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Thursday, 18 October 2007

Blog Evolution Meme...

... with a digression into how I came to like strict poetic forms.

Tobe tagged me, so here we go. I'm supposed to pick five posts from my archives that display how my blog has evolved over time, and then tag five more people to do the same. Like Tobe, I'm going to take the opportunity to go over some history.

I started blogging in February, but I'd been reading blogs for months before that -- my usual starting point was the Carnival of Feminists. Then I found a link to Alon Levy's Abstract Nonsense somewhere in the archives of Alas, A Blog. Abstract Nonsense was the first blog I started reading regularly. Alon's a sharp guy, it's a pity he's not blogging any more. At any rate, reading even one blog regularly makes you somewhat anchored to the blogosphere, and I decided I wanted a place of my own.

Elliptica has always been a bit hodge-podge, usually with several different subjects evolving at the same time. It serves as my presence on the blogosphere, my home base from which to visit other blogs, my space to voice my opinions or explore different lines of thought. It was originally going to be called Parabolica, but there's already a blog of that name (it's in Portugese, though, so I can't tell you what on Earth it's talking about). As noted on my About Me page, I like conic sections. They're pretty.

So. Post number one: Matters of Identity. Definitely one of my better early posts. I think it's appropriate that I start by quoting a feminist post. The central useful idea here is the way statements about gender have a hard time not being normative. I like being a girl (though I really ought to start thinking of myself of as more like a woman than a girl, I suppose) but as a feminist I naturally worry about the ways in which that can confine me.

I started off blogging quite a lot about mathematics. However, mathematics posts are always more work than the other stuff I toss off. If I'm explaining something I understand well, I spend ages figuring out how to explain it interestingly to someone who knows less than I do. If I'm trying to explain something I don't understand so well, I have to keep looking things up. Nevertheless, I really ought to go to the effort of putting more maths up here -- heck, it's on my subtitle, isn't it? And I really do love the stuff. "But if you can't picture it..." was a bit of a gift, really -- a subject coming up in coversation that many non-mathematicians might want to know about, and about which I do have some breadth of understanding.

My blogging about feminism took something of a downturn after my post on Celebration of Female Desire Week. Why? Well, there's one central question that every young woman who cares about feminism has to answer. It kind of split feminism down the middle in the eighties, and it's still going strong. The point is this. On the one hand, increasing freedom of and openness about sexual expression means that women have the chance to ask for more equality (and more of what they would like) in their sexual relations. That's a good thing. But on the other hand, the sexual revolution hasn't precisely got rid of the idea that women who have sex outside of wedlock might be deserving of less respect. When it comes to the virgin/whore dichotomy, there are parts of our culture that seem to interpret the sexual revolution as simply placing all women in the latter category. And thus, within feminism, we have the Sex Wars. Should women avoid sex, or certain types of sex, for so long as many people view it as degrading to the woman involved? Are there other ways to deal with this? The early posts on my blog have several takes on this issue, some heartfelt, some tentative, but this was the final post that wrapped it all up for me. And after that, I just wasn't thinking about feminism quite so much any more, and the topic of feminism went quiet for a while.

I never expected to blog much about atheism. God doesn't exist, already. Big deal. But then I wandered onto Daylight Atheism on one of Ebonmuse's sure-fire eloquent days. My somewhat clumsy response, overflowing with enthusiasm, would end up requiring two follow-up posts as I thought, and re-thought, clarifying my exact position over time (go down to the very bottom of the comments each time to find the 'links to this post' if you want to follow the fallout, there).

On my birthday, in March last year, my sister got me a copy of The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry. Witty and informative throughout, the book had one section called What is Form and Why Bother with It? (subtitle: Stephen gets all cross), which completely overturned my view of strict poetic forms. I know I was told by more than one primary school teacher not to bother with rhyme -- understandable perhaps, given that bad rhyme really is terrible. But then, oh, how terrible, how self-indulgent is the bad free verse that you can end up producing by just 'writing what comes' and expecting it to be deep philosophy. It's a simple fact that in both cases, a little understanding can go a long way. And in my case, after reading Stephen Fry, I realised that I had really only ever written one poem that stood up to much scrutiny.

