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June Clitheroll 
“Poetry and a Christmas Pud”

The Method
A few weeks before Christmas 2006 I joined a number of internet poetry critique and discussion lists with the intention of seeing how they operated.  My methodology was to follow and map threads of interest, and to examine how they worked and how information was shared.   As someone with an interest in poetry I was not just being a glutton for punishment, but it was part of my research into the validity of the internet as a means of developing writer’s communities which are not linked to location. 
The internet is changing the pace and availability of feedback within groups and this is broadening the skill levels of writers and poets in all parts of the world.   Peer groups are forming “interest” internet communities and this is changing the way writers receive information about their work in progress, but not always for the better.  Some of those who spend hours each day giving feedback do so from a limited skill base, pallet or agenda, and this means that the people receiving the “advice” or feedback may be limiting their potential, or delaying their development as writers and poets.  I have seen a few very well written and original pieces of writing being unfairly critiqued for no other good reason I would suggest, after reading their submissions, than the person offering the comments did not have the skill base or knowledge to write that well themselves.
Some of the internet groups though are more organized and have amongst their members those with experience and expertise enough to be able to turn their communities into workshops of high quality which thrive on excellent poetry.  One such is the PK List. 
What follows is a mapping of a thread of information from the PK Poetry List, a poetry critique list hosted by Poetry Kit and utilizing individual emails which are sent to all list members (It is possible to opt for a digest of mails or “no mail” in which case mails are read on line in the list server archive.).  The posting of an original poem, usually generates individual responses often a few lines of encouragement and critique, occasionally with some additional information.  In this case however, the information developed into a debate about sonnets.  I set out to follow this thread and to map it as a field study to see if it is possible to use the list servers as a teaching tool or to augment discussion in a teaching setting, or at least to see how they are being used by those familiar with their operation.
In the following extract from the email files I have used mails, with permission, from the following PK List members
Catherine Kanaan
Waiata Dawn Davies
Arthur Seeley
Jim Bennett
Bob Cooper
Gary Blankenship
Stuart Nunn
Karen Stanley
Angela Keaton
Copyright on all the original material quoted remains with the writers.
The Email Files

The start point for the thread was a poem from the poet Catherine Kanaan

Date:         Tue, 12 Dec 2006 19:08:08 +0100
From:         Catherine Kanaan Subject:      Love Sonnet
I know that sonnets are out but I am throwing this one in anyway.
Love Sonnet
I folded all you said inside my heart
against the day when we might be apart,
And laughter hadn’t any role to play
as silence spoke the dying of the day.
I loved you all the seasons of the year,
in spring when flowers burst in every place.
I loved you with the summer drawing near
to hold us in its lengthening embrace.
But I’ve seen winter coming in your eyes
when colored leaves have danced their tune and gone
with autumn barely touching with her sighs
the weighted gold of low September sun.
I’ll find my way alone, I’ve said goodbye
yet letting go will kill me till I die.


Wed, 13 Dec 2006 07:29:56 +1300
From:         Waiata Dawn Davies
Subject:      Re: Love Sonnet
Why should sonnets be 'out'? That is like apologising for having Chippendale
furniture in your home. Poetry has so many forms and they all have their
uses. Yours is beautiful, don't apologize.
Arthur Seeley responded to the assertion that sonnets are out of date by writing a witty sonnet in reply.  Then Jim Bennett the List organizer posted a

Wed, 13 Dec 2006 21:25:52 +0000
From:         Jim Bennett
Subject:      Re: Love Sonnet
I think there are some fine examples of the modern sonnet around.  Lynn Strongin has just sent
 a "sonnet of sonnets” 14 interrelated and linked sonnets, which really are superb, sad thing is she is splitting them off to different publishers because no one will take them all.  As for this sonnet you have used a very mixed rhyme scheme which in some ways adds to its interest but in others underlines the simple and unsurprising rhyming words.  The last line just didn't work for me, "kill me till I die" is too much of a mix of colloquial and realist language and I find the clash too distracting.
The sonnet is one of those forms that calls you back to it.  It is long enough to say something of substance and develop the idea and to the counter it in the second part.  You have encountered the turn very well here with the "but" ideally timed.  But I would look again at those rhymes.

