BLANK VERSE 2: POSTMODERNIST

writing blank verse: postmodernistObjective

To create a fragmentary collage of impressions in the Postmodernist manner, but employ blank verse (iambic pentameters) as the supporting medium — i.e. rather than the usual free verse.

Starting

We start with a few jottings for a poem we provisionally call Santiago Afternoons:

And however refined they may be
Travelling along their thin exhausts
Into the bright stacked Braille of tail-lamps
Stooping under the trees, the melancholy parades
Of high buildings, the glitter town, distinctly
Perpendicular in these lost evenings, the glacial
Distortions of the evening, the poinsettia of the acers

Autumn in Providencia: new Santiago (1)

Now we pick out the better phrases, rearrange and develop the suggestions. Something like 20 lines emerges, and we decide to write a series of such poems, each of 20 lines, looking at the history of Chile from the vantage point of specific places or incidents. We re-title the poem to make the sense clearer. The poem in question:

Stooping under the trees, the melancholy
parades of high buildings, the glitter town,
distinctly perpendicular in these lost evenings,
of white flares on windows, we find the poinsettia
of the maples not so much imperial,
but more familiar, unctuous, as though a calligraphy
round the thin exhausts, stacked Braille
of the tail-lamps and the shop lights winking on

a bodywork breathing up from the waxed
shine of the rain, a brilliantine of the health
throbbing through the overhead cam engines
and their intricately fluttering valves
at chrome-fashioned steel ventricles,
relaying through their soft copper throats
the roar out of the turbulent gases
that oxidize to a blue nothing in the soaked air

Later, after the rain, when the clouds shred,
and the lights go out, you can hear,
out of the immense blue roof,
the endless cascade down of particles.

Autumn in Providencia: new Santiago (2)

At this stage, the verse can can only very loosely be called iambic pentameters. We therefore rearrange, changing the odd phrase:

Stooping under the trees, the melancholy parades
of high buildings, the glitter town, distinctly
perpendicular in these lost evenings of white
flares on windows, we find the poinsettia of the acers
are not so much imperial, but more familiar,
almost unctuous with their spread flummeries, their
as-it-were calligraphy round the thin exhausts, the
stacked Braille of the tail-lamps and the shop

lights winking on the pressed bodywork, breathing and
bubbling up in the waxed shine of the rain, in
a brilliantine of the health throbbing through the heavy
overhead cam engines and their intricately fluttering
and clattering of valves in chrome-fashioned steel
ventricles, relaying and expelling through their soft copper
throats the roar out of the turbulent gases that
oxidize to blue and then nothing in the humid air.

And afterwards, after the rain, and the clouds
shred, and the lights go out, you can hear
etherized out of the immense blue canopies
the endless rain down of the frenzied particles.

Analysis

Now the hard work begins. Being a Postmodernist poem, we can evade 'what's it really about?' questions, but we do have write interesting lines. Some obvious problems:

1. Where does the 8-line section on car-engine anatomy take us? Something to do with Chile's dependence on mineral products? A comment on the mechanical nature of modern city life? Shouldn't it relate to the rest of the poem more?

2. The concluding four lines go off on their own track to some unknown destination.

3. Can we really hear the etherized particles raining down? This seems more a conceit developed from the car-engine anatomy than anything sensed.

4. The poem falls into three unrelated sections: an impressionist view of a modern city on a late autumn afternoon, a tour of internal combustion engines, and the journey of the exhaust gases into the clouds and back. The last is the least interesting, and what we should rewrite to bring the other sections together.

Rewriting

Let's introduce the Mapocho, the river on which Santiago stands, a symbol for the past, and recall, rather distantly, the United States and Los Angeles in Angels. We write a lengthy section because much has to be replaced:

Angels by the Mapocho, imported hopes
that flit by with the glass and the tinted leather.
All that was uprooted in the Junta years
is crumbling as the paper in the left-wing tracts.
The future roars onward and slowly the metal
bends into modernity or into layered paint.
The trees have recensions and their leaves are silent
except in their colours of any incendiary future.
That is all past, and the chauffeured bodies
are wrapped in the good life of well-known stores.
The stones keep their distance and the towers of concrete
look to be falling forever from the rain-soaked sky.

This section we tack on to the poem, cutting out some earlier sections and correcting others:

Stooping under the trees, the melancholy parades
of high buildings, the glitter town, distinctly
perpendicular in these lost evenings of white
flares on windows, we find the neon lights winking
on a bodywork pressed, a waxed shine in the rain
of a brilliantined health throbbing with the heavy
overhead cam engines and their intricately fluttering
and clattering of valves in steel-lined ventricles.

Angels by the Mapocho, imported hopes
tinted by the glass and luxurious leather.
All that was uprooted in the Junta years
is shed as is paper of the left-wing tracts.
The future roars outward and slowly the metal
bends into modernity or into spray-shop paint.
The trees will continue but from the leaves is absent
except in the colours any incendiary future.

That is all past, and the chauffeured bodies
are wrapped in the good life of department stores.
The stones keep their distance and the towers of concrete
rise more imperially into the rain-dark sky.

In Summary

The steps are:

  1. jot down lines or phrases of possible interest

  2. expand jottings to 20 lines

  3. shape into loose blank verse

  4. analyze to identify new openings

  5. write new sections for the openings

  6. replace large part of previous work with section(s), recrafting original lines as necessary

  7. check scansion and polish up

 

Material can be freely used for non-commercial purposes if cited in the usual way. 

A 568-page free pdf ebook on practical verse writing is available from Ocaso Press. Click here for the download page.