Tag Archives: prose

Poetics Serendipity: Rhetorical Modes

8:01 a.m. — Atlanta

listening to Joseph’s Dreams sung by Jason Donovan (when my Library is on shuffle, I get an odd mix)

Hello, everyone. There is no way, I can find, to make the following shorter, or snazzier, but rhetoric lies at the heart of what we do, whether poetry or prose. Rhetoric is the art of communicating with an audience which, for us, means communicating with readers using literary  and compositional techniques. There are many modes of rhetorical writing, but the following are the four main ones.

DESCRIPTION is a report of appearances, of how places or persons or objects strike the senses of an observer.

NARRATION is a report of actions, of what people do separately or to each other on a given occasion.

DRAMA (DIALOGUE) is a report of conversation, of people talking back and forth.

REVERIE (REFLECTION, STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS) is a report of thoughts and feelings, of what goes on in a particular person’s mind.

The following schemes are adapted by James Penha from Leo Rockas’ thinking and book, Modes of Rhetoric.

The various modes of DESCRIPTION, NARRATION, DIALOGUE, and REVERIE are often separate from each other, but also often mixed. REVERIE–the representation of a character or narrator thinking–tends to dominate the other modes it’s mixed with. Why? Because anything anyone thinks–thinking of the description of a garden once seen, thinking of the narration of an event that once happened, thinking of the dialogue of a conversation once overheard–tends to be subjective. Thus, reverie tends to bind the other modes mixed with the reverie to a particular “point of view.”


TIME comparison of the four modes:
DESCRIPTION: No story time.
NARRATION: Story time >/= reading time.
DIALOGUE:  Story time = reading time.
REVERIE:  Story time < reading time.

 SUBJECT/PRONOUN tendencies of the four modes:
DESCRIPTION: Things/people described as things; it.
NARRATION:  People/things described as people; he/she/they.

VERB & TENSE tendencies of the four modes:
DESCRIPTION: Being verbs in the past or present.
NARRATION:  Active verbs in the past.
DIALOGUE: Verbs of feeling in the present.
REVERIE: Future, hypothetical, or speculative forms of verbs.

TYPICAL FORMULAS of the four modes:
NARRATION:  he ran.
DIALOGUE:  you love.
REVERIE:  I will.
Notice that each mode gets closer to the self.

II.    LITERARY ELEMENTS & MODES.  Each of the four major literary elements tends to correspond to one of the modes:
SETTING is most easily rendered by DESCRIPTION.
PLOT is most easily rendered by NARRATION.
CHARACTER is most easily rendered by DIALOGUE.
THEME is most easily rendered by REVERIE.

REVERIE is subjective.

The point of view is objective when there is no reverie.
The point of view is subjective when there is reverie.
The point of view is omniscient when there is reverie of more than one character.
The point of view is limited when there is the reverie of only one character.
“First-person” point of view almost always results in reverie.
In “third-person” point of view, the character with the reverie is talked about in third-person.


No recognizable genre—save perhaps haiku and list poems—is predominantly DESCRIPTION.
Short stories, novels, epics, and narrative poems are dominated by NARRATIVE.
Plays and dramatic monologues (Browning, Eliot, Tennyson) and dialogue poems (Frost) are dominated by DRAMA.
Lyric poems are dominated by REVERIE.

Whew! We will return to normal links and such Thursday after next. Meanwhile, I shall see you tomorrow for the roundup; Tuesday for an image prompt; and the following Tuesday for a regular poetry prompt. We’ll be dark next Thursday and Friday.

Happy ingesting and writing, all.

What? One link? Okay. If you don’t know about Galley Cat, the site is giving tips specifically for NaNoWriMo, but many apply to the writing of poetry. They are not long and there are several nuggets. I’ll give you the general address for the tips and you can scroll around.

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Posted by on 20/11/2014 in writing


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Poem Tryouts: Then What?

8:25 a.m. — Atlanta

listening to Ravel’s Bolero — I had forgotten how much I love it

Brrr. Hello, all. Maybe, if we exercise our brain cells we can warm up a little. I mentioned last week that I spend November focusing on narrative exercises, for the NaNoWriMo-ers among you. Participants run a gamut from first time participants to those who arrived, three days ago, with a first draft in hand, ready to get down to real writing, with revision as their focus. The prompts, and Thursday’s notes plus links, are intended as rest stops or, even, something to note and apply to your NaNoWriMo piece.

Poets who are not participating, or are and also writing poetry (are you nuts?), your challenge is to turn the prompt to your advantage. Almost any prompt works for poetic and narrative writing. You can take your prompt from my title, from something I natter about, or, of course, the prompt itself.

