Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Monday, August 29, 2005

Rhyme and reason

I am a firm believer that, in order to write poetry, you must READ poetry. I never liked to admit that I’d grab a copy of The New Yorker and page through it for the poetry, but if you asked me why I thought the poetry in every issue of that magazine was some pretty good stuff, I’d answer without hesitation that I KNEW it was good because I’d read and written enough of what was bad. There were so many times I’d read a poem in that magazine and wish I could write such verse but I knew that, in order to achieve this, I would have to keep reading and writing more of my own poetry first.

Reading other poetry is essential to the development of a poet. It is downright crucial; through studying verse both ancient and recent, the budding poet learns the various styles and genres of poetry, understands the importance of proper word choice and recognizes the method of putting emotions, incidents and ideas into verse.

And, hopefully, through reading poetry, the budding poet will learn two rules: That poetry does NOT have to rhyme, but it DOES have to be about something. It must tell a story, evoke a feeling, record a moment of history, bring the past to life, commemorate an achievement, honor a recently departed person, celebrate something or entertain. A poem cannot truly be called a poem unless it actually serves some kind of purpose. Otherwise, it is just a bunch of words.

Some budding poets read so much traditional (rhyming) poetry that they feel their poetry must rhyme, too. And for some of these aspiring poets, the task of composing verse with excellent rhyme comes as easily as breathing. There are others, however, who are not so gifted, yet their belief that a poem must rhyme compels them to scribble a bunch of same-sounding lines all for the sake of staying true to this belief. And they may think that, because they’ve accomplished such a task, their poem will stand its own ground. Yet there IS such a thing as “forced rhyme,” and even if these budding poets cannot see it, the experienced poet always will. We can tell when a rhyme has been forced because the sentence is grammatically incorrect; the rhyming word is either fictional, archaic without likewise archaic verses or impractical; or the entire line throws off the whole poem.

I have written all about rhyme in poetry in an article called “What Rhyme Is It, Anyway?” (which I sold to Writing-World.com), but my point on rhyme here is that IT IS NOT IMPORTANT TO A POEM. If you are writing a poem for a poetry contest calling for poems such as limericks, odes, lullabies, etc., THEN rhyme is important. But if it is not required of the poem, then don’t try to force it. Believe me, the experienced poet can always catch forced rhyme. And when the poet elects to use forced rhyme in their poetry, what does that say of the poet? That they don’t take their poetry-writing very seriously? That they don’t care if their poem is out there in the world unedited? That they don’t take poetry itself very seriously? Like it or not, how well or poorly you write can reflect on how others will see you. They will look at this unedited, unrevised poem you threw out into the world as a final draft and have second thoughts about reading more of your work.

The good thing about poetry is that, while it must ultimately be about something, it doesn’t have to be written a certain way. There are so many different styles and variations of poetry today that the budding poet would be loathe to think that every single poem they write must rhyme. Of course rhymed poetry is the most common type of poetry written by the uninitiated, but given the various choices of styles and technique available, more can be learned about writing poetry if the budding poet were to venture outside of this belief to something a little more versatile.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The downsides of journalism

When I was asked to show a source my story before submitting it to my editor, I had issues. Normally, journalists are told to NEVER let your sources read your work BEFORE it goes to press. I had this same issue when I was in college: A source I was interviewing grabbed my notes and started making corrections, mumbling "I didn't say that" and "that's not correct." When I later talked to my instructor about this (without telling him exactly WHAT had happened, because I was too embarrassed over it), he reinforced the rule that we cannot share our notes and stories. And just as I am willing to safeguard my sources with a fierceness, I should consider doing the same with my stories.

But on one occasion, I didn't. I didn't do this. I never wanted to admit to this, but I ended up showing my sources my story. They promptly sent it back to me with red lines crossing out sentences and rephrased quotations. After I read it, I had a very sick feeling in my stomach. It felt like someone else had written my story. It was like a child having a parent do their homework for them (for the record, I always did my own homework).

I felt like someone's puppet.

This experience may be chalked up to the whole "live and learn" philosophy but it's definitely made me recall other ways journalists end up being someone's puppet. Anytime a company or celebrity has a "publicity moment," journalists are assembled to hold interviews, take pictures and record sound bites. In this way, they're not really reporting on news; they're doing something to make the company or celebrity look GOOD. This is exactly what happens with all those magazines writing frilly, soulful stories over Britney Spears' pregnancy; the crap being shoved down our throats isn't anything new but, oh, it's BRITNEY SPEARS so we HAVE to write about it.

Give me a break.

Rant off. Heh.

Seriously, though. This is just an example. The same can (but not always does) happen with the war going on in Iraq; Bush's press control team wants journalists and reporters to show the POSITIVE side of the war all in the name of justifying it. Never mind any mistakes or oversights made. Never mind it was later proven that Hussein had NO LINK to September 11th or that there weren’t any WMDs. Never mind any of that; journalists were spoon-fed the GOOD stuff. And some actually reported it.

Then there's the fact that, when we try to cover the news nobody gets to read about, certain people all of a sudden are stricken with amnesia.

"I don't know who you are."

"I have no idea who/what you are talking about."

"I never said that!" (Even though it was recorded.)

"I never did that." (Add your own variations here.)

"You never told me you wanted to talk about THAT."

Add to this the trouble we have to go to in trying to draw out the anonymous source. We hear about an anonymous couple doing this or an anonymous group doing that and OF COURSE we want to write about it, because it has serious news value. Then when we finally contact these sources in some way, they clam up. They don’t WANT to be interviewed or dragged through the retelling, because they want to REMAIN anonymous. I have no problem with this, yet no matter how much I assure them I will keep them anonymous and that I would never give out their information, these people tend to think that talking to me would be like signing their death warrant. The problem with this is that, without these sources, there is no story. And the whole story of how this is happening never sees the light of day. Of course, there's always the chance that some hush money can come into play here, but there’s also the chance that these people just don’t trust the media.

Alternatively, I have also been contacted by people who don't mind revealing themselves with stories that literally made my jaw drop. There were the cases of people suffering from a type of depression because of low-carb diets. The story of women suffering from chronic pain and disfiguration due to plastic surgery. The real-life story of teens committing suicide because of a serious case of bullying in one part of the country.

And NOBODY wanted to run it. I contacted newspapers and magazines, saying I had these leads. And all I got was the "how sad but not for us" treatment. I'm suspicious. Money is probably the reason why they won't run it. A magazine running an article on how low-carb diets can be BAD would lose advertising revenue from the makers of low-carb foods (which translates into thousands of dollars). Running an article on the downsides of plastic surgery could cost plastic surgeons money -- or even magazines advertising these services money. It's all about money, even when it comes to journalism.

So the real difference here is what the journalist is willing to do. How far they are willing to go and what ethics and morals they can live with in compromising.

As for me, I'll never again be compromising ANY of them.