Writing Short Rhyming Poems with Metaphors

Author Bio and Q&A

Bio: Leland Jamieson


The poet and author of 21st Century Bread lives and writes in East Hampton, CT, USA. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UNC at Chapel Hill, he brings to his poetry a wide variety of landscapes acquired living in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

His poetry is colored by the outlooks of people he's met in four different occupations. The longest and most interesting of these, he says, was in performing arts center management at The Bushnell Memorial Hall in Hartford, Connecticut, where he worked for 18 years and wore every hat there was to wear, including that of the managing director.

Although he has been a scribbler of verse since he was a teen, starting in 2002 he began to devote himself to formal poetry. His goal is to use rhyme and meter to tell stories and present vignettes relevant to today’s readers.

Among his major influences are the dramatic works of William Shakespeare and the poetry of Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace Stevens, as well as both the prose and poetry of William Stafford and Timothy Steele.

"Teaching myself to write in meter and especially rhyme, and committing myself to it," he says, "has been the most liberating experience I have ever enjoyed in my writing life. What they most liberated was feeling and creativity, and with it fresh insight into people, and into the nature of the world we call home."

Contact the Author for bookstore signings or readings, or for classroom or seminar readings or coaching (in Central Connecticut only), or for press kits, comment, questions, or phone interviews email him at leejamieson "at" comcast "dot" net.

Q&A with Leland Jamieson

Image of the author Why did you write these poems?

I’m a restless fellow when I don’t write. I try to write something every day. I have to drum my fingers on a keyboard. It’s a physical thing, as well as mental. I wrote a novel years ago, but that’s not my genre. So why poems? I think because they are succinct. They’re musical. They can be subtle. They penetrate the psyche. They bring the inside out. They can call, in the writing of it, the attention of the poet to something new about his own experience, and if well done, do the same for the reader or hearer out of his or her experience.

Why collect them in this book?

The book as whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It’s a mosaic. It shows the poet, and if he’s honest enough with himself and writes well enough it shows the reader too, something new about life. For the poet, a collection brings the inside out in a more holistic integrated way than any one individual poem can. And of course it is stimulating to rise to the challenge of the complexities of assembling a group of poems so that they progress and hang together as a book. Nothing short of a book can motivate the poet to do the endless polishing that results in a group of accomplished poem with real finish.

What did you hope to accomplish?

Basically to bring the inside out. I’m an introvert. Writing is a way of celebrating the intersection of the inside and outside worlds. It’s a way of being in the world. For me, writing and publishing is the introvert’s extroversion. That’s true not only in the process of creation but in the marketing too. Every time I write to a magazine editor and submit a group of poems, I feel I am in the world in the way that is comfortable for me.

What’s the principle of organization of the book?

Initially it’s chronological, but this shifts to thematic. It reflects an evolving consciousness of the persona’s world here and now from childhood and youth forward, until it approaches an extended awareness of a deeper realm in human relationships and in nature and the cosmos beyond the reach of one’s unaided five senses. To move beyond, it draws on metaphors evolved from modern theoretical physics, biology, and from the findings of archeological science. The latter is drawn principally from the work of Zacharia Sitchin, who has translated the cuneiform tablets describing the remarkable Sumerian civilization discovered in Iraq and dating back to 3,000 BCE and earlier.

What are the main themes? Can you describe them a little further?

The book’s initial section, “The Glove,” opens with a number of poems dealing with danger, injury, and unresolved grief in the death of a father — a loss a five-year-old child cannot hope to understand given his circumstances. Other poems reflect growing up in mid-century, and depict informal but at the time significant “rites of passage.”

The second part, “Knot-Popping Art,” reflects the persona’s world of romance, marriage, the responsibilities and foibles of parenting, and deepening perceptions of the natural world and maturing human relationships.

Part three, “The Trumpet,” presents poems occasioned by the aging and death of the persona’s parents and other kinds of loss transfigured by and seen increasingly through the lenses of the arts — sculpture, epoxied “ghetto glass,” pottery, painting, music, and the “artistry” found in the realm of nature and the cosmos.

Four, “Baking Bread and Other Subtleties,” invites the reader to experience the natural world of the five senses and beyond. It draws on metaphors of contemporary physics. To a lesser degree it draws on biology, as in the pseudopods of sight and thought. It challenges the clichés of ideology and over-zealous religious orthodoxy.

