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Telling not showing – Shelley’s “England in 1819”

Like chemical weed killers, critical principles become destructive when they spread too widely. Take the idea that wherever possible the writer should show and not tell. It’s an excellent editing tool when applied appropriately, and any number of fine poems seem to draw much of their strength from how completely they embody it. We looked at an example in a very good class I went to last week, Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz”. But a few seconds’ thought will show how much the field of possible utterance would be narrowed for poetry if “show, don’t tell” were adopted as a … Continue Reading

“The Red Wheelbarrow” – such beautifully ordinary nouns

You can find the poem here.

I’ve just heard Ruth Padel’s broadcast of the Wordsworth Trust poetry workshop meeting on Radio 4. She talked about the importance of line breaks and used William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheel Barrow” to illustrate how unexpected they could be. What strikes me is how much emphasis these breaks throw on nouns. Three of the four breaks within stanzas come between nouns and their modifiers. Cumulatively this is highly unnatural. Moreover, it leaves each noun forming a one-word line poised on the edge of the gap between stanzas – a gap that itself … Continue Reading