briggs » Sun Jun 15, 2014 8:07 pm

Looking through the ABPA magazine, I did enjoy the poem by Louisa Lawson. The Winter Wind. It is obvious that Henry Lawson's mother Louisa was the primary influence that introduced Henry to poetry.

The poem employs expressions that would not be familiar to people to-day , but nevertheless I think it gets the message over through it's simple and direct speech. Louisa Lawson doesn't get bogged down in a thicket of dense wordiness, and I suggest that her little poem is an example to learn from, for good writing. Please read it folks.

Bryce Courtney has said ' to write with elegance and simplicity is the hardest task of all' I think Louisa Lawson most certainly managed to write with elegance and simplicity in this poem.

p.s. for those who don't get the magazine, this poem can be found on-line.
" Prose is description, poetry is presence " Les Murray.

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Glenny Palmer
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Re: Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Post by Glenny Palmer » Fri Aug 26, 2016 12:44 am

I've had a delightful 'time out' evening trawling through this thread. I am only 2 years late with this thought ( :? ) about difficulties with 'form' and 'creative content' comments, somewhere within this thread. This old poem of mine sprang to mind. I'm thinking that the simplicity of 'form/pattern' that I've used in my poem, belies the thinking that such things are inherently 'difficult.' The poem is predominantly written in the good old 'dum de dum de dum' Iambus. But the 'format' & metric pattern I have constructed, (in my reading of it) eliminates the 'dum de dum'...and makes me wonder...just HOW would it fare on one of the aforementioned, predetermined criteria judging sheet?

At the risk of stirring this sleeping giant again.....what do YOU think? 8-)

(I have tried to set it out as I have formatted it in 'Word', (but centred) but that's a tad troublesome here. So the 1st stanza is sort of like it, minus the dots. I feel a distinct difference in reading the 'set out' 1st stanza, to reading the left aligned 2nd stanza. So 'form' & 'format' seems really important?)

“KINDRED CRY” © Glenny Palmer

.....Oh, my daughters hear me, oh, my sons;
......your mother cries aloud, my little ones.
.........You think your hearing fails you,’s the chaos that assails, who,
...........if you would but stop, be still,
rest your chin upon your arms, upon the lonely window sill
......and gaze out at my grace,
........that which the human race
.........has spared, but then
..........alas, perhaps, has only set aside for future rape, would then understand, the workings of your heart and hand dreaming, have forsaken me, for when
.......your mother cries for mercy, hearken, lest
.........your callousness defiling,
..........compels her very essence,
...........disconsolate, beguile eternal rest.

Oh, my daughters see me, oh, my sons;
your mother’s wounds are weeping, little ones.
You think you see my anguish
while in partnership we languish;
if you would but lift your eyes,
toss your curly heads back playfully, and search my endless skies
for mirrors of the past,
that’s where you’d see at last
my pristine youth,
all pillaged by my seed - my sweet tellurian offspring.
Remorse shall set your test,
for the grief a mother’s failed bequest
engenders, and, our hopelessness assured
shall vaporize in Armageddon’s eye,
where all the mothers’ mercies,
from all the sacred ages,
will simply lie down quietly...and die.
The purpose of my life is to serve as a warning to others.

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David Campbell
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Re: Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Post by David Campbell » Sun Aug 28, 2016 1:03 pm

This is a beautifully appropriate lament for the times, Glenny…I’m not sure how much “grace” is left for the poor old planet. (Not often the word “tellurian” pops up in a poem!)

As it’s a lament, I prefer the “centred” format of the first stanza, which gives the lines a more freely flowing, emotional, lyrical quality. And it also helps to emphasise the “chaos” that you’re addressing, which would, I think, assist the reading. The left-aligned second stanza, while more instantly recognisable in bush poetry circles, is also more regimented in its appearance and hence (in my opinion, anyway) slightly less suitable to the subject-matter.