“Breaking 21st Century Bread,” part five, introduces poems drawing on metaphors of the Anunnaki. (These were extraterrestrials from planet Nibiru, whose persistent gold-mining exploitation of Earth since before the time of the Deluge is chronicled in the cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals, and other archeological artifacts dug up in Iraq that reflect the Sumerian Civilization.) As group, these poems constitute a metaphor which addresses humankind’s brokenness and ultimate potential for healing — through enhanced consciousness — in the communal image of breaking bread together.

The sixth and final section of the book, “Coda for Readers and Poets: Twelve Dances,” is a twelve-poem invitation to readers to read formal poetry with flare that invites natural speech rhythms to run counterpoint to the metrical rhythm. It invites poets writing today to stretch, with Frost, the net of metrical rhymed verse back over the tennis court of contemporary poetry as a means to make it, and the poets who write it, new.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

An experience. A frequent “Ah-hah!” A few chuckles and belly-laughs. I hope they will feel the work is accessible to them without requiring an excessive effort. There’s no academic free-verse confessional or “language” poetry here. I hope readers can relate to what they read, and can re-experience facets of their own lives as they engage in the poems in the book. I hope they can let themselves be swept up in the cadence of the metrical line, and take pleasure in what I trust are often surprising rhymes. And, throughout the book but particularly in the latter sections, I hope the poems will give readers something new to think about, and leave them with new feeling to ponder with enhanced understanding.

Who inspired you?

First of all was my dad, who wrote and published three novels. He got up out of his sick bed when I was five years old and wrote me a little three-page story, “Jamie the Balloonist,” while I stood by at his elbow and tugged impatiently on his sleeve. I still have it in my file! He died later that year, in the summer, five days before my sixth birthday, of pancreatic cancer.

The muscularity of the blank verse of Shakespeare’s dramas inspires me. Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, William Stafford, and Timothy Steele have all inspired me, and by giving me their work as a model have helped me learn to write verse — of course, in a contemporary frame of assumptions, speech, and imagery.

What’s your personal backgound?

Briefly, I had a childhood made crazy not only by the death of my dad when I was five but also by WW II, during which I enrolled in 13 different schools by the time I reached the eighth grade.

Thirteen? Why don’t you start at the beginning with that?

Dad was an aviator and novelist so busy I hardly began to know him until he was attempting to recuperate following a second surgery for pancreatic cancer when I was five. He taught me to read, in part, out of Mother Goose.

The shadow of WW II was approaching. We lived in Miami, Florida. He died in July, 1941, just months before Pearl Harbor, in a hospital in Jacksonville with Mother at his side. Mother’s bosom buddy, a neighbor, had been keeping my sister and me in Miami while they were in Jacksonville.

Mother, exhausted with this ordeal, decided we were better off staying with her friend, and from Jacksonville she accompanied the body on the train directly out to Oklahoma City to be buried without returning for us. My sister and I never grieved Dad’s death at the time.

A year after Pearl Harbor, Mother remarried an architect spot-commissioned as a Captain in the Army Engineer Corps, and we moved from Miami to Jacksonville to Venice and back to Jacksonville again, and then to Atlanta and back to Miami at the end of the war. The housing problem was so difficult we usually had to move within each of those communities, with the result that I changed schools 13 times by the time I hit the eighth grade. It was a most confusing time for all of us. I was always “the new boy” in school and on the block.

I was fortunate to find a stable and excellent five years’ secondary education at a boy’s working prep school, Christ School, in Arden, North Carolina. I’m a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UNC at Chapel Hill. I’ve been married to the same person for over 50 years. We’re parents of two, grandparents of three. My business career was mostly in performing arts center management. Now retired, I’m busy as I can be writing poetry.

And the impact those years had on the book? That must be part of the “why.”

Yes. The most important “why” of the book, and its motivation, is getting this inside craziness out, not through the angst of confessional literature but in a more contemplative, reflective manner which looks to images as constituting metaphors by which to understand life. The experience of writing the poems and editing the book has restored a lot feeling and memory previously buried in loss and confusion. It’s been an affirmation of order and beauty — waylaid by chaotic circumstances of history beyond anyone’s control — using the language arts my dad first modeled for me only months before he died.

