RHYMING POETRY WRITING TIPS – WITH STEPHEN WHITESIDE -The Billy That Died With its Boots on

Today, acclaimed poet and author, Stephen Whiteside shares his secrets on writing rhyming verse.

Tips for Writing Rhyming Verse by Stephen Whiteside

Stephen_WhitesideWhen I was young, my father introduced me to the poetry of Banjo Paterson. Later, I discovered the poetry of C. J. Dennis. Both of these poets write rhyming verse or, as it is sometimes called, ‘bush verse’.

This comes from the idea that these poems were often recited from memory ‘around the campfire’ in the days when there were no computers, radios or TVs, and newspapers were few and far between. Bush dwellers, like shearers and drovers, had to make their own fun. Even a guitar was too bulky to take on a long trek ‘outback’.

Bush verse often tells stories. The wordplay of the rhyme is great fun, but the poetry is about much more than the rhyme – it also about the ‘metre’, or rhythm. In fact, this is even more important than the rhyme.

Here are some tips to writing rhyming verse.
1. Read some examples of classical ‘bush verse’ to familiarise yourself with the genre. Some classic ‘Banjo’ Paterson poems can be found here and here. A very famous poem by C. J. Dennis can be found here:

  1. Give some thought to the rhyming pattern that you want. The rhyme that stands at the end of the first line is traditionally called ‘A’, because that is the first letter in the alphabet. If the end of the second line rhymes with the end of the first line, it is also designated ‘A’. If not, it is designated ‘B’. AABB is probably the most common rhyming scheme employed. It is also one of the easiest to write. These lines with matching rhymes are called ‘rhyming couplets’, for obvious reasons. Another popular rhyming pattern, though it is much harder to write, is ABAB.

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  1. Remember that rhyming verse is not just about rhyme. It is also about rhythm, or ‘metre’. When you have written two rhyming lines, read them both out aloud. Does their rhythm match? If not, you might have a problem. I find that a good way to check this is to tap my foot, or slap my thigh, while I read out the words.
  1. You don’t have to tell a story when you are writing rhyming verse, but it is a good way to begin. Also, don’t feel that you need to know how the story ends before you put pen to paper – or start to type. Often the only way to find out how a story ends is to start writing, and see where it takes you. Don’t worry, too, if your first poems end up a bit of a mess, or you don’t know how to finish them. The more you practise, the better you will get.
  1. Your patterns of rhyme and rhythm can be as simple or as complicated as you wish. It is entirely up to you. You might start out with simple patterns, but become more ambitious as you gain in experience and confidence. It is important, though, that there is some sort of pattern to the verse, and that you find a way to communicate this effectively to the reader.

© Stephen Whiteside

TBTDWIBO_CVR_HRTHE BILLY THAT DIED WITH ITS BOOTS ON

I was drawn to this book not just because I love bush poetry. It appealed to me because it’s different and it’s funny and it’s very Australian.

It introduces readers to a world and situations they might not have much experience with, but it also shares experiences that kids will connect with.

There are some typical “bush poetry” themes, but they have been brought up to date to engage contemporary children.

The rollicking rhyme covers a huge range of topics from the Australian outdoors, sporting life and animals, as well as the domestic world of the average Aussie kid. – with history and sci fi thrown in for good measure.

For easy reading and reference, poems have been grouped according to topics like around the house, dogs and cats, sport, Australian birds and animals, at the beach, weather, history and Christmas.

There’s often an interesting twist at the end to keep the reader guessing.  Here’s an example.

THE ICE-CREAM THAT HURT 

I had an ice-cream yesterday,
And, boy, that ice-cream hurt.
Ice-cream’s always good to eat.
It’s taken as a cert!

Massive scoops of butterscotch,
And boysenberry, too;
Sort and creamy, luscious, dreamy,
Flavour through and through.

I walked a little, licking hard,
And here’s the bit that hurt.
The ice-cream toppled off the cone,
And landed in the dirt.

Lauren Merrick’s black and white papercut illustrations add another lively dimension and stimulus for discussion.

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The Billy that Died with its Boots On is the sort of book to be enjoyed at leisure – where you pick out a verse that appeals to you or is relevant at the time. Reading aloud enables you to enjoy the full beauty of the rhythm and language in these pieces.

If Australiana doesn’t appeal or you’re worried that bush poetry isn’t for you, even dinosaurs and aliens feature in this collection.

