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Author Topic: I hate poetry  (Read 5967 times)

Offline Yora

I hate poetry
« on: February 02, 2015, 01:29:11 PM »
I am not sure why. But any time there are poems or songs in a fantasy story, I just can't read them. Even when I really want to try, I am completely unable to pull any information out of the words. And at some point I just give up and skip to the end when the regular text continues. I think the main problem is that it's usually quite hard to figure out which half-sentences are actually relevant for the story and which are just padding.

It just doesn't do anything for me and I regularly ignore it completely.
How are you dealing with poems and songs in stories?
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Offline Chreus

Re: I hate poetry
« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2015, 02:49:23 PM »
Kinda have to agree with you on that one. Often I find that it adds very little to the story if anything at all, which I'm sure a lot of people will disagree to, but hey. Songs in my opinion are great for setting a mood as a the tone/pace of the melody will do that automatically. However books being text based this is rather difficult. often when there are songs in a book I try to add a melody to it in my head which tends to fail as the melody ends up not fitting to the rhythm of the words.

As en example, when I first read the Hobbit I skimmed through most of the songs and was kinda just bored with them whenever they were on paper. In the movies however I liked them. Especially the one the dwarfs sing in Bilbo's house. In the movie it works, in a book not so much. Music isn't much without sound...

Atleast that's my opinion.

Offline DrNefario

Re: I hate poetry
« Reply #2 on: February 02, 2015, 05:03:44 PM »
Yes, same for me. I tend to skip or skim them, and songs never work without any idea of the tune.

Offline Ryan Mueller

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Re: I hate poetry
« Reply #3 on: February 02, 2015, 05:31:16 PM »
Same here. I don't get anything out of them.

Offline Raptori

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Re: I hate poetry
« Reply #4 on: February 02, 2015, 05:39:57 PM »
Yep, hate poetry and songs in books. At best they add nothing, at worst they come off as cheesy and unnatural.
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Offline Chreus

Re: I hate poetry
« Reply #5 on: February 02, 2015, 06:10:52 PM »
Oh, I have to add: As an exception to the rule, the "Jackass Jackass" song in Name of the Wind was quite amusing and I actually do wish we'd get to see the whole of that song as it actually DID add a purpose to the story.

Offline Nighteyes

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Re: I hate poetry
« Reply #6 on: February 02, 2015, 06:12:29 PM »
They can be fantastic. Personally I really love Tolkien's poetry. The dwarf song about the Misty Mountains is wonderful.  Having said that there are two rules for me before you include poetry in your fantasy doorstopper. One: try to have a reason behind it. For example it includes information or clues which are not in the story.  The Redwall books were wonderful for this as the poems were often riddles. Two and most importantly. Be actually able to write a poem! Otherwise it's just painful.
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Offline JMack

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Re: I hate poetry
« Reply #7 on: February 02, 2015, 07:14:18 PM »
They can be fantastic. Personally I really love Tolkien's poetry. The dwarf song about the Misty Mountains is wonderful.  Having said that there are two rules for me before you include poetry in your fantasy doorstopper. One: try to have a reason behind it. For example it includes information or clues which are not in the story.  The Redwall books were wonderful for this as the poems were often riddles. Two and most importantly. Be actually able to write a poem! Otherwise it's just painful.

I'm going to agree with Gariath, here.  I love poetry that's well-written and enriches the world.  For me, Tolkien does that in almost every case.  His poems worked particularly well when I read the Hobbit out loud to my children.  When I told LOTR to them, I'd pull out the books to get the poems right.  (Though I did skip some.)  I often made up the music myself.  (My tune for the Tom Bombadil song, though, is sort of unfortunate.  It will lodge in your head and grind your brain to mush.  Be glad this forum has no soundtrack.)

An example of poetry I did not like was in Donaldson's Thomas Covenant books.  I think he wrote in a more free form style basically to differentiate his songs from the formal ones in Tolkien.  But they just didn't work for me.

The key for me is, if you're not a good poet, don't put your poems or songs in your books even if you're a good prose writer.  While enriching the world or characters should be the emphasis, whimsy can work too.

Curious: What other bad poetry can anyone list?  Excluding if you dislike the poetry in LOTR.
Gariath, can you think of other good poetry than Tolkien?
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Offline Nighteyes

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Re: I hate poetry
« Reply #8 on: February 02, 2015, 07:17:26 PM »
Oh god. Now you put me on the spot! Brian Jacque's Redwall poems with their riddles are great fun.  Neil Gaiman has some good poems ... Rothfuss?
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Offline Ben

Re: I hate poetry
« Reply #9 on: February 02, 2015, 08:34:31 PM »
I hate poetry and songs and it started with the Jacques books.