In terms of the ABPA judging sheet it’s hard to know what the reaction might be. Much would depend on the judge’s understanding of “mastery” in terms of metre and rhyme as you’ve mixed things up a fair bit here with patterns that are certainly not standard and demand close examination. Although, with one minor exception, you’ve followed the same pattern in both stanzas, some judges could be put off simply because, no matter which format is used, it looks different to poems that march uniformly down the page.

Thank you for posting it…much challenging food for thought, both in content and presentation.


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Re: Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Post by Irene » Mon Aug 29, 2016 1:49 am

Thank you for resurrecting this thread again Glenny - I also have spent an evening reading through this, and found it very interesting.
First off, when I read bush poetry, I want a story that is easy to read and understand, and that I don't have to spend time trying to work out what the poet is saying. Having said that, it does not mean that I do not like other poetry, but I will read other poetry when that is what I am in the mood to read.
I took the time to read the poem Melbourne, and have to say it does not appeal to me at all, and I would not like to see a poem such as that recognised in a bush poetry competition because I believe it sits outside the boundaries for such a competition. Similarly with Kenneth Slessors poem Beach Burial. Having said that though, I do like Ken's poem, and would enjoy hearing it recited at a gathering. Why? Am I being contradictory? I don't believe I am - because competitions are very different from writing a poem for recital/performance or even writing a poem for anything other than a competition, and I feel that we are being too judgemental of other peoples opinions who don't agree with expanding the 'boundaries' for competitions. Just as reciting/performing a poem for a performance competition is different than reciting/performing outside of a competition - in my opinion only, and that may be wrong!! :o :D And doing well in a competition does not make someone a better poet than someone who does not win competitions – just in different ways.

Glenny mentioned earlier in the thread (2 yrs or so ago!! :D ) about a poet needing to know the fundamentals of writing bush poetry and understanding well how a poem flows, and they then can do many things differently that are not taught in the 'fundamentals', but that work, because the poet has that good knowledge and understanding. That ability is demonstrated so well with many of the old masters who have deviated from what is recognised as 'proper bush poetry' as many expect to see today. And many casual readers/listeners would not even recognise they had strayed from the 'norms' because it still has good rhyme and rhythm, and flows well. To me, that still fits within general bush poetry guidelines, and is great poetry.
However, with competitions, I believe we are looking to judge on the craft in its original/fundamental form, simply because you need to have clear guidelines and criteria against which to judge a competition. There is always a degree of subjectivity when judging poems- performance or written - and if you allow the accepted guidelines to be pushed out, I believe it will become even more subjective, and will lead us away from what bush poetry has always been, and what it is recognised as.
The place to push the boundaries of bush poetry is in general writing and performance - not competitions - because in those situations, you are looking to paint pictures, express emotions, touch your audience in the best way you can, not trying to fit within guidelines that may constrain what you are trying to say or do (and I say may because I don't believe that it always does!). And your audience is not looking to judge, they are looking to connect.
To me, a competition showcases the technicalities and 'correct' way to write/perform whereas general writing/performance allows you to be more creative and adventurous if you want to. And I do not think one is better than the other - they just have a different focus.
The whole argument about saying bush poets need to be more flexible and push the boundaries more in their competitions is unfair on those who enjoy their poetry in the traditional manner. There are many opportunities for poets to enter in competitions that will accept and focus on the 'creative' aspect more than the technicalities that our competitions focus on. But there are dwindling number of competitions that focus more on the technicalities.
I don't believe that anyone on this site has said a bush poet should not stretch their boundaries if that is what they wish. After all, a poet can be more than just a bush poet - as many of the poets on this site are. But why, when this is a bush poetry site, or when we have our guidelines on what bush poetry is, should we slowly change it to move more towards other genres of poetry that can be found on numerous other sites and places? Can those who want to do both not still do both - but on different sites/places? This site in particular already allows a lot of flexibility in the type of poetry that is posted by having different sections to post poetry. And at poetry functions all over the country, poems are performed very successfully that do not strictly meet the guidelines of bush poetry. Do we need to make those who like bush poetry in the traditional form feel that they are behind the times, or staid and boring because they are doing what they love in the arena that is there for what they love? Can we not accept that our competitions run according to our guidelines, and if a poets interest is other than keeping to those guidelines, they can choose not to enter the competitions? After all, a list of wins in competitions is not the sole criteria for being considered a successful poet.
I also don’t believe that the poets who don’t consider some of those poems in this thread as bush poetry are saying they do not like them, or they are no good, just that they don’t fit the bush poetry genre. And we all like different things – let’s respect that and not assume we don’t like a poem because we haven’t taken the time to hear the poems ‘voice’.
I have an aversion to the modern day tendency for people to take up something that already exists and then insist that it is changed to fit what they want. I believe that, if you want to do something that is different to what a group does, then perhaps the best thing to do is to look at forming a new group, if there isn't one already, that more fits with the style you want to do. If say, an Australian Rhyming group is formed, and more people want that flexibility, then it will be successful, and the bush poetry arena may well ebb. But it will still be there for those who love it as is. Win/Win for everyone!!
End of spiel. All just my opinion- for what it’s worth!!!! And to anyone who has made it this far, my apologies for the long-winded write - late at night, and I am waffling!!! :roll: :lol:
What goes around, comes around.