The Billy That Died with its Boots On is great for classroom read alouds or performances. Poems suit a range of student abilities – some are very straightforward, others are more challenging to perform. This book is for readers 9 +

HOW MEDITATION CAN HELP YOUR WRITING – By Stephen Whiteside

Illustrated by Peter Sheehan

Poet, Stephen Whiteside is back DeeScribewriting today to talk about how meditation influences his work.

So how does meditation help my writing? Firstly, it is almost impossible to suffer from writerʼs block once you start to meditate regularly. The ideas just flow.

The writing that I do while meditating has a slightly different quality to my other writing. It tends to be less inhibited and less linear; it is richer, and less predictable. Ideas take off in all sorts of unexpected directions. If I write a poem while not meditating, I am much more likely to be able to dictate the direction it takes. If I write while meditating, on the other hand, ʻthe gloves are offʼ, so to speak. Anything can happen!

Strictly speaking, of course, I donʼt write while I am meditating. The simple act of picking up the pen breaks the spell. However, words come into my mind while I am meditating, and these often take the form of rhymes.

I generally find this easier to do while lying in bed – usually last thing at night, but sometimes also first thing in the morning. So I will write a few verses in my head while meditating. Then I will become fearful of forgetting them, so I will get up to write them down. Not wanting to disturb my wife by returning to bed, I will try to continue to write the poem sitting at the lounge room table in my pyjamas – but alas, the well is dry! So I go back to bed, start meditating again, and the next few verses magically appear. (Is this cheating?) I might go through this process several times before the poem is completed, much to my wifeʼs chagrin!

Some might argue that, again, strictly speaking, I am not meditating while I write like this. After all, shouldnʼt the mind be empty during meditation? Iʼm not sure how best to answer this. Certainly, my mind is almost never empty during meditation. Perhaps it should be, but it isnʼt. Perhaps I am not meditating as well as the Buddhist masters, but it still feels very different to me from my normal waking state, and I find it extremely beneficial.

I am so glad I was conned into attending that ʻStress Managementʼ course all those years ago. It has changed my life, really. I probably should also state at this point that my experiences with meditation may not be typical. I can only talk of what has happened to me. I think I am a fairly anxious person at the best of times, so my ʻbox of painʼ may be much larger than yours! Then again, it could also be smaller – or just different in some way that I donʼt understand, and probably never will.

Illustrated by Craig Phillips. Published in “Blast Off” magazine, August 2007 (Volume 92, Number 7), by the New South Wales Department of Education and Training.

I would urge anybody to learn to meditate, but I would also encourage formal lessons. Like learning a language or a musical instrument, itʼs much harder to do it by yourself with an instruction manual and, as I say, the early days of meditation can be quite frightening and confronting. Stick with it, though, and Iʼm confident that you will find, like I did, that it changes your life. It will even help your writing!

© Stephen Whiteside 21.06.10

Thanks for sharing this with us Stephen. I’m off to meditate.

Happy meditating and writing:-)

Dee

Next week on Tuesday Writing Tips I’m going to be talking about wrestling with format.

Tuesday Writing Tip – Meditations on Writer’s Block – Part 1

Today we welcome poet Stephen Whiteside to Tuesday Writing Tips. In this two part series, Stephens going to talk about meditation and writing.

I was tricked, really. Conned. Good thing, though.

I write poetry, rhyming poetry, principally for children. I actually write it for myself, but it turns out that children enjoy it more than adults. I am also a doctor.

In 1994 I signed up for course in ʻStress Managementʼ. It was sponsored by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, and offered plenty of points towards the mandatory professional development programme. I was in a stressful job at the time, most of my patients were also pretty stressed, and I needed the points.

Only when it was too late did I realise what I had got myself in for – a course on meditation! I have never been a great fan of all this ʻtouchy-feelyʼ New Age stuff, and if I had known in advance that this is what the course was, there is no way I would ever have signed up. (Clever marketing!)

As I say, though, it was too late to pull out. Besides, the physical environment where the course was being held was comfortable, the presenter calm and reassuring, and my fellow students all quite genial. So I committed myself to the course…and Iʼm oh, so glad I did! Not only has it been good for my life in general, itʼs been great for my writing.

I donʼt know a lot about the various types of meditation, but this was quite simple. We were given three exercises, which we slowly worked our way through over the weeks. The first was to simply let our attention rest on a body part, starting with our feet, then progressing up our bodies to our legs, abdomen, arms, shoulders, neck and head.

