Tag Archives: Mark Niel

If verse comes to worst.

I’m the opposite of a poetry snob. I’m a poetry slob. Like many people, overexposure to gradiose verbiage from TS Eliot and Thomas Hardy during my later school years led me to distrust poetry.

It’s not straightforward, not clear in its intent, and some of it is more than obscure, it’s maliciously unintelligible.

I know a couple of poets, and one (The amazing Mark Niel) is a poet for the people. He often writes “stuff what rhymes”. He writes about events, and if he uses metaphor, you can spot it for what it is and understand WHY he’s used it. His poems make you smile, more often than not, and the conclusion will have you nudging a friend or neighbour as you grin and say “Look at this!”

To me, it comes back to the old argument about art and intent. When ordinary folks look at modern art pieces, they often say ‘What’s it meant to be?” and get told “That’s not the right question! Don’t be silly, it’s not supposed to ‘be’ anything” etc etc. Worst of all, some artists deny ever having any intent beyond “Provoking a reaction” in their audience. To me, this is a failure. Art should always have intent, an aim, a message. Poetry, I think, has a harder job than prose, because you are deliberately choosing to frame that message in a set format, either the rhyme scheme, or the number of syllables per line, or the more complicated rules of the many, many other poetry forms. If you don’t know what I mean, pick up one of Neil Gaiman’s collections of short stories – he always includes some poetry, and usually explains the rules of the form he has chosen.

So while I love prose, and the freedom of banging out a play or short story, using the odd trick or effort to create a better image or atmosphere in what I write, poetry makes you, the writer, work harder for your piece. In the last week I was tagged in the five days of gratitude challenge on Facebook, and for a giggle decided to do the whole five days in rhyme. Even though for most of the challenge I was only using doggerel (rhyming couplets, if you prefer), there was a huge strain in trying to fit the things I wanted to say into the confines of those rhythms and rhymes.

Adrian Plass once gave a talk about poetry that I attended, and he said “Let the content dictate the rhyme”. It’s simple advice, but harder than you think. It often involves throwing away a perfectly decent opening line because it won’t allow the right content for the following line.

I think my message here is not to be afraid of poetry – don’t mistake it for some ethereal creature, tied to Byron and th’moon and the vagaries of the Muse. Poetry can be fun, it can be tough, it can break your heart in four lines, and it’s always a damn good workout for your brain.

 

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Don’t give up the day job!

Mark Niel - Poet, Writer....Wordslinger!

That’s the advice you’ll hear most often when you tell people you’re a writer, and to be fair, it’s good advice. Writing is, as my friend Lucy V Hay pointed out today, a gamble – there’s no pension attached.

But giving up the day job is just what Mark Niel has done. You can find his blog – Pawhouse Boy – in the blogroll at the side of the page, and that’ll describe him and his endeavours better than I could. Mark is a poet, and a very successful one. He’s won awards, seen off other dedicated wordsmiths at slam poetry events up and down the UK. There’s very little I can say that will convey my utter respect for that ability, let alone the faith that allows him to make the jump from mainstream employment to freelance writer.

As a playwright, I like to think I choose my words, but in reality, they rush out. I think in paragraphs, hear waterfalls of dialogue. To put it another way, when I turn out my script, I’m not facing my audience, I’m hunkered in my bunker behind a .50Cal manuscript, battering the audience with a stream of words, hoping one or two will penetrate and be enough to knock ‘em dead.

The poet, particularly the Slam Poet, picks their words with care. They are the gunslingers of the writing world. The wordslingers. They use their ammo sparingly, making each word count, finding the target again and again with a scary precision.

If you don’t believe me, see Mark in action here. Try not to be deceived by the apparent simplicity of the words – think about the time and effort it took to assemble each line, to make it fit the meter and subject and the signature refrain. Poetry is hardcore. Respect!