Techniques — Ellis Campbell, 3. Metre

Ellis Campbell's Writing Techniques — 3. Metre
I believe metre is the most important ingredient of Bush Verse — hence ‘the Soul of poetry’. Metre is, however, the hardest thing to learn about writing good Bush Verse. While it can be learnt I believe it is, to a certain extent, a God-given gift. It comes naturally to some poets, most have to work hard at it and some seem to find it impossible to grasp. Metre is actually rhythm and anything that jars or interrupts the regular flow of the rhythm spoils a poem.

A very common one is where a poet establishes a pattern of Iambic metre - that is weak, strong, weak, strong — then suddenly has two weak or two strong syllables following each other. This has a jarring effect and can spoil a good poem. There are many different patterns that one might use but I advise poets not to be too ambitious.

A metre pattern of between ten and fifteen syllables per line is recommended, rhyming either AABB or ABAB. If less than ten syllables are used I find it has a tendency to become stilted — unless the author is an accomplished poet.

On the other hand more than fifteen syllable put the rhymes too far apart and they lose impact.

Iambic, as I have just mentioned, is a simple stress pattern to begin with and quite effective. Equally simple and effective is Trochee, which is the reverse, having strong, weak, strong, weak. It is better however, to use an even number of syllables for Iambic — 8,10,12,14 for example - and an uneven number of syllables for Trochee — that is 9,11,13 or 15. This gives you the strong beat for your rhyming word on weak beats followed by a strong beat of Dactylic with a strong beat followed by two weak.

But these are more difficult and not recommended unless the poet is quite accomplished.

If your rhyming pattern is AABB every line needs the same stress pattern. However it is not strictly necessary if your rhyming pattern is ABAB. Then your two A lines must be the same stress but the two B lines can be a different stress pattern to the A lines, providing the B lines are identical stress. I’m sorry if this sounds complicated, but I warned you at the outset that metre is the hardest thing to grasp. Do the hard yardsand you’ll find it worthwhile.

I will use the first stanza of my poem, “Nostalgia’s Disillusion” to demonstrate a simple, but effective, stress pattern.

A BURN-ished SUN is GLAR-ing, FROM an AMB-er TINT-ed SKY
on PIT-i-FUL sur-ROUND-ings WHERE the DUST-swirls SPIR-al HIGH.
Its DES-o-LA-tion HAUNTS me AS i STAND and GAZE a-BOUT,
a PARCH-ing SOIL’S pros-TRA-tion AFT-er YEARS of BLAZ-ing DROUGHT.
On ROADS that LEAD to NO-where, THROUGH a SEA of NOTH-ing-NESS,
where SCATT-ered SALT-bush MOTT-les PLAINS — there’s LITT-le ELSE, I GUESS.

Read this poem (my book, The Gloss of Bush) and you will see this pattern has been maintained meticulously throughout the six stanzas.

NB. The ideas expressed in this column are entirely my own — plus an occasional piece of sound advice from my learned friend Ron Stevens. They may not necessarily be correct, but they do work for me.