The second was to concentrate on our breathing – the movement of air past mouth and nose, the action of our chest and our diaphragm. The final exercise was one of listening, to both the nearest and the furthest sounds. It sounds very simple, of course – almost trite. In fact, I was to find it very confronting.We were advised to meditate for five minutes a day. Looking back now, that seems a laughably short period of time. Back then, though, it was my personal Everest. For quite a while, three minutes was the best I could do. After that, it got too scary. I started to panic, and had to stop.

Certainly, if I had been left to my own devices, that would have been the end of it. It wasnʼt that simple, though. I was committed to the course, wanted the ʻcontinuing educationʼ points, and had to face the presenter and my colleagues.

I donʼt recall exactly when the breakthrough came, but it did come. Suddenly I was going five minutes, and then a lot more.

To the dismay (I think!) of my class-mates, I was reporting meditation sessions lasting up to two hours at a time! A woman asked me rather hostilely how my wife felt about that. I replied that she didnʼt know. I was waking at five, and meditating for two hours while lying in bed.

Of course, this was not strictly in accordance with the guidelines. We were advised not to meditate while lying down, and not to do it first thing in the morning or last thing at night. So I was breaking a couple of rules. It didnʼt seem to really matter, though. I tried meditating sitting up in the middle of the day, and that worked fine, too, but time was short then. Meditating in bed also worked well. The only thing that could go wrong was that I might fall asleep, and that was not a bad thing, either.

Illustration by Kerry Millard. Published in “Touchdown” magazine, October 2004 (Volume 89, Number 9), by the New South Wales Department of Education and Training.

So what were the benefits of meditation? Why did I find it so attractive? Why was I devoting so many hours to it? There is no easy way to put this into words, and I was as surprised by the benefits as anybody could be, really. It felt like I was ʻwashingʼ my brain. In much the same way that my hands feel better after being washed, so did my mind. It was cleansing. It felt like a grease and oil change, as though the component parts of my brain were now cleaner, and running more smoothly. There were no moments of epiphany, just a general feeling of well-being, as though I was thinking much more sharply – and cleanly.

Why, then, did I initially find it so frightening? Itʼs now over sixteen years since I commenced to meditate, and Iʼve scarcely missed a day in all that time, so Iʼve had plenty of time to ponder this question. Hereʼs a model Iʼve come up with that seems to best explain the process.

During the course of the day, as I see it, the conscious mind takes all the ʻnegativeʼ (perhaps ʻpainfulʼ is a better word) emotions that it cannot handle, and secures them tightly in a box that it cannot access. They are thus safely locked away! During the course of the meditatory process, this box is accessed and opened. All of these painful emotions are revealed once again to the conscious mind. In being so experienced, they are dissipated (well, up to a point, anyway).

My meditation experience falls roughly into three stages. In the first stage, I feel nothing much at all – no fear, but also no joy. Just an emotional numbness. Gradually, however, the ʻboxʼ is opened, and a variety of painful emotions are released. This is the scary/painful second stage of my meditation. It can be frightening, but it is in many ways preferable to the nothingness of the numbness that precedes it. This lasts for a long time. I sink deeper and deeper into my ʻbox of painʼ, and begin to develop quite powerful physical sensations. These often take the form of a feeling of pressure against my lips and teeth, as though I am ʻleaning intoʼ my subconscious.

If I persist with the second stage long enough, though, a third stage can often be reached. This is where the pain gradually dissipates, to be replaced by a sense of pleasure. However, I donʼt always get this far. Sometimes I get ʻstuckʼ in the pain, and realise Iʼm not going to get past it, no matter how long I try. An exponential law seems to operate here. After some initial substantial gains, progress can slow right down. Having said that, no matter whether I meditate for five minutes or two hours, and no matter whether I move beyond the pain or not, at the end of the process I always feel much better for having meditated at all.

I think it is important to understand that, while meditation does lead to relaxation, the road is quite a tough one, and can be quite rocky. ʻNo pain, no gainʼ, as they say. It applies as much to meditation as to anything else.

I recently read a medical account of the side effects of meditation. While the list of potential symptoms was undoubtedly true enough, the writer seemed to have no understanding of the process of meditation. Sure there can be painful feelings, but these are not an end in themselves, and must be experienced before the benefits can be realised.

Like anything, meditation gets easier with practice. For me now it is not something I have to think about. It comes to me automatically, just like breathing, or scratching an itch. I often find I have drifted into a meditative state without having made any conscious effort to do so.

© Stephen Whiteside 21.06.10

Stephen will be back at DeeScribe Writing on Thursday to talk about how meditation has helped him with his writing.