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Hi everyone!   I am happy to welcome Ingrid of Experiments in Fiction as our guest host for Poetics.   ~Grace

Welcome to dVerse Poetics Tuesday. For tonight’s Poetics, I would like us to explore the role of narrative voice in poetry. Not simply poet-as-narrator, but poet-as-creator of a fictional character with a strong narrative voice.

One of the earliest poets to explore fictional narrative voice in English poetry was Chaucer. In his Canterbury Tales, he creates a whole cast of characters, each with their own unique voice and story. The most famous of these characters is surely the Wife of Bath. Consider the opening lines to her Prologue:

Experience, though noon auctoritee
Were in this world, is right ynogh for me
To speke of wo that is in mariage;
For lordynges, sith I twelve yeer was of age,
Thonked be God that is eterne on lyve,
Housbondes at chirche dore I have had fyve.

In Modern English:

Though experience were the only authority
in this world, it would be enough for me
to speak of the turmoil of marriage;
for fellows, since I was twelve years of age
thanks be to God who lives forevermore
I have had five husbands at the church door.

Quite remarkable when you consider that Chaucer, writing in around 1386, adopted the voice of a feisty and unconventional woman who was entirely unafraid to speak her mind, so much so that her words echo down the centuries and into the school syllabuses of many a young English student.

For me, one of the most powerful explorations of narrative voice in poetry is to be found in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Written in a self-consciously antiquated style, this poem has an unusually complex narrative structure. The opening lines are delivered in the voice of an omniscient narrator, and over the first five stanzas the narrative is gradually taken over by the Mariner himself, after a kind of verbal tug of war:

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May’st hear the merry din.’

He holds him with his skinny hand,
‘There was a ship,’ quoth he.
‘Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!’
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.

The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

If ever the power of a good narrative were summed up in a few short lines of poetry, it was here. Why do you think the poet begins in his own voice, then hands over to the Wedding-Guest before giving the tale to the Mariner? I think it is because this builds tension and hooks us in so that we, like the hapless Wedding-Guest, ‘cannot choose but hear.’

Midway through the 8th stanza, the Wedding-Guest once again tries to break free from the power of the narrative, but resistance proves useless:

The Wedding-Guest here beat his breast,
For he heard the loud bassoon.

The bride hath paced into the hall,
Red as a rose is she;
Nodding their heads before her goes
The merry minstrelsy.

The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,
Yet he cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

Though the ostensible moral of the Mariner’s tale is that we must respect the forces of nature:

He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

I believe there is a powerful subtext within the poem which forces us to examine the power of narrative itself. As the Mariner concludes his tale, note how he describes this irresistible power:

Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale;
And then it left me free.

Perhaps, like the elemental forces of nature, the forces of narrative within our writing are beyond our control. Nevertheless, for this challenge, I want you to try and harness them!

The challenge is to write a poem in the voice of a fictional character. It can be any character you like, and you can introduce it in your own voice if you choose (à la Coleridge, though I certainly wouldn’t insist on this) but the main body of the poem must be in the voice of your character. If you wish, you can write a dramatic monologue, such as My Last Duchess by Robert Browning; or create a spirit voice through whom your poem speaks, as in Stevie Smith’s The River God. The choice is yours: I want you to experiment with fiction in your poetry.

If you are new to the dVerse, here’s how to take part:

· Write a poem in response to the challenge.
· Enter a link directly to your poem and your name by clicking Mr Linky below and remember to check the little box to accept the use/privacy policy. You will find links to other poets and more will join so check back later to read their poems.
· Read and comment on other poets’ work – we all come here to have our poems read.
· Please link back to dVerse from your site/blog.
· Comment and participate in our discussion below, if you like. We are a friendly bunch of poets.
· Have fun.

About our guest host:  Ingrid is a writer and poet originally from the U.K. and now living in Slovenia after spending 4 years in Spain. Her travels and experience of life in different lands has greatly influenced her writing.

She writes poetry, short fiction and some factual pieces here.

Ingrid was voted Spillwords Author of the Month for Jan-Feb 2021, and has had her work published in a variety of literary magazines including Spillwords, Free Verse Revolution and Route 7 Review. Her writing on mental health and her battle with PMDD is due to be included in two forthcoming anthologies from Indie Blu Publishing.

When she is not wrangling children, trying to tame her feral cat or practising yoga, you can find her working on her latest writing project, The Anthropocene Hymnal: a poetry anthology designed to raise awareness of the climate crisis and raise money for WWF.