One poem. A modified haiku. Not just any modified haiku, but one written with some understanding of the traditions of the haiku form, because my mother, many years before, was briefly very interested in haikus. In fact, when I did my first ever Google name search, I found I'd written a haiku of my own back then that was very much a precursor to this one. Oh, the new haiku broke almost every rule in the book -- it had two verses, it involved the poet rather than confining itself to a description of nature, and, hey, forget 5-7-5! It was still a haiku, though. If you're interested, it went like this:

In warm grass
Fascinating water swirls

Thinking of you
Still made me feel like this

That, my friends, is a poem with form.

So, armed with a new knowledge of rhyme and metre, I struck out into the world of villanelles, sestinas, and sonnets. And you know what? Rhyme gives you ideas. Metre distracts your mind and leaves your subconscious free to work. And any form will very quickly force you to learn the all-important task of editing your thoughts to fit, which leads you naturally into the elusive skill of re-writing without losing the good stuff you already have.

So I had a blog, and I had some rapidly-rising poetic skills. Poems, blog, blog, poems... inevitably, I ended up posting some. The first one I posted was a villanelle, and I'm not at all sure that a single line of that poem would pass muster if I was writing it now. It was still a lot better than anything I'd written previously. However, for my fifth and (regrettably) final choice of archived post, I'm going to give my sestina. It is difficult to be ashamed of a sestina, because they are fairly hard to write in the first place. The only real restriction is on the final word of each line. You have six lines per stanza, and six words with which lines are allowed to end. The exact order of these words varies according to a strict pattern which ensures that each word will occupy each placing in the order exactly once (nice mathematical connection, there). For example, you will see that the final word of the first line of one stanza is always the final word of the last line of the previous stanza. The second line of the stanza ends with the same word as the first line of the previous stanza. Confused?

Let me put it this way. If the ordering of final words in the first stanza is ABCDEF, the next stanza will have the final word of each line in the order FAEBDC. The next stanza is CFDABE. Continue for six stanzas and, trust me, each word will have occupied each position exactly once. Then you end the poem with a three-line stanza in which you include two of your chosen words per line, and you're done.

The six words I chose are "words","fear","mother","lost","daughter", and "well". That last one has a nice variety of meanings to cycle through. So if you're really confused, here it is without further ado: Daughter's Sestina. Oh, and do me a favour? Read it out loud. I don't care if you feel silly. Whisper it, if you must. Because, though I say it myself, the poem has some rather cool metrical effects that found their way in by accident while I was trying very hard not to write in iambic pentameter. You don't have to be consciously aware of them, but if you're just skimming over it with your eyes, you probably won't be aware of them at all. So, please...

And that's all I have space for! A pity, but when your blog is evolving on several tracks at once, it's difficult to get the whole story across. Now, who to tag? L.L. Barkat has been blogging about blogging for a while already, so I'm not sure if this meme would feel too much like more of the same; JD2718 might be a decent bet, but Kelly says she's been tagged already, C.L. Hanson has already done it, um... oh, heck. I'll take the easy way out. Open tag. If you want it, take it.


C. L. Hanson said...

It's tricky tagging people, isn't it? ;)

That's a great poem -- I went ahead and read it out loud as you suggested. I was fascinated by rhyme and meter patterns when I was younger -- perhaps it's a math-minded thing? I also like geometric puzzles and toys.

I kind of gave up on rhyme and meter, though, because I think in English rhyme is too harsh a restriction. There are too few words for a given ending syllable, so you end up repeating the same rhymes that have been used since the beginning of time: "time/rhyme, wife/life" - blech! Your idea of repeating the exact words in each line ending -- and trying to find a variety of meanings for each -- is much more interesting.

Lynet said...

Thanks, C.L.! I have to correct you, though -- repeating final words isn't my idea, it's been around since the sestina was invented, which I believe was about 800 years ago (some French troubadour wanted to make a joke of the intricacies of forms that were around at the time and ended up creating something that was just barely usable).

L.L. Barkat said...

I promise to get to this. (As you probably know, sometimes it takes a week or two for me to post, but I come 'round.) In any case, right now I'm grieving so much for Charity that I will have to take time to reorient my thoughts towards fun.

But then you seem like the patient type.

Oh, and I should say it was fun reading your history (or would that be herstory, or blogstory?)