It’s Here…

Bryana Johnson - Having Decided To Stay

I’m happy to announce that after months of work and waiting, my first collection of poetry has finally been released. Having Decided To Stay is now available on Amazon!

I’m also really proud of some lovely reviews the book has received from writers like Andree Seu of WORLD Magazine, Nathan Harms of the Utmost Christian Writers Foundation, and John Savoie whose beautiful work, Eustace, I featured here a few months ago.

I hope you’ll drop by Amazon to pick up a copy and perhaps consider leaving a review when you’re finished?

5 thoughts on “It’s Here…

  1. It seems to me that you have already solved the two most important problems any writer faces, namely, finding something to write about and finding a voice that rings true. At your age (you are nineteen or twenty, I think?) that’s quite remarkable.

    You have a first-rate feel for structure. You know exactly what size and shape of thought will make a good poem, and once you’ve got hold of your thought, you don’t kill it by stuffing it into the wrong-shaped box. Your pacing is also excellent – again and again you draw the reader in gently and unassumingly, then gradually turn up the emotional temperature for a really killer ending. (You put this particular ball into the back of the net so consistently it’s hard to pick out specific examples, but I think the last couplet in “Having Decided To Stay”, the last stanzas of “About-Face” and “Resurrection”, and the last three lines in “Residence” are especially effective.)

    It’s a pleasant surprise to read someone who seems motivated more by love, happiness and gratitude than hate, resentment and bitterness. Such a surprise, we have to worry how long will you be able to keep it up! Maybe I’m being pessimistic – you’ve survived twenty years after all :)

    Since you do so much that is right, it feels ungenerous to look for faults, but (to my ear, at least) your craftsmanship seems at times a bit careless.

    When you use a certain metre you make a covenant with the reader, and you can’t break it lightly. That doesn’t mean that you have to write with machine-line regularity (unless you want to turn into A. C. Swinburne), but it’s like rubato in music – you have to know how much you can get away with. Sometimes you get away with it; sometimes you don’t. Take “The Hound Of Heaven” for example:

    ‘Tracking the snow with frightened sneaker-feet’

    If this were read as strict iambic pentameter, it would be “trackING the SNOW with FRIGHTened SNEAKer FEET”. Of course we don’t read it like that, but as “TRACKing the SNOW with FRIGHTened SNEAKer FEET”. And this works perfectly; the smooth metrical fabric is disturbed but not torn. Changing the first foot from an iamb to a trochee (‘trochaic inversion’) is a useful trick for giving a line a little extra rhythmic impetus; everyone uses it, and no sensible reader is going to be thrown. Examples abound – the opening of Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet must be the most famous:

    ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’

    where the stress clearly falls on “shall”.

    So, this is fine – but then later on, in the fourth stanza, what you do isn’t fine:

    ‘We watch you jerk through darkness from the steps
    and hurtle over winterfallen white
    and after you they come like bullet bursts…’

    – so far, all absolutely strict iambic pentameter. But then:

    ‘…and howls curdle blood and chill the night.’

    Arghh! What happened?! You were waltzing beautifully round the room with your reader and then suddenly you left a hole where there should have been a syllable, and he put his foot in it and fell over. There are any number of ways the fourth line could keep him upright:

    ‘…with howls that curdle blood and chill the night.’

    ‘…and howling curdles blood and chills the night.’


    Now, it may be that you did this deliberately, putting the one-syllable ‘howls’ into a two-syllable-sized space, to give it extra emphasis. But to me it just reads as though you were careless. Even unadorned, ‘howls’ is so strong, aurally, that I don’t think you need to underline it in red ink, as it were.

    After meeting Wilfred Owen in 1917 Robert Graves wrote him a letter where he says much the same thing as I’ve said here:

    ‘Do you know, Owen, that’s a damn fine poem of yours, that ‘Disabled’. Really damn fine.
    So good the general sound and weight of the words that the occasional metrical outrages are most surprising. It’s like seeing a golfer drive onto the green in one and then use a cleek instead of a putter, and hole out in twelve…

    Owen you have seen things; you are a poet; but you’re a very careless one at present. One can’t put in too many syllables into a line and say ‘Oh, it’s all right. That’s my way of writing poetry’. One has to follow the rules of the metre one adopts. Make new metres by all means, but one must observe the rules…’

    I’m not (sadly) Robert Graves. You may or may not be Wilfred Owen, but you still have to do the boring craftsmanship; you still have to count your syllables!

    Whilst I’m in nitpicking mode: sometimes also you fall into false rhyming. Of course you don’t need to keep strictly to full rhyme; in fact, unbroken full rhyme in a long poem can sound a bit cloying to the modern ear. But there’s a difference between half-rhyme (slant-rhyme, you call it in USA?) and false rhyme. I suppose the most well-known exponents of half-rhyme are Wilfred Owen and Emily Dickinson; I can’t off-hand remember ever catching either of them in a false rhyme.

    Take “The Grudge”, for example. You have ‘hill/wheel’; ‘watch/much’, etc – perfectly fine, adding a little pungency to the sound. But then you also have ‘came/rain’; ‘complain/same’; ‘skin/Him’, and so on. The two things are completely different. A half-rhyme has, usually, the same consonant and different vowel (although you can push it further so the words have only a slight resemblance; as I am sure you know much better than me, ED is the past-master of this). A false rhyme has the same vowel and a very similar, but not idental, consonant. It’s not just arbitrary and pedantic to allow one and forbid the other. A false rhyme is *too* close; it sounds as though you got the rhyme wrong, so even if you did it deliberately, you’re going to make a sensitive reader wriggle uncomfortably.

    I must repeat, I feel a bit Scrooge-like, obsessing over these details when you do so much that is right. Fortunately, I’m quite confident you are too sensible to pay any attention to anything you read on the internet :) And remember that Graves, after whinging and complaining for half his letter, did make it clear how much he admired the younger writer:

    ‘…A painter or musician has no greater task in mastering his colours or his musical modes or harmonies, than a poet.
    It’s the devil of a sweat for him to get to know the value of his rhymes, rhythms or sentiments. But I have no doubt at all that if you turned seriously to writing, you could obtain Parnassus in no time while I’m still struggling on the knees of that stubborn peak.
    Till then, good luck in the good work.’

    1. Thanks for your comments, William! I really do appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts about the book and I also appreciate your evident respect for forms and meter. In the current muddled state of the literary world, it seems that all conventions have been thrown to the wind. This has freed a few writers to do some exceptionally good work, but I think it has confused most of them :).

      About the meter and rhyme inconsistencies, thanks for pointing them out. I hadn’t noticed the way that the word “howls” breaks the rhythm. I guess I think about it as being basically a two-syllable word. Probably that comes of speaking American English :)

      You’re right on about the false rhyme.

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