May 07, 2010

Sky–Candles and Whale–Roads

candles_1.jpgProfessor David Morley presents the second Poetry Challenge "in which we light up language and warm our minds before a fire of words." This episode is all about magical ways to shape language and poems with a challenge to create some kennings and use them in short poems or haiku.

Don't be shy about sharing your responses to this poetry challenge here on the blog where others will be able to appreciate them and Professor Morley will make an appearance from time to time.

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  1. Helena

    I found this exercise difficult and the more I thought about it, the more difficult it got! Perhaps the kennings need to sneak up on me and can’t be forced? In the end, I went with the first thing that came into my head – see below. But I’m going to keep trying. Thanks for the challenge – I liked what you said about memory having its metres and language having a larynx.

    I heard a poem about a fire-step once
    and dreamed of children burning in their beds
    black cloud for pillows and for sheets -
    a molten red.
    Each day, I wake beside you, shell-shocked
    at your milk n biscuit breath
    the heat of your skin blazing through me -
    a flame-sword.

    07 May 2010, 10:08

  2. David Morley

    A very strking poem, Helena, despite your misgivings!

    07 May 2010, 10:18

  3. Sophie

    This is a really interesting exercise, I think I’ll give it try over the weekend.

    If I may though, I noticed that you define haiku as a poem of 5-7-5 structure. I don’t want to tell you that you’re totally wrong, but this syllable ‘rule’ is widely seen by modern haijin as a common misconception. The original Japanese haijin counted in morae, not syllables. This Japanese unit of sound is much briefer, while the Western syllable carries more information, meaning that a 17-syllable haiku can be far too wordy. In syllables, about 12 to 14 equals 17 morae.

    Japanese haiku contain 17 morae written on one line – the three-line 5-7-5 structure is entirely imposed by Western translators. On top of this, many classical Japanese haijin (even Basho!) broke the 17 morae ‘rule’.

    There is a lot more to haiku theory than just thinking about brevity and syllable counts (pivot lines, turns, the essential theme of nature, etc etc etc…), but I won’t go on about it! If you are interested, though, there are some great online haiku journals around such as: (The British Haiku Society)
    and many more.

    I hope that didn’t bore you too much – I just thought I’d add my thoughts. If I come up with anything for your challenge, I’ll come back to post it.

    Best wishes

    07 May 2010, 10:49

  4. David Morley


    Thank you. You are completely right of course about haiku and I’m glad you’ve inserted this message and those links.

    I’m sure you understand that within the brevities, pivot lines and turns of the podcast-as-form there are bound to be moments of under-explanation (‘shorthand’) such as this.

    The great thing about comments is that you can supplement what the form of a podcast undersays, and you do so brilliantly.

    I have tried writiing haiku in different ways – talking the notion of morae and applying it to scientific equations. As you note of Basho, sometimes rules are there to be subverted so long as the effect is life within a poem.

    Forms are there to serve the poet; the poet is not there to serve the form.

    07 May 2010, 11:58

  5. Helena

    Thank you for the comment Prof Morley. I’ve just read your previous challenge – to write a 14 line rhyming poem in iambic pentameter. If it’s not too late, I just tried out this one, again top of the head. It’s a long time since I tried to write in deliberate metre or rhyme, feels strange! Is this about remembering the rules before breaking them? I liked what you said about surprise in language being poetry’s open secret. Can the rhyme spoil the surprise if it starts to hint at words to come by setting up a pattern, or is that the challenge?
    thanks again,

    A bird enters the poem

    The window worries not about the sky
    The skylark worries not about the pane
    But finds himself inside, through my own fault
    And now I cannot let him out again.
    He presses at the glass, like something caught
    In nets of air that pulverise his brain
    He cannot see me sitting here, distraught
    To listen to the thudding of his pain.
    I only opened it to let in air
    I didn’t think of letting in a bird.
    I’ve tried and tried to hush him out, I swear
    I call to him but he can’t hear a word.
    His song is dying in a last refrain
    A broken window – then – a broken chord.

    07 May 2010, 14:10

  6. J Bolzern, 16

    Thank you for your comments on my last poems, they were very encouraging! Here’s another try for this challenge. I’m apprehensive about it, but I don’t have much time today to improve it.

    You soul-stirrer.
    Mixing up my very being
    Admiration guaranteeing
    You dream-stealer.
    Storming in with thoughts entwined
    Taking space up in my mind
    You heart-driver.
    Pushing me to odd emotion
    Drawing from me full devotion
    You soul-stirring, dream-stealing, heart-driving man.

    08 May 2010, 16:32

  7. River


    This is how I used to ride you,
    arms and legs stretched out
    and leaning back, and up, and through
    the swinging leaves and clouds…

    09 May 2010, 20:05

  8. River

    ah, posted slightly too fresh, sorry – this is better i think…


    This is how I used to ride you,
    arms and legs stretched out
    and leaning back and up, up through
    the swinging leaves and clouds…

    09 May 2010, 21:09

  9. Nika

    This was a fun exercise!

    Black Home

    Black home: I find
    the first art: buffalo, caveman,
    rock, my staid pillow.

    15 May 2010, 17:19

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