The Elements of Poetry Part 4: Diction

For the final week of National Poetry Month, April, I will continue my brief introductions to the four elements of poetry. These four elements are Prosody, Rhyme, Form, and Diction. The last in the four-part series I will discuss on the elements of poetry is Diction. The simplest way to define diction is the words chosen for the poem. This includes what words a writer chooses for describing a person or place. I would argue it even includes what point of view of the speaker in the poem.

Metaphor, simile, and tone of voice are important things to consider in a poem’s diction. Modern poets often choose to ignore these rhetorical devices. They attempt direct presentation and explore tone. Surrealists often stretch rhetorical devices to their limits. Other elements of diction include allegory and imagery. Refrains can add to the effect of imagery, be it a small phrase or longer line. For example, Homer’s “rosy-fingered dawn.” Imagery in poetry describes things in different and unexpected ways. A writer should look for new ways to describe things readers have seen before. 

In my experience with my own writing, diction is often considered before from, rhyme, or rhythm. One should not be against trying different words or new descriptions of old things. Writers may consider writing from the point of view of an inanimate object. Or they may consider writing about an emotion through a metaphor of something physical. The one takeaway I want people to get from this four-part introduction is that anything goes. Writers should write what and how they want and write what they feel.

The Elements of Poetry Part 3: Form

For week three of National Poetry Month, April, I will continue my brief introductions to the four elements of poetry. These four elements are Prosody, Rhyme, Form, and Diction. The third in the four-part series I will discuss on the elements of poetry is Form. Form is one of the things that distinguishes poetry from prose. The structural elements of form include the line, the stanza, and larger combinations such as cantos. These structural elements combine into larger structures of poetic forms like sonnets or haikus.

The most common form in contemporary poetry is free verse. There is no set rhythm, rhyme, or pattern to the poem. One could say it is free of all structure. Blank verse has no rhyme but its rhythm is in iambic pentameter. Other forms include sestinas, villanelles, and terza rima. Many forms have specific rhythms, rhyme schemes, and refrains making the different forms unique. Structured poetic forms are less frequent in contemporary poetry.

Visual presentation is also an important characteristic of poetic form. Deciding where to place words, lines, or groups of lines on the page can add further effect to the poem and its meaning. For example, a poem about losing control may have words and lines move around the page in a spiral. Choosing whether to align the words to the left, center, right, or combination of all three on the page is another stylistic choice. A structured form or visual creative positioning of words is not required to write poetry. I will always encourage writers to play around with different ideas when writing poetry. Poetry provides more freedom of expression than prose.

Introduction to Copyright Law

Whether you are a creator or someone who uses the creative works of others, it is important to understand copyright law.  You may need to protect your own work, or you will need to know how to obtain permission to use others works.  Here is some basic knowledge of copyright law but you should always consult with a lawyer before pursuing legal action.

What is Copyrightable?

Two things are required for a copyright.  The work must be original, and the work must be written down, recorded, or otherwise fixed such as filmed, painted, typed, etc…  Some examples are books, magazines, newspapers, poems, songs, plays, photographs, paintings, sculptures, films, and designs.  Letters, speeches, and fictional characters are also copyrightable.

What is Not Copyrightable?

Though the requirements for copyrights are broad, there are several things that are not eligible for copyright.  Items that are excluded from the Copyright Act are ideas, plots, concepts, procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation, principles, and discoveries.  Facts are not copyrightable; however, a compilation of facts could be copyrightable.  Only the manner and order the facts are presented is copyrightable.  Names, titles, short phrases, Scenes-A-Faire, and stock characters are not copyrightable.

How Long Does a Copyright Last?

The Copyright Act of 1976, which took effect on January 1, 1978, states a copyright lasts the entire life of the author plus 50 years.  The Sonny Bono Act of 1998 extended this to the life of the author plus 70 years.  What about anything created prior to 1978?  Anything published between 1964 and 1977 was given a 28-year copyright with an automatic 67-year extension for a total of 95 years, only if the copyright holder filed their renewal application.  Anything published between 1923 and 1963 was given a 28-year copyright with the option to renew for another 67 years for a total of 95 years.  Everything prior to 1923 is considered Public Domain.  Why is this important?  95 years after 1923 is 2018.  Every year from now on will add new works into the Public Domain.

Fair Use and Parody of Copyrighted Works

There are special situations where a copyrighted work can be used without permission.  The first is called fair use.  These include criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.  The second is called parody, which is a form of commentary about an existing work or its author.  If something is borrowed from one work to comment on another, this is considered satire and may be copyright infringement.

Public Domain

Public Domain means the copyright has expired or one never existed for the work.  As mentioned earlier, everything prior to 1923 is Public Domain.  Works with a copyright prior to 1964 that did not renew their copyright are Public Domain.  The film Night of the Living Dead (1961) is in the Public Domain because the copyright holder did not renew the copyright and it expired.  Everything published between 1923 and 1977 has a maximum copyright protection of 95 years.  95 years after 1923 is 2018.  This means everything published in 1923 that was still under copyright protection fell into the Public Domain on January 1, 2019.  Everything published in 1924 fell into the Public Domain on January 1, 2020; and so on and so forth.  Some authors place their works in the Public Domain.  There is no official database of Public Domain works so it will require some research to determine if a specific work is in the Public Domain.

For more information involving copyrights, trademarks, and other entertainment rights, obtain a copy of Joy R Butler’s book The Permission Seeker’s Guide Through the Legal Jungle.  Also, always remember to back up and keep several copies of your intellectual property.

Fun Fact: A blog is another form of recording something; therefore, everything you post on your blog is copyrighted.