Let’s start with something that is useful to both the first timer and the old hand, called simply: Then what? You would be surprised how many writers sit and agonise when they reach a blocking point (not really surprised, right?), when they have at hand a simple technique for moving on. Remember that the point is to get words on paper, to move the plot of the story forward. It is important that you actually say the words, aloud, in your head, whatever, but give Then what? form. It acts as a trigger.

I’ll start you with an arbitrary point. You may change the start point when you try the exercise. Your main character has woken up and moving over to the window, she stares out. Then what? Write down five or six possibilities and do not, NOT self-censor. Here is what my brain came up with:

1] She watched as their car reversed down the driveway and wondered when he would be back.

2] She noticed a green sedan parked in front of her neighbour’s; it had been there all night.

3] Down the street she saw the garbage truck and swore, as she realised she had forgotten to put out the bins.

4] Where once she had a flower bed, sat a smallish flying saucer. Hey, I said no censoring

5] She saw nothing of the view, eyes focused on a telephone pole, her mind going over the provisions of her aunt’s will.

The idea is to pick one that furthers your story and ask yourself, Then what? again, until the brain starts moving. Note that each of the scenarios hint at conflict, the bread and butter of all stories. I did not do this on purpose. I merely asked Then what? and wrote down the answers.

Poets, I admit this one might be more of a challenge than upcoming ones, for a poem. One possibility is to find an old poem draft where you became stuck and try, Then what? Or, take the phrase and incorporate it in a new poem, in some manner. I look forward to your ingenuity. NaNoWriMo-ers, if you are sticking purely to prose this month and you try this out, consider posting your Then whats?, or a resulting paragraph from one of your scenarios.

I shall see you Thursday for some fiction talk and a couple of links; Friday for the roundup; and next Tuesday for a character prompt.

Happy writing, everyone.



Posted by on 04/11/2014 in exercises, poetry, writing


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Skydiving into Tuesday Tryouts

7:26 a.m. — Atlanta

listening to Little Darling by The Diamonds

Hi, everyone. We have another prose/fiction/narrative exercise [i.e. not poetry]. This is an interesting one that could result in some hair pulling, but can also result in a cool piece of writing. If you are having problems with NaNoWriMo, this will add about 1500 words. More importantly, it will allow you to play with perspective. Non-NaNo people, I suggest trying out the exercise, then looking to see where you see a poem. That leaves things broad for you which, I know, drives some of you nuts. Remember: there is no wrong way. The objective is to write. Ready to play?

This exercise suggests another way to look at something, a person, a setting, an event. In this exercise, your narrator(s) (imagine a camera eye)  must start high in the air and descend, getting closer and closer all the time to the same spot on the earth — and finally, passing through that spot and going under the ground (yes, a camera eye that has a heck of a swivel).

RULES ( how about that!):
Don’t change your target in mid-exercise.
Don’t move side-to-side; that is, focus on the same event on the ground but observe it from different altitudes.
You may, however, change narrator and/or point-of-view (first-person, second-person, third-person) from step to step. An anonymous third-person will often make sense.
It’s all right to read ahead (but it’s interesting to take each step as it comes). Try to write at least 250 words for each step.

REMEMBER: At different heights, degree of detail is different… the kinds of things one can see are different… the sounds one can hear are different… the angle of vision is different… things don’t always seem to be what they are …

If you are able, try this physically. Choose something that you are able to view from at least four levels and do so. For each, note the differences, the things you notice at one level, that you don’t see at another. No, no, don’t bang your head on the wall. This was an exercise my mentor and I gave high schoolers. Don’t over-think the steps. Relax. Write.

These steps may result in a continuous narrative… or a collection of different possibilities.  No transitions needed, at this point.

You might wish to target a character, a moment or event from an existing story. Or you can just wait for each step and see what happens, as you write. Whichever, decide what your focus is.

1.    Pretend you are like a bird or at the height of an airplane in flight, at least 600 feet or 200 meters in the air. Focus on your target (which is on the ground). Write everything you can see or hear. Try for at least 250 words.

2.    Pretend you are high in a tree or on a church steeple or on the roof of a nine-story apartment building or at a similar height. Remember: You may shift narrator and/or point of view from the previous step. You might even change the time of the narrative from that of the earlier step. Focus on your target. Write everything you can see or hear.

3.    Pretend you are looking out a first story-window  or sitting in the cab of a big truck or standing on a table or riding a horse. In some way, you are a little higher than most people’s heads.  Remember: You may wish to shift narrator and/or point of view. You may wish to shift the time of the narration. Focus on your target. Write everything you can see or hear.

