Today, for Meeting the Bar, I’d like us to take a look at a characteristic of writing that we usually associate with prose and consider how we might use it in our poetry. I’m speaking of writing dialogue.
A few general points about writing effective dialogue:
• When writing dialogue, avoid phrases that don’t add meaning to the story or poem—“How are you?” “I’m fine.”—that sort of meaningless talk.
• To be believable, dialogue shouldn’t be an information dump. You’ll see it sometimes in fiction. An author, wanting to depart background information, has one speaker give a lengthy discourse on, say, the science behind…whatever.
• Dialogue takes place between two or more people, or as self-talk. It’s often effective in poetry when written in the second person—often to express an emotion. The listener can be implied.
• Sometimes what is not said is what is striking, or what is apparent through non-verbal communication: actions and body language.
• A great exercise to practice writing good dialogue is to go to a public place, a pub or coffee shop, for example, and listen to others speaking. Take notes.
• Natural dialogue often contains a fair amount of fragments and contractions. It doesn’t always (often) follow the rules of grammar. There may be frequent interruptions.
• In writing dialogue, it’s important to consider the background and personality of the character speaking, so that the word patterns are true to character.
Here are a couple of examples of dialogue poetry:
Death is a Dialogue between
The Spirit and the Dust.
“Dissolve” says Death — The Spirit “Sir
I have another Trust” —
Death doubts it — Argues from the Ground —
The Spirit turns away
Just laying off for evidence
An Overcoat of Clay.
And a longer one, addressed to another, an implied. anonymous listener:
Just Keep Quiet and Nobody Will Notice
There is one thing that ought to be taught in all the colleges,
Which is that people ought to be taught not to go around always making apologies.
I don’t mean the kind of apologies people make when they run over you or borrow five dollars or step on your feet,
Because I think that is sort of sweet;
No, I object to one kind of apology alone,
Which is when people spend their time and yours apologizing for everything they own.
You go to their house for a meal,
And they apologize because the anchovies aren’t caviar or the partridge is veal;
They apologize privately for the crudeness of the other guests,
And they apologize publicly for their wife’s housekeeping or their husband’s jests;
If they give you a book by Dickens they apologize because it isn’t by Scott,
And if they take you to the theater, they apologize for the acting and the dialogue and the plot;
They contain more milk of human kindness than the most capacious diary can,
But if you are from out of town they apologize for everything local and if you are a foreigner they apologize for everything American.
I dread these apologizers even as I am depicting them,
I shudder as I think of the hours that must be spend in contradicting them,
Because you are very rude if you let them emerge from an argument victorious,
And when they say something of theirs is awful, it is your duty to convince them politely that it is magnificent and glorious,
And what particularly bores me with them,
Is that half the time you have to politely contradict them when you rudely agree with them,
So I think there is one rule every host and hostess ought to keep with the comb and nail file and bicarbonate and aromatic spirits on a handy shelf,
Which is don’t spoil the denouement by telling the guests everything is terrible, but let them have the thrill of finding it out for themselves.
Notice the casual conversational tone he creates using a sort of stream-of-consciousness flow that isn’t formal.
For today’s prompt, write a poem that is either entirely conversational, includes snippets of conversation, or shows some form of non-verbal communication. Let’s not use written communication like a letter for this one–that’s another prompt. This poem implies a speaker and a listener(s). Please limit it to 24 lines or less and include a link to this post in your own post.
Here’s how to play:
• Write your poem;
• Post it on your blog or website;
• Click on Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post and enter your name and the direct URL of your post.
• Come to the pub and visit other poets’ work. Take time to comment and while you’re at it, order up your favorite wine, or brew. My husband tells me I make a killer Manhattan.
• Have fun!
For dVerse Poets, this is Victoria, happy to be stirring up the poetry pot. Today, I will be late to the pub but I’ve left a big pitcher on the bar, so help yourself, get to know your friends and sip, share poetry. I will be in later.