GUEST POST WITH AUTHOR STACY OVERBY
This week I have a special treat for you! Author Stacy Overby is going to be our guest host today. I recommend everyone check out Stacy’s new release Scath Oran.
As a newer poet, I’ve spent time studying poetry as of late. After all, one of the ways we get better at our craft is to read extensively. One thing I noticed as I’ve read collections that have come highly recommended is that it is rare to see poets writing in forms anymore. Free verse certainly has its place. I find it curious that modern poets often seem to eschew classical forms, and all that come with them. Yet, poetry’s history is rich with forms, with poetic devices, and with many layers. Again, not saying modern poetry doesn’t have a place, just stating observations. Stick with me and we’ll explore these connections between oral story-telling and poetry.
If we go back in time to early human history, we would find a rich oral story-telling tradition. Cave people sitting around a fire, re-enacting the day’s hunt or teaching the children about their ancestors. Perhaps it is an origin story being shared of how life came to be or stories trying to explain how the world worked. As those children grew, they told the stories to their children. The cycle kept repeating as the only way to record histories, explanations for the unknown, and to teach traditions. We know many of these histories and traditions from the mythologies we see in our various cultures.
Yet, if those early people were anything like me, I’d have gotten lost in all the stories. I mean, trying to remember that much? Near impossible. But, have you ever studied how oral storytelling works? First, it starts with a physical closeness. The storyteller in the center, the audience gathered around. Then, the story begins. Tone, inflection, facial expressions, and body language all become a part of the story, drawing the audience in to create a mental and spiritual connection to the storyteller as well as the story itself. All these things aid in building memory, thus allowing the stories to be passed on. We now know that emotional memory is captured and stored in the brain differently than factual, narrative memory. These aspects to oral story-telling tap into both types of memory.
These devices from oral storytelling bring us back to poetry. Take a look at Dante’s Inferno, or Beowulf. These stories, though varied in age and geographic location, have a common poetic quality about them. Rhythm. Rhymes. A lyrical quality that is hypnotizing. They’re full of strong imagery and emotionally charged language. Beowulf is a true epic poem set in a poetic form, as is Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Are they following a specific rule or form? Absolutely, which is part of why they are so easily remembered. The structure of the underlying form helps to cement the pattern in the mind, as the human mind loves patterns, repetition, and predictability.
Furthermore, sprinkled throughout each of these poems are layers of metaphor and symbolism. These force us to think and react to the story being told within the poem. This reaction creates an even stronger emotional connection between the storyteller and the audience. This exchange builds on the connection between the storyteller and the audience, creating stronger bonds between them. As the story progresses, the storyteller adapts the story in ways to fit the audience, bringing the audience into the story-telling process as more than just listeners. In turn, this process is another piece that reinforces the memory of the story.
So, why is this important today? Because psychologically, these are the things that still hold true about the human mind today. We thrive on that which forms the basis for excellent oral storytelling traditions. Sure, we do it a little different now, but think about it. Sitting around the table after a family get together, don’t the stories come out? And what stories do we remember the best? The ones we connected to on more than one level. The TV shows and movies we remember best? Aren’t they the ones we connect to emotionally, the ones that draw us into the story so that we are more than just a silent witness? Sure, the poetry is lost, but the principles from early storytelling and poetry are still there.
In my exploration of modern poetry, it feels at times that these things are lost. We have become so focused on the single moment in time we attempt to capture with our poetry, we forget these roots. Poetry does not need to be about a single instance, a solitary event, or a fleeting emotion. We can return to these roots to tell stories within the poem again. Stories that teach, stories that connect, and stories that remember.
This is what I have tried to do in my poetry collection, Scath Oran: Poetry from the Other world. The inspiration for all the poems in the collection are from mythology. Celtic mythology plays a large role in these stories, though Greek and Norse mythology come up as well. Within the poems and stories being told, are hints of the emotions I imagine may have gone with these stories as they were told around a bonfire. The collection brings readers back to those times where the written word was much rarer, and we looked forward to those moments when an elder gathered us in. Classical poetic forms are re-imagined, bringing a different perspective to something we tend to consider “old” and “dry” and “boring”. And free verse poems weave their way through the collection, bringing in the connection to a more modern take on the ancient world.
In the end, as we write poetry, remember our roots. Remember the connection to our past, to that oral storytelling tradition. Build those connections with the storyteller, even if you are pinpointing just one moment in time. Bring the past to life with modern eyes. For we still have the same joys, the same heartaches, the same anger, and the same sadness as time gone by. Build the layers of meaning and emotion like a chef builds layers of flavor and texture and color. Create a complexity in your poetry to rival the greats. Poets are remembered like this. Poems like this last.
Scath Oran: Poetry from the Other world releases on September 22, 2018 from Catterfly Press and Our Write Side.
And that concludes it for this week. I want to thank Stacy so very much for being my guest host today. Until next time.