Techniques — Ellis Campbell, 6. Poetic Terminology & 7. Inverted Phrases

Ellis Campbell’s Writing Techniques — 6. Poetic Terminology
Alliteration is the repetition of the first consonant in several words in the same line.
An example from one of my very early poems, Old Man Drought. “Men can sail the seven seas in ships of steel so stout.” Another one from The Quickness Of The Hand Deceives The Eye (and sometimes blackens it).

“Weaving through the water-way and down the winding walk
past the pond in People’s Park — with never pause to talk.
Wally worried while he worked and wondered what he’d say
when he went to wash his hands and put his gear away.”

Enjambment is a handy tool that most good poets use. It helps a line flow and look more natural.

I love a good solid rhyme at lines end but there is a danger of monotony if overdone. A few enjambed lines throughout the poem ensures this does not happen. An example stanza from my poem The Spreading Blight...

“The mournful low of starving stock is echoing their fate;
the harking crows in loud refrain all day anticipate
another beast will flounder on its weakened joints and fall —
repast they share with carrion hawks. The foxes cruelly maul
the helpless prostrate animals and eat the bovine tongue.
Abandoned calves moan touchingly and wander dazed among
the carcasses of mothers rotting in a putrid field;
all victims of a tyranny beyond compassion’s shield.”

Enjambment is one reason why I have discarded the old idea of starting every line with a capital letter.

An unwarranted capital letter in the middle of a sentence of prose is a stumbling block and looks unnatural. I find the same with verse. But that is a personal choice for individual writers.

Imagery is simply painting pictures with words. Example from my poem Fall Of The Seasons.

“Summer has faded and autumn’s extolling
all of its virtues through downs ever rolling.
Tanned with the colours that patiently mellow —
tinting the dales with a tawny and yellow!”

Read Veronica Weal’s, Where The Eagle’s Shadow Falls — Bruce Simpson’s Gold Star — Peter Moltoni’s Slaughter Road — or Ron Stevens’ Westerly. One needs little imagination to see a vivid picture.

Likewise great performance poets such as Bob Miller with The Will, Milton Taylor with Queenie Lucinda O’Toole and Bob Magor with his Caravanning Bliss can make their words live and paint pictures a blind person might see clearly. These great writers and performers — and many more like them — have the wonderful talent of imagery. We are privileged to share this.

Ellis Campbell’s Writing Techniques — 7. Inverted Phrases
I am sure the number of poets (liars excepted) who can truthfully claim to have never used an inverted phrase to make a convenient rhyme are very few. It is something that comes naturally to us and it is tempting to use these rather than do the hard work of trying to avoid them. But, as applies to every walk of life, the easiest way is rarely the best way. From time immemorial Bush Verse has been the poor relation of Australian literature. Of course I don’t agree with this, but it is a simple fact of fife. No bush poet is spoken of in the same breath as Les Murray, Judith Wright, Kath Walker, etc. It is easy enough to adopt an attitude of: who cares? But as entertainers (yes, writers are still entertainers — though vastly different to performers) we have a duty to give our reading public the best we can offer.

I am fond of quoting lines from my own poetry to demonstrate something right. Incidentally this is not because I believe mine is the best, but simply to show that I can put into practice the things I advise others to do. I could easily quote from Paterson, Lawson or Ogilvie, but anyone can do that without being a poet themselves. This time I am going to be the baddie and look back through some of my verse and see if I can find a few examples of inverted phrases.

I don’t think I am setting myself an impossible task. Here goes: “He could fence and shear and timber cut.” Of course one would normally say, “ — and cut timber.” But that would bugger up the rhyme — or metre, or something — so I do it the easy way. Another one. “Seeking ever the harshness to tame.” Of course one would naturally say, “seeking to tame the harshness.” But that would have wrecked my good poem — so I took the easy way out. Again: “Gleaned from a modest education his knowledge all amazed.” You would, of course, normally say, “amazed all.” But that would have spoilt the whole stanza! Finally, “a worker great and a sportsman grand” rather than “a great worker and grand sportsman.” I hasten to add these are all taken from my first book. I have got better as time went by!

How to avoid inverted phrases? Good question. It usually means throwing that line, at least, away, and thinking of something else. Not always easy. Sometimes it is necessary to rewrite the whole stanza — or most of it. A bloody nuisance — but ( as a famous? Australian Prime Minister once thought he’d invented) “life wasn’t meant to be easy”. It can be done, as our top poets regularly demonstrate. Over the years judges have become increasingly hard on inverted phrases. Every time you see that part of your work underlined by the judge you can be assured that you have lost points. With the quality of verse being entered in most competitions today, that point could cost you a place among the prize-winners. I am sure the same applies with publishers. Make your verse flow as naturally as possible and don’t handicap yourself!