4.    Pretend you are at eye-level with a grownup. (Okay, you are a grownup; I didn’t want to change my pattern.)  Or perhaps you are an invisible narrator. Remember: You can shift narrator and/or point of view. You can shift time. Focus on your target. Write everything you can see or hear.

5.    Pretend you are at the height of a child sitting on a rock or of a Labrador Retriever’s  eyes. Perhaps you are a child, or a Labrador Retriever (see what I mean about choosing to be a different narrator?]. Focus on your target. Write everything you can see or hear.

6.    Pretend you are underground, perhaps in a tunnel, a subway, a grave, a ditch. Remember: You may wish to shift narrator and/or point of view. You may shift time. Focus on your target. Write everything you can see or hear.

There is the possibility of adding smell to the equation, as that would change with proximity.

Non-NaNo poets, I think you can do the exercise and then look at what you have written as material within which to find a poem. You can also play with writing a narrative poem. Include all the steps. It can be about changes in perspective, about seeing things differently, maybe unexpectedly, with a shift in perspective. This can be figurative, or literal.

If you are struggling, but game, for heaven’s sake write me ( and say: This is what I have but I’m not sure about… or, I understand all, except this bit.

Above all, enjoy the experiment. It’s a valuable exercise for both prose and poetry. I shall see you Friday for the roundup; and next Tuesday for the next exciting installment of narrative exercises.

I’m off to organise my Christmas shopping! Happy writing, all.


Posted by on 13/11/2012 in exercises, poetry, writing


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Thursday Thoughts: The Poet is Never the Speaker

12:01 pm, Thursday, 6 January, 2011 – Atlanta

I’m not sure why I feel I need to gird myself for this entry. I have been part of all sides: unknowing, unaware child reader, teenage student, adult reader, adult student, teacher, writer.

As a child who loved to read poems, it never occurred to me that the writer of the poem was the speaker. Never, as a child, as I read Stevenson, Frost, Dickinson and others, did I think this is the poet undergoing whatever is happening in the poem. In High School and college I still made the distinction. Eighteen years on I became a teacher and, as much as I loved poetry, I did not understand how it worked, in the same way I have always understood the structures of fiction.

To help me teach both the analysis and the writing of poetry, I asked a colleague, who became my mentor, if I could attend his creative writing  class as a student, for the poetry semester. I came out of that feeling confident about teaching poetry, but the bonus was I came out of there writing poetry. Jack [James Penha] also gave me chapbooks of his and I remember the look of horror on his face when I made the assumption he was the speaker of one of the poems. That was the first time I had muddled my thinking and the first time I heard: The poet is never the speaker, a mantra I told my students for the next eighteen years.

We had many discussions on the subject, Jack and I, while I clarified my thinking. I thought it odd that I had never before had any doubts, but now felt a little confused.  I realize, now, that the confusion arose from the fact I knew when writing a poem that I was part of the poem. But so are all poets because we write what our speakers say. We make the decisions to do with how they will say what we want to share, describe, explain.

Jack tells the story of a poem he wrote about his father who worked in a shipyard during WWII. To make the poem work his father had to die. Weeks later a friend commiserated with him over his father’s death. I imagine Jack’s face was much as when I confused him with his speaker. Jack’s father was alive and well, but for the integrity of the poem, for the poem to work, his father died. Think about it: when working on a poem, when crafting it for submission, or just for the pleasure of the craft, how many times have you had to change a fact, or include something that didn’t happen, for the poem to work.

Does that mean we are never the speakers? That no poem we write is completely what happened, or what we believe? Of course not, but we are the only ones who know. John Keats wrote “When I Have Fears” shortly after his brother died. Are the thoughts expressed his? Probably, but we don’t know if his thoughts are the first two quatrains and he added the third so the poem could be structured as a sonnet. Our audience doesn’t know either; students don’t know. Not 100%. And so, the speaker. We all know, when we read poems, what the speaker thinks, or believes, but unless we talk with the writer, we don’t necessarily know what they tweaked for the poem to work, or, when a writer presents a view not hers because she is interested in writing from the opposing viewpoint.

The speaker also gives us a buffer, stands between us and our readers, can make us feel less vulnerable, can take on a persona or voice that we ourselves may not have, can present a viewpoint we may or may not own. We write to convey a particular truth about people, the world, life. Ultimately the poem is more important than the absolute truth.

Whew! Do, please, add your viewpoint to comments. This is the first time I have not had a roomful of people to discuss this with and I think that’s what feels strange to me. Also not having pictures and asking you for the patience to read a piece this long.

Tomorrow, is the weekly roundup of possibilities.


Posted by on 06/01/2011 in exercises, poetry, writing


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