There were several responses to Arthur’s humorous sonnet, but I want to stay with the main thread, where interestingly the focus starts to shift away from the initial comment made in the text preamble to the original sonnet itself.

Wed, 13 Dec 2006 21:30:49 +0000
From:         Bob Cooper
Subject:      Re: Love Sonnet
Hi Catherine,
I'm not sure about this sonnet. Which is a shame because I do like sonnets
and think, as a form, they keep surviving everyone who says they won't.
But I don't like sonnets that imitate what sonnets did centuries ago.
(Unless they're being ironic or funny or odd or whatever!) I think, using
their rhyme patterns and how they flex and switch their ideas and images,
they can still belong as much today as any poem.
However, here, in your piece, I sense the rhyme-words, and their following
rhymes, are a bit (erm) expected. I find as I'm reading it, I'm focusing so
much on stressing the rhyme words! Perhaps that's because so many of them,
eleven, are one syllable words.
I also feel the piece is saying to me, "Read me like an old sonnet" not like
a new poem.
If you get a book-token for Christmas I could suggest glancing at Don
Patterson’s edited Faber book of 100 sonnets. I enjoyed reading it because he
brought the form right up to date and it was possible to see how things had
changed. I get the feeling, and not just from that book, that sonnets about
love may not be written like this now.

Wed, 13 Dec 2006 14:32:59 -0800
From:         Gary Blankenship
Subject:      Re: Love Sonnet
But I’ve seen winter coming in your eyes
when colored leaves have danced their tune and gone
with autumn barely touching with her sighs
the weighted gold of low September sun.
Catherine I like the middle S.  Sonnets are not out of favor, simply
uncommon.  They belong in the big tent.
Catherine then responds with thanks to several of the people
 who had sent mail.

Thu, 14 Dec 2006 00:58:16 +0100
From:         Catherine Kanaan
Subject:      Re: Love Sonnet
You're right, Bob. I like the form and will try a different tack!

Stuart Nunn enters the thread  with a comment on stresses.

Thu, 14 Dec 2006 10:39:45 -0000
From:         Stuart Nunn
Subject:      Re:
 Love Sonnet
I don't think sonnets are out at all.
I'd like yours better I think if each line had five stresses instead of the four that all but one of your lines has. Compare:
as silence spoke the dying of the day
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
The extra stress makes it less of a jingle.
Best wishes

Another sonnet is now posted from Karen Stanley who identifies the source of the requirement to produce sonnets.

Sun, 24 Dec 2006 16:23:21 +0000
From:         Karen Stanley
Subject:      Sonnet - assignment for Jim's Poetry course
Hi Guys,
if anyone gets chance to give me some feedback I would be very appreciative - the assignment has to be in by 7th Jan
We have to write a sonnet, and although I have tried to make it rhyme, I think I may have used some hackneyed phrases - it may be a little corny, and I am really not very happy with the ending.
Any suggestions would be gratefully received - thanks
bw Karen
Old Harp Inn – Neston Marshes
There are many ghosts about this Inn:
some clatter in the attic eaves;
some float, on mud-tides, flowing in;
some whisper in wind’s eddied leaves.
Low moanings rise from coal mine shafts
grassed over;  the grasping breath
of long forgotten pitmen trapped
inside their tombs, awaiting death.
Across the marsh, the sad lament
of sailors, keen: their keels undone
on unseen rocks; their short lives spent
before their journeys had begun.
But the ghost who haunts me most, is me:
that long-ago-gone girl, dreaming by the sea.

Catherine responds supportively.

Sun, 24 Dec 2006 18:33:31 +0100
From:         Catherine Kanaan
Subject:      Re: Sonnet - assignment for Jim's Poetry course
hello Karen,
I'm struggling with a sonnet of my own so don't feel in a position to 
comment yet. I like it though and the ending really appeals to me 
actually.  I don't know if I dare post one before the deadline. Brave woman!
Merry Christmas,

Arthur returns with a comment in relation to Karen’s sonnet but which is full of information, correctly identifying several major features in Karen’s poem.  These focused specific comments are extremely valuable, not least because they are very accurate.