Offline xiagan

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Re: I hate poetry
« Reply #10 on: February 02, 2015, 08:43:02 PM »
I usually like them but I nevertheless have the problem that I lack concentration while reading them.

Malazan has lots and lots of them (every start of a chapter) and sometimes there is a lot of foreshadowing in it and sometimes you don't know why it was added.
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Offline Yora

Re: I hate poetry
« Reply #11 on: February 02, 2015, 11:11:31 PM »
Even though the sentence structure is mostly identical to regular text, I generally don't read any "in-universe quotes" at the beginning of a book or chapter. These also makes me wonder how this will be relevant to me and my brain just get to pay real attention to it.

However, I just encountered an interesting variant in Blood of the Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski. Not sure if there was a quote at the start of the story, but there was one at the end of the chapter. And that one worked very well for me, because the quote was about the subject that had just been introduced in the last pages of the chapter. It looked to me as if it was the main character in the scene remembring that quote about the place she just arrived it and the people she found there.

Given that the quote was
Spoiler for Hiden:
Quote
Verily, there is nothing so hideous as the monsters, so contrary to nature, known as witchers for they are the offspring of foul sorcery and devilry. They are rogues without virtue, conscience or scruple, true diabolic creations, fit only for killing. There is no place amidst honest men for such as they.

And Kaer Morhen, where these infamous beings nestle, where they perform their foul practices, must be wiped from the surface of this earth, and all trace of it strewn with salt and saltpetre.
I think it was really quite effective and had a great effect on the story. And actually, this is pure exposition, but presented in this form and at this point in the story, it actually is exciting and not at all distracting.

A problem with most uses of poems in stories that I've seen is that usually even the protagonist is confused what it means. Then how is the reader supposed to make sense of it and how it is relevant to the situation? Worst case, it's not actually relevant to the current situation but references something the reader doesn't know at all and might only be revealed much later on.
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Offline JMack

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Re: I hate poetry
« Reply #12 on: February 03, 2015, 12:32:06 AM »
Soft calls those "gnostic utterances", I believe.
And you're right, most of that is a somewhat lame attempt to prove world building or to hint about great portents.
I prefer poems that come naturally in the story and reflect character or worlD in a much more organic way.  As usual my personal taste runs to Tolkien for this.  There are songs because that's what intelligent creatures do, they sing about funny, important, tragic and lovely things.  They tell legends and sing of their lives.  It would be an pry world without song (of course). 

But point taken about gnostic utterances. Give me "the road goes ever on and on" any day.
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Offline Elfy

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Re: I hate poetry
« Reply #13 on: February 03, 2015, 02:38:35 AM »
Soft calls those "gnostic utterances", I believe.
And you're right, most of that is a somewhat lame attempt to prove world building or to hint about great portents.
I prefer poems that come naturally in the story and reflect character or worlD in a much more organic way.  As usual my personal taste runs to Tolkien for this.  There are songs because that's what intelligent creatures do, they sing about funny, important, tragic and lovely things.  They tell legends and sing of their lives.  It would be an pry world without song (of course). 

But point taken about gnostic utterances. Give me "the road goes ever on and on" any day.
I think Diana Wynne Jones called them gnomic utterances in her Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Sometimes they're a pain, but overall I tend to quite like them. They can often help to give a world some depth and a sense of history if used correctly. In older works, especially those targeted at younger readers, each chapter used to begin with a summary of the events in it. Tove Jannson's Moomin books did it, and more recently Cat Valente uses it in her Fairyland books. Marie Brennan does something similar in her Lady Trent books, and it helps the conceit that the books are a series of quasi scientific journals kept by an adventurous woman in a sort of faux Edwardian world.
I will expand your TBR pile.

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Offline ultamentkiller

Re: I hate poetry
« Reply #14 on: February 03, 2015, 11:48:35 AM »
I agree for the most part. I can't stand the majority of poetry.
However, there are two exceptions to this. The first is the Mortalis poem in The Demon Wars Saga. For some reason, it just connected with me. The second, and I'm not sure if you would consider this fantasy or not, is Edgar Allen Poe's Annabel Lee. It gave me chills.
Otherwise, I can't stand them. I understand they have a purpose, but I would rather read a paragraph about a world than read a poem or song about it.