I was intrigued by remarks made by Tim Love in his review of Inventing Truth, plus his exchange with Sheenagh Pugh in the comments section of the same article, about the use of syllabics in poetry. Love stated "it had to be pointed out to me that the poems are syllabics", while Pugh replied with "I have never, ever noticed that a poem was in syllabics before it was pointed out".
These statements run contrary to my own poetic methods and are thus terrific points of departure for an explanation of my use of syllabics:
I'm 100% convinced there's a subtle syllabic music that runs through English-language poetry and lyrics, lying just below the stresses, often drowned out by the heavier resonance of the latter. When writing poems I never need to count syllables - I instinctively notice and feel them. In other words, an iambic pentameter is a decasyllabic line at the same time. If you are counting stresses you are inevitably and implicitly counting syllables too, as stress patterns are made up of clustered syllables.
What's undeniable is that stresses are a key element to the rhythms of English, far more than in languages such as Spanish, in which metrics are always pure syllabics. By this I mean that any English-language poet writing in syllabics simply must also be aware of stresses. I find that syllabics enables me to play with anapests, iambs, dactyls and trochées within a musical framework, a game that inversely provides me with greater freedom to do so than in free verse, all because the whispering music of syllabics underpins them. Rather than ignoring stresses, I'm doing quite the opposite, using them to create and disrupt aural expectations, seeking to bring together musical effects and semantics.
Editors', readers' and other poets' reactions to my use of syllabics have always been split, in that roughly half have fallen into the Pugh-Love camp, unaware of my metrics until they were pointed out. A large number, however, have instinctively and immediately picked up on my technique.
I'd like to end this post by underlining that it's not meant to be some kind of defence of my poetic methods. Quite the reverse: I hope it provokes thought and I welcome comments below.
I talked to Amali Rodrigo about her first collection ‘Lotus Gatherers’ (Bloodaxe). PART ONE: THE POET Paul: What was it like growing up in Sri Lanka? Amali...