  Mon, 25 Dec 2006 10:06:36 -0000
From:         Arthur Seeley
Subject:      Re: Sonnet - assignment for Jim's Poetry course (Karen)
Good Morning Karen.
Sonnets are not easy. The rhyming is fine here although 'in' and 'inn' are a
little bit too close and later 'shafts' and 'trapped' are more assonance
than rhyme but still, after Heaney totally acceptable. Rhyming should appear
to come naturally and never be forced so doing it well is not easy. You have
done very well. As a matter of interest rhyming devolved from balladeers who
would perform the work to audiences without it being written down so the
rhymes acted as a sort of memory trick and aided the remembering.
The sonnet is conventionally written in iambic pentameter although I myself
settle for five heavy stresses per line. Your meter, however, is all over
the place. I am not sure how strict Jim has said you need to be on meter so
it is up to him really.
The last six lines are what is normally called the ‘volta’ where there is a
change of course from the previous eight lines and there is a summary or
reflection on the first eight lines. You have continued on rather than
performing the 'volta'.
Despite all this and I hope you feel it is not too negative, I like the
theme of your sonnet and the last two lines especially.
It is very pleasing to see someone actively learning to write poetry and I
applaud you for the effort. Poetry is a craft as much as an art and tackling
the discipline of the sonnet will help develop your facility for writing so
that when you write in free verse that discipline will serve you well. Merry
Christmas. Arthur

Karen responds with thanks.  Then comes this questioning mail from Bob Cooper.

Tue, 26 Dec 2006 10:44:38 +0000
From:         Bob Cooper
Subject:      Re: Sonnet - assignment for Jim's Poetry course (Karen)
Hi Karen,
I'm puzzled - so I'm asking a couple of questions before I even think about
staring hard at your poem.
1. Does the sonnet you've been asked to write have to rhyme (and rhyme to a
particular sonnet pattern)?
2. Does it have to be written in iambic pentameter (which is one of the
worst ever descriptive phrases to give to one of the most natural lines for
English poetry)?
Oh, and 3: what are these courses? (i.e. What's the link between this place
and formal education?)

Jim responds to answer the specific queries related to the exercise.

Tue, 26 Dec 2006 16:22:40 -0000
From:         Jim Bennett
Subject:      Re: Sonnet - assignment for Jim's Poetry course ( Bob)
Hi Bob 
Happy Yule and Boxing Day and New Year,
I suppose as I set it I can answer your queries.
1. Does the sonnet you've been asked to write have to rhyme (and rhyme to a
particular sonnet pattern)?
2. Does it have to be written in iambic pentameter (which is one of the
worst ever descriptive phrases to give to one of the most natural lines for
English poetry)?
Oh, and 3: what are these courses? (i.e. What's the link between this place
and formal education?)
I run a number of courses, some online.   Quite a few of the people on this list have over the
years taken one or more of my courses.   The list is on an academic server
which is designed to assist teaching staff and students.   Obviously it can
have other uses as well and the PK List (and indeed Pennine, Brit and Irish,
and Poetry etc, are of which use JISCMail.) is an approved use.   The main
link I suppose is me and the fact that I am an academic.   I often encourage
students (I use the term broadly) to join in the life of the list as it
gives them a broader feel for what is happening with modern poetry.   I know
quite a few list members in the real world through performances and courses.
Equally there are those that have come to the PK List through other
serendipitous means and to that extent everyone is welcome and we have an
open door policy.

Catherine responds to Karen’s poem.

Wed, 27 Dec 2006 09:03:01
From:         Catherine Kanaan
Subject:      Re: Sonnet - assignment for Jim's Poetry course ( Karen)
Hello again Karen,
I looked again at the poem. I do like it. The sestet, however, is 
supposed to turn the corner a bit, either a vindication, or some 
kind of settling what was in the octet.
Actually, Arthur mentions this.  Also "winds eddied leaves"  
might be a tad old-fashioned.   "awaiting death" could be stronger.  
Again, the rhyming should always seems to spring fresh, seemingly from 
nowhere, even though we may have stayed up all night gnashing our 
teeth trying to find the right rhyming word.  sad lament and keen are 
to me a bit redundant.  I very much like the feel of the poem and 
again the last two lines are lovely.

Jim’s terse reply to Bob’s mail brings more questions from Arthur.  Notice here the understanding, in the final line, that email lacks the personal touch so there is a fear that the tone may be misread.