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David Campbell
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Re: Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Post by David Campbell » Wed Sep 07, 2016 12:20 pm

Hi Irene

Thanks for this thoughtful and thought-provoking post. What did you think of Glenny’s poem? Glenny asked how it would fare in a “judging sheet” competition and I’d be interested in your opinion. Do you think it fits within the traditional guidelines of metre and rhyme? If not, why not? It has fewer than 40 lines, so how would it go in the Boyup Brook competition, for example?

On another tack, you say that “there are a dwindling number of competitions that focus more on the technicalities”. Why do you think this is happening?


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Brenda Joy
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Re: Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Post by Brenda Joy » Tue Sep 13, 2016 8:20 am

Irene, thank you for your very insightful input. I agree with what you have said.
I wear two (or many) hats as a writer. I am dedicated to the preservation of bush verse but I also absolutely love experimenting with different verse forms - or should I say just letting the poem decide for itself how it wishes to be expressed. Sometimes this is appreciated by a judge, sometimes not -- that is not my measure of what the poem means to me or whether I am satisfied that I have let it flow, but it is a measure of how closely the judge follows the ABPA guidelines and/or how far that judge wishes to go towards the greater flexibility that is now allowed compared to the past.
The section RHYTHM/METRE for instance, now says "Consistent throughout avoiding inversions, laboured changes from normal speech patterns. Is the metrical pattern unusual/inventive?"
The thing that I really feel is that, whichever way a poet or a judge wishes to go towards flexibility of form or subject matter, it should be in line with the requirements on the entry form. If a competition states that poems are to be written in traditional form then they should be entered and judged as to whether they conform, or if it states that the subject matter must reflect the feelings of the country or a particular theme, then the judge should adjudicate with these points in mind. This then allows everyone to know whether their poem suits the particular competition or not and also ensures that the competition is won by a poem that suits the expectations of the organisers/community.

Thanks to everyone for expressing their thoughts on this thread. A very interesting topic with lots of differing opinions.
Sing HU to open your heart.

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Re: Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Post by Terry » Wed Dec 21, 2016 12:54 pm

Just noticed this, only a few months late!

I think that Irene has has got it right (not just because she's a mate of mine from W.A.); mind you I haven't read back through the whole thread.

Changing things may please a few people, but I suspect it would disappoint a lot more.

Like most people here I read a lot of poetry (some I like - some I don't) but it doesn't worry me what style people want to use.
But why change Bush Poetry as we know it now? We could easily end up destroying what we already have if the new ideas don't appeal.
As Irene said, if you're not happy, go and start a group that suits more closely what you're looking for.
And as she also said you can also remain a part of Bush Poetry as we know it now as well.


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David Campbell
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Re: Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Post by David Campbell » Wed Dec 21, 2016 7:29 pm

Interesting, Terry. I'll throw the same questions I asked Irene about Glenny's poem to you. What do you reckon?

