The Short Verse

Before we head properly into this entry, an announcement that from next week, these updates will be posted on Tuesday rather than a Monday. This small change means it’s easier to make any last-minute amendments that need to be done – and they often need to be done.


I know a poet called Roderick who writes almost exclusively short poems, rarely more than four lines long. He doesn’t use any prescribed forms such as the haiku or the clerihew, only free verse, drawing inspiration largely from the landscape in the north of Scotland and the train journeys that take him there.

As such, Roderick rarely wastes a word, so it’s always a treat to experience his work. Too often, I hear poetry that has potential but contains extra language that serves only to make each line a similar length, usually to create a rhyming couplet. Used sparingly, rhyme often works just as well in free verse.

One occasion when I used such a technique was writing about a tree in the botanic gardens owned by the University of Dundee. The piece began as a stanza of around 12 lines, but it felt rather drawnout and inelegant. By paring it down to a third of that size, I was able to make the point much more clearly. The final version will be published in an anthology this year.

That’s not to say that a short piece is always better than a long one. It’s doubtful that Allen Ginsberg would have made the same impact with a two-minute Howl, and there’s no way John Milton could have condensed Paradise Lost into a slim volume.

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Don’t be a slowcoach.

Last week, I mentioned I was working to submit an essay about John Milton’s Paradise Lost before Friday.

I’m pleased to report I managed to submit it via the university’s online system on Wednesday and – as Dundee hasn’t gone fully electronic yet – in person at the office on Thursday. There will be more to come next semester, but that’s it for the moment.

Unlike Douglas Adams, I try my utmost to respect deadlines. Yes, other priorities are going to stand in the way from time to time, but not on every occasion. The last thing I want is to gain a reputation as someone who says they’ll do a piece of work then doesn’t deliver in time. Even with the essay business, I made sure there was an entry here every Monday.

Ladybank railway station Original description:...
Ladybank railway station Original description: Ladybank Railway Station Looking down the track, straight on for Perth, bear right for Dundee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Saturday evening, I was booked to read poetry at Off the Rails at Ladybank railway station in Fife; it was at one point the stationmaster’s house. About 50 people are packed into a single room, while poets and musicians perform in front of an open fire. The building seems to be well soundproofed, so it’s rare to hear a train; the loudest noise was the wind howling outside the window.

Unfortunately, two of the four poets had to cancel, and only one replacement could be found at short notice. This gave me a deadline of less than half an hour to expand my set accordingly. I’d brought seven poems with me, which would push me just over my 10 allocated minutes.

Fortunately, the rest of my work is backed up to Dropbox and I was able to read a long piece from my phone to make up the time. It ended up being an excellent night, and I’m happy to do it again in the future.

News in brief.

I’m afraid last week’s entry was rather short, and so is this one.

For the first time in six years, I’ve been unable to complete the 50,000 words required for a NaNoWriMo novel. It’s not that I’m stuck with the story – far from it, in fact – but I have to write a detailed essay about Paradise Lost by John Milton for my MLitt degree, and it’s due for this Friday.

Happily, the essay is now under control and I should be able to submit it a day or two before the deadline. After that, I’ll aim to resume my usual long entries.