Wed, 27 Dec 2006 11:12:51
From:         Arthur Seeley
Subject:      Sonnets (Jim)
Should it have a rhyme scheme?
JIM: No.
Should it be written in Iambic pentameter?
JIM: No.
You could go on and ask should it have 14 lines?
Should there be a 'Volta' between the octet and sestet? etc.
Would these questions also draw a negative response?
So at what point does an ordinary poem (ordinary in the sense that it has none of these attributes) become a sonnet or when does a sonnet stop being a sonnet and become a poem other than a sonnet?
I am not a pedant by any means and accept Heaney's Station Island Sonnets and the sequence to his dead mother as sonnets even Hopkins' curtal sonnets and his innovation of sprung rhythm are acceptable to me- all as sonnets.
But under what restrictions or rather discipline were your course members working when they had to write their 'sonnets'. This is a friendly question and not contentious, Jim.


Catherine responds with some information.

   Wed, 27 Dec 2006
 13:26:22 +0100
From:         Catherine Kanaan
Subject:      Re: Sonnets ( Jim)
Hello Arthur,
I'm following the same course. Basically we can write a traditional 
sonnet or not as we please. The 14 lines are still de rigueur. The 
sestet should still have a volta as you put it and the couplet 
should be a summing up and very fresh. So we have a lot of leeway. I 
have written a more modern sonnet, not quite finished. It does not 
have iambic pent. but does have 14 lines, hopefully a sestet with a 
different tone and a couplet. Hope that helps!


Jim responds to answer Arthur’s mail and give a very modern interpretation of the sonnet form.

Wed, 27 Dec 2006 12:26:23 -0000
From:         Jim Bennett
Subject:      Re: Sonnets (Jim)
The questions asked "Should it have..." and I would always answer no to that because it is too proscriptive and there is no one thing in its visible layout that it needs to make it a sonnet.  If however the question was "could it have?"  Then of course "yes" would result.  Clearly there has to be something about its makeup which enables us to recognise it as a sonnet and there is a point there is a point where a sonnet becomes a "fourteenliner" but for me it is nothing to do with its literal form but rather its intention.  
Some aspects of a recognised sonnet form need to be in place for it to be recognised, but for me the important aspect of the sonnet is not the bits that we apply to its definition but rather the debate that it examines.   
In the same way the haiku has a purpose which is to focus on a single moment and to enable the reader to contemplate some aspect of that moment in juxtaposition to some of its features.  In that respect it has less to do with the number of syllables it contains or how the lines are laid out.  more to do with the spirit of the poem and what its intent is.   For me the sonnet works in a similar way; less what it looks like more about what it is.

Gary responds to Jim’s mail.  Notice although he challenges the interpretation given by Jim he ends with “smiles”, again this is an attempt to overcome the limitations placed on communication by email.

  Wed, 27 Dec 2006 07:08:36 -0800
From:         Gary Blankenship
Subject:      Re: Sonnets (Jim and Arthur)
For me as a terrible rhymed iambic sonnet penner, for a free form to work there needs to be 14 lines generally 10 count, never more and maintaining the octet, sestet and esp. closing couplet.  If less than 10 count, there should be a pattern and not a random line length.  And the couplet should stay 10.

Arthur responds to Jim’s mail.  Again challenging the viewpoint.

Wed, 27 Dec 2006 16:04:17 -0000
From:         Arthur Seeley
Subject:      Re: Sonnets (Jim)
OK, so far as it goes, Jim, but when you say ' Some aspects of a recognised sonnet form need to be in place for it to be recognised,' you leave those aspects undefined as you do 'the debate that it examines'. You see I could imagine the rhyme scheme being so 'quarter rhymed' as Heaney does to the point where it is not a rhyme scheme at all and I know that the iambic pentameter, musically eloquent as it can be, need not be a mandatory feature indeed some sonnets use the hexameter and some no meter at all, and even the 14 lines have been eschewed by some but although you may have explained on your course what aspects need to be included you have left them undefined in this response. What are the aspects and what is the nature of the debate? Does the debate involve the volta to which I make reference that 'other' aspect of the opening eight lines looked at from another side? All this in the spirit of polite enquiry. Arthur


Jim responds to answer the points being raised by posing a question.