And there’s also a sub-text to “why the book.” At the end of it there is a “Coda for Readers and Poets: Twelve Dances.” In these I dance around some of the issues of formal prosody — in poems celebrating the writing of verse in meter and rhyme. I’d written free verse since I was a teenager, dabbled in it all my life. I got 39 of them published in various periodicals by the time I retired from the business world, but I always felt disappointed with them. They were so shallow They lacked feeling and artistry both. None of them are in this book.

The truth was, I never tried formal verse because I was afraid of meter and rhyme. I couldn’t think up enough rhymes. My rhymes were forced to the point of absurdity. English was a rhyme-poor language (unlike Italian), I was told, and I agreed for a long time until my desperation drove me to a rhyming dictionary. There I discovered something interesting.

English is rhyme-poor only if you have an over-controlling preconception of what you want to say — only if you are obsessed with what you think you want the poem to say. If you write this way, you never leave your left hemisphere and get across the corpus callosum to the right hemisphere part of the brain inside your skull. You might as well write prose.

I stumbled on a different approach. I ask myself at every line, “What does this line, and ultimately this poem, want to become? How can I use at random one of these rhyming words in the long list I hold in my hand to further where the line is going? (I am not leading. I am following after, working in my right hemisphere with the music and imagery of the words as I drum my fingers to test the rhythm of various formulations of the line I’m working on.)

When I do this, I escape the prison of my left hemisphere. Then English becomes a rhyme-rich language, and all the more interesting because a relatively large number of words that rhyme don’t look at all alike. That’s due to the Greek, Roman, Gaelic or Celtic, Germanic and Anglo-Saxon roots of English — due to words which are spelled so differently, and look so different, and which surprise the reader when they sound alike.

I do strongly believe that a preoccupation with the music of language helps bring you across the corpus callosum in your skull into your right hemisphere, where truly wonderfully creative things happen with the support of the recurring music of the words and the rhythm of the metrical line.

In my experience, “free verse” is actually prose poetry written in broken lines designed to emphasize certain images the poet fears the reader won’t grasp unless they are pointed to and are made conspicuous with the break-off into white space. The only rhythmic device, if the poet chooses not to manipulate the meter, is rhetorical. It is quite limiting, in my experience. You feel this pretty keenly if you read all of Whitman right through, wonderful though he is in so many respects. William Carlos Williams searched all his life for a principle of rhythm to replace meter, but he never found it. There is simply no match, no substitute, for metrical rhythm. It is the underlying heartbeat against which speech stress plays in counterpoint. It’s a little like Jazz. It makes the reader a co-creator with the poet.

The level of accomplishment in any art, and poetry is no exception, is directly proportional to the difficulty the artist sets. Or, to paraphrase Frost, you need a net to make tennis any challenge.

So a sub-text answer to your question, “why these poems, why this book,” was to overcome my fear of writing in meter and rhyme. If I could teach myself that at 68, with William Shakespeare and Robert Frost and Timothy Steele as mentors, then poets younger than I certainly can also. I wanted to share this discovery with readers and fellow poets.

This has been the most liberating experience I have ever had in my writing life in terms of two real gifts. One is opening up access to greater feeling in my life, healing unresolved grief and making me more whole, as it were. The second is the sheer pleasure in accessing the imagination and creativity — the sheer pleasure and the joy I’ve found in writing poetry.

How does this book fit the rest of your life?

That’s an interesting, two-fold question. In one respect, the rest of my life is retirement. So many people retire into relative boredom — once they quickly exhaust their interest in diversions they pursue with time freed from the necessity of making a living. I feel lucky to have retired with a hobby that is seemingly inexhaustible and is so satisfying that I still get up at four in the morning to enjoy it. So writing poems, at least as long as my health sustains me, seems to fit the rest of my life quite well.

In another respect, as in fitting other dimensions of my life, the writing seems to integrate them into a whole. Everything one experiences in life is grist for advancing contemplation: awareness, insight, understanding, compassion for oneself at one’s weakest, and, as a consequence, compassion for one’s fellows. I feel most fortunate.

Thank you.

You’re welcome. Thank you as well.


21st Century Bread Cover

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