In answer to your question "Why change bush poetry as we know it now?" here's one in return. How do you decide when "now" is? To me it seems that bush poetry has changed in the last decade or so, particularly in written form (as opposed to performance), so how do you prevent it from continually evolving? Irene refers to the importance of getting the "technicalities" right for competitions, but there are only a very few poems (if any) in written competitions that get all the fundamentals 100% correct. There are technical faults in several of the poems listed on the poetry page as first-prize winners. Lots of them. So it would seem that judges are allowing a fair bit of latitude...more than I would have in some cases.


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Re: Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Post by Terry » Thu Dec 22, 2016 5:29 pm

G/day David

I should know better than to even comment on these discussions by now.

It’s a bit like the old question – how long is a piece of string.

But seeing I have commented, I will just say this; apart from being in favour of strict Rhyme and meter,
I’m pretty much a minimalist with the rest of it.

Some judges I’m told won’t allow even abbreviation which in my opinion is step too far. I reckon it would be a good idea to have uniform interpretations on how words like EVERY can be used (two or three syllables) for instance, and there are several other words that have the same problem – my opinion is the word should be accepted as the poet meant it to be read, providing it’s the same as the rest of the meter in the poem.

As for the rest of it, I just hope that we don’t slowly change things to the point that it no longer sounds or reads like Bush Poetry – but you’re right of course, it’s already happening

I’m also not worried about strict syllable line count either, and there are several other things that I won’t bother with here.

But enough about my thoughts, perhaps it time for you David to once more tell us what you think.

By the way; I’m sure that I’m among the biggest culprits you refer to in the winning poems section.


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Re: Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Post by Shelley » Fri Dec 23, 2016 7:28 am

This certainly is a fascinating discussion - with all participants making points well worth considering.

Glenny, I love your poem! Like David, I see it as the successful adaptation of a traditional lament about a set of circumstances unique to our times.

How would it fare in a written bush poetry competition? Like Brenda, I believe it depends on the competition. That's why it is so important for entrants (and judges) to read each competition's rules and guidelines - because they differ.

For example, I (quite rightly) lost marks in one competition because I missed the point that it called for an Australian story - and the poem I submitted was largely descriptive rather than narrative.

Some competitions say "traditional bush poetry in the style of the old masters" or something similar. As beautiful as Glenny's poem is - it would probably struggle against more conventional poems in such an arena. Some competitions say that the entries must feature an aspect of Australia's "rural way of life" - so obviously an urban or more general topic would not do well in these settings.

On the other hand, some competitions state that the poem does not have to be traditional or about "the bush" - but merely consistent in rhyme and rhythm and on a subject relevant to Australia. These competitions are often amenable to poems of less conventional style, structure and theme.

The Toolangi written competition calls for poems inspired by the works of CJ Dennis. This is an ideal opportunity to push the boundaries of structure, as CJ Dennis himself loved experimenting with different styles of rhyme and rhythm. On the other hand, I would be inclined to stay within more rigid boundaries if a competition was asking for poems inspired by Paterson or Lawson.

As for change - one thing is certain - it will happen! It always has. Just look back at the works of some of our earliest bush poets and compare them with the later works of Banjo and Henry. Then moving forward as the generations overlap right through to today's writers, you can see the continual forming and re-forming in response to changing times and world events. All of this proves one thing - bush poetry is not dead, but a living, breathing art form!

We must respect our rich heritage - and many of the poems still being written rightly reflect that. Personally, I love to read and to write about many aspects of Australia's history. A wise man once said, "In order to know where we're going, we need to know where we've been."

However, we can't stay in the past. Every art form changes with the times and ours is no exception. Many of us (myself included) feel compelled to write in response to events and issues of our modern world - and there's no reason why bush poetry should be denied a voice on such subjects. If the use of imaginative rhythm and rhyme contributes to the power of that voice - then why not use it where appropriate?

Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines

"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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