Wed, 27 Dec 2006 16:12:57 -0000
From:         Jim Bennett
Subject:      Re: Sonnets (Gary)
So are you saying that anything which is fits the definition you have given is a sonnet?
It strikes me that this like saying that anything which is 17 syllables long is a haiku.  Which is as I am sure you will agree would be a silly thing to say.
While I would agree that some things coming into your definition would be sonnets equally other things would not, and other sonnets would be excluded.


Gary replies to Jim’s question.  

Wed, 27 Dec 2006
From:         Gary Blankenship
Subject:      Re: Sonnets (Gary)
No, I'm saying to me they seem best to be called "sonnets" with those attributes.  For example, would an 8 line poem - the octet only - be a sonnet?  Or two lines, or 30?  There are enough names for forms imo to not have to stretch one to that limit.
Even the ku writers who avoid 5 7 5 allow some basic attributes for a haiku whether a one liner or 3 line minimal.


Jim then replies with a much fuller examination of his views on the sonnet.

Wed, 27 Dec 2006 18:01:47 -0000
From:         Jim Bennett
Subject:      Re: Sonnets (Gary)
Recently in summing up what a sonnet was I wrote;
"The basic structure of the sonnet is 14 lines with a turning point or "volta" (sometimes called a "crisis") around line 9 and 10.  The meter is usually Iambic pentameter with substitutions to avoid too strong a rhythm.  Using the Shakespearian structure the poem can be thought of as 8 lines laying down the argument, 4 lines of comparison followed by two lines summing up.  Some poems are laid down with stanza breaks at these points although others are broken into 4 line stanza (quatrains) followed by a final stanza of 2 lines.    Any of these structures can be used to create modern poems with traits of a sonnet...
(I added) ...Modern Sonnets look and sound like free form poetry.  A sonnet enables us to express a narrative in a lyrical way.   They move like a story are logical and present the counter argument.  The last two lines should be memorable in summing up the point of the poem.
And therein is the whole point of the sonnet the "turn" which usually though not always occurs at line 9.  Without the turn there is no sonnet just a fourteen line poem perhaps in iambic pentameter or not.  But the point is that a poem which breaks these conventions, because that is all they are, is a sonnet if it feels like a sonnet, has that question and answer the argument and response.  Without that element it is not a sonnet.   The turn or volta is the one essential that makes a sonnet a sonnet.  After all when Shakespeare took the Petrarchan sonnet he introduced changes to the form, Milton and Donne also to the point of mixing forms and linking sonnets, sonnet redouble all sorts of things occurred.  Keats was a wonderful developer of the sonnet and the form is developed and changed like an organic living thing should be up to today, and tomorrow morning it will change again.  And although we use the form and develop it, some features remain which identify it, and the most important of these IMHO is the volta and the narrative structure.   I will also say that if something is presented to me as a sonnet I will accept it as such and then consider if is successful as a sonnet or not, I would not say something is not a sonnet because it does not have a certain number of feet on the last line for example.

Angela Keaton enters the thread with a sonnet of her own.  

  Wed, 27 Dec 2006 19:57:11 -0000
From:         Angela Keaton
Subject:      Re: Sonnets
One Sonnet?
And 0f Dis ease
From Raymond Queneau
The minstrels verse is sown Etruscan words
A bird comes to a banquet while fates bless
Harpies strum your lips before you smile
How it surprised us clutch the breath we held
When cherry pips without a squeeze on loan
Engrave an icicle grey underlings
Pots were pale old rusty armour spreads
Graffiti'd over marrow pings address
For Europe's prose go numb to bury slave
Bold Yorick we'll the epilogue not Rome
When it's no Greece which melts corned cottage floor
Rich men suffocate before beef's good
Glory while his masons took
Heaven crying brain poor Mistress Mog

Bob responds to Jim’s earlier answer to his mail.  

 Wed, 27 Dec 2006 21:57:40 +0000
From:         Bob Cooper
Subject:      Re: Sonnet - assignment for Jim's Poetry course (Bob)
Hi Jim,
Season's greetings to you, too!
And thanks for the answers!
I see a couple of your answers have started something while I've been
So, in this reply, I'm saying thanks for answering question 3!
I was curious about the links... perhaps because I'd thought this site had
an open door policy, as you say it has.
Who's serendipitous! (And will look the word up when he signs off!)


Bob responds to Angela’s poem.  

Wed, 27 Dec 2006 22:00:23 +0000
From:         Bob Cooper
Subject:      Re: Sonnets (
Hi Angela,
(I'm the guy who, it seems, asks questions...)
After reading what you've posted I've got another question:
Is this from Raymond Queneau's One Hundred Thousand Billion Sonnets, the
Ouipio game that offers a lot of help for adventurous sonneteers?
Or am I totally off the track?
I'm enchanted by much of it - but like with a lot of language poems I know I
need to read it a few more times before it all starts to work together...


Bob gives a fuller response to the thread by offering an attempt at a definition.  

Wed, 27 Dec 2006 22:06:32 +0000
From:         Bob Cooper
Subject:      Re: Sonnets ( Jim)
Hi Jim, Arthur, Catherine, & whoever else is reading!
Having asked the question - I'd like to chip in and offer the Start of a
definition (maybe my definition) for a sonnet.
I guess I read a sonnet as initially stating one thing (possibly one
subject); then it presents another thing (possibly another subject, or
another view of the same subject); and then it offers a conclusion (that
sums things up and refers more to the initial subject where the poem
It becomes a sonnet if it has these three ingredients - and if it feels like
other poems that are already recognised as sonnets. Without this
deep-structure of changes, that creates momentum and movement, nothing else
can make a poem a sonnet.
Somewhere I think I've got sonnets that have only one letter on a line, or
one word on a line, or 14 identical lines! I've also got poems that are 8 or
so lines long, free verse things that are twice as long as a formal sonnet,
and formal sonnets that are 16 lines long. There's a feel for the poems
being sonnets. And sonnets with different rhyme schemes, other than the
iambic pentameter line lengths, and whatever else is varied, all create
different results!
I rarely use rhymes schemes when I write sonnets. But I've enjoyed hiding
rhymes in lines instead of having them at the end of lines. I think I've
read a couple of poems with the rhymes at the start of lines. I've read
poems where the lines have tapered from full to what Arthur might call a
quarter-rhyme (and I have a vague recollection  of someone saying they've
read a couple of sonnets where one had rhymes that faded and the 2nd one
started with faint rhymes and they then got stronger until they were full in
the last couplet). I love subtle rhymes - and I don't "always" cringe at
full yes-you-guessed-it-already(!) rhymes. And if a poem has all the rhymes
in all the right orders for being a sonnet but it hasn't got the feel of a
sonnet (the 3 parts) then, for me, it ain't a proper sonnet! It's like the
Rolexes you can buy from a guy in a car park. It might look right at first
glance but so soon it...
I think the worst sonnets are those that have the feel of being written a
century and a half ago but their ink is still wet. When I'm fed up with
reading them I want to call them not Sonnets, but Swrongetts - cos,
somewhere deep inside, they're made wrong. I think a 2007 sonnet should feel
as if it belongs to 2007.


Angela replies with an explanation related to her sonnet.

Wed, 27 Dec 2006 22:38:39 -0000
From:         Angela Keaton
Subject:      Re: Sonnets ( Jim) (Angela!)
Spot on Bob.
                I used the vocabulary from one of his versions but put constraints
on myself about how I would use it. One I remember was that no word in my
poem should be next to the words that flanked it in the original. It is some
time and a house move since I wrote it so I would need to do some rooting in
files to see if I invented other rules for myself.

At this point other mails are arriving but the thread is breaking up into short thank you messages and comments.  The next major mail directly related is from Bob offering a critique of Karen’s poem.

Thu, 28 Dec 2006 19:23:54 +0000
From:         Bob Cooper
Subject:      Re: Sonnet - assignment for Jim's Poetry course ( Karen)
Hi Karen,
I think Arthur and Catherine are making good points about your piece.
Perhaps my two-penn'th is something to do with the rhythm of some of the
lines. Some lines feel stacatto, perhaps that's because the last two lines
feel so smooth.
But I think a sonnet that's written all the way through in iambic pentameter
can be just so boring to read (even if it's written with trochees and not
iambs). Dum-dee, dum-dee, dum-dee, dum-dee, dum-dee every line, every time -
(H'm, and this is almost an aside, I guess one of the quick ways of checking
if a 14 line poem is a sonnet is to look for full stops - or some
punctuation that indicates a biggish pause - at the ends of lines 4, 8, 10 &
Could it be, in the poem that's below, where you've a line that's a tad
shorter - lines 2 and 3 for instance have only 4 double beats haven't they?
- you "might" play a little to extend the line. I feel the rhythm, and the
length, of the last two lines is great! It's after reading those I then look
back on the poem and notice some lines don't work as well.
Arthur also comments that the "volta" - or what Jim calls the "crisis" - is
not too well defined in the poem. That might be so... It might be that line
9 could begin, "And from the marsh..." (or "Then from...) and keep a full
stop on the line above! Then the start of the line links back to the
title that mentions the marshes.
A five double-beat line is very versatile, it can offer opportunities for
interesting things to be included...
So, I’ve started to fiddle with your poem – sometimes lengthening the lines
slightly – and I’m sure what I'm doing could be done far better! In the 1st
quartet I've also changed some of the small words and messed with some
commas (I guess more little changes could happen later on as well - or
things could revert back to how they were!).
(And I’ve added the phrase: “singing hymns” because of notes I once read
that stated, in some mining disasters that’s what the miners did. But, I
don’t know which pit you’re referring to. If you want - and you don’t think
these miners would include Methodists - you could have them doing other
Some of the lines now have the feel of iambic pentameters – and some don’t!
– but the overall effect reminds me more of sonnets I have read.
I also recognise that I'm pushing the poem in my direction - not in yours...
So... One thing I think could become a feature of the poem are sounds. If
each four line part, each quartet, has sounds in it and if the final couplet
has the girl making a sound by the sea (perhaps singing, perhaps something
else) then more is happening in the poem.
Oh, I'm also thinking of the 1st line and thinking that the word "around"
instead of "about" might be better - cos that then helps the pit, the
marshes, and the sea, to belong in the poem in a stronger way.
Who thinks that if he'd responded when he first read the poem all of this
could probably have been more helpful, and far simpler!
Old Harp Inn – Neston Marshes
There are many ghosts around this Inn:
some clatter in the attic eaves;
some float on mud-tides, some have flow in
and whisper as the wind eddies through leaves.
Low moans rise from grassed over coal mine shafts
you’re sure they must be  the grasping breath
of long dead pitmen, singing hymns, trapped
inside their tombs, awaiting death. (another double beat in this line?
(perhaps an adjective or two?)
And (or Then?) across the marsh, the sad lament
of sailors, keen: their keels undone (another double beat?)
on unseen rocks; their short lives spent (another double beat?)
before their (perhaps an interesting adjective here?) journeys had begun.
But the ghost who haunts me most, is me:
that long-ago-gone girl, dreaming by the sea.


This was the last email directly related to this thread. While the debate went on over Christmas there where other threads developing,  for example Jim Bennett posted an example of a Lynn Strongin sonnet but I chose to follow this one.  Personally I think this indicates the quality of debate and critique that is possible on a web based mailing list, and I was pleased to be able to observe and record it.   
I will say that during the few days before and after Christmas, I was constantly looking for reasons to leave my family and get back to my emails to see if any more had arrived, and often they had.   I will say that I found it exciting and compelling reading.
Clearly for such a debate to take place you need people who are skilled communicators who are willing to put their views into the arena and be prepared to answer critics with reasoned debate.   I think you also need a great deal of trust in so far as accepting what is being said in an open minded and straight forward way.  I have seen many similar debates descend into personal attacks because people have not yet built up the skills required to debate in this medium.   To help with this trust comes understanding of the short comings of the medium, and Gary’s “smiles” and Bob’s comment at the end of a series of questions to ensure that his queries are not misunderstood, are part of that.
The problem I see at the moment is that a lot of writers are joining discussion lists where a opinionated minority are making more noise that anyone else to get their views heard.  Against this the new member has to feel their way to recognise those replies from the few people who actually do know what they are talking about and whose advice and input can be invaluable.   The thing I have seen and identified is the basic tone of the mails.  Where the tone is friendly and supportive, the mails focus on the subject and not the person.  When the mails do not become, harsh, or personal in their response, then it is likely that what is being said is being said with honesty.   Once you get beyond that then it is a case of considering the advice being offered carefully, after all you don’t have to take it.
The title is a quote from Jim Bennett’s poem “Shopping for Christmas”
All I want for Christmas
Is poetry and a Christmas pud