ABCs of Poetry: O is for Ode

Posted by on May 25, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABCs of Poetry: O is for Ode

Poems can accomplish many things: self-reflection, repentance, emotional evocation, observation, lamentation, and beyond. One of the most common things people think of when they think of poetry is love—and what a true, opportune correlation that is. Poetry is a perfect vessel to express love, adoration, and appreciation. While love can be conveyed with nearly any poetic form, odes are traditionally used as a means to celebrate the subject of the poem.

Think of an ode as a chant or a song (as derived from the Greek word aeideina). Odes are lyrical in style and can rhyme or not. There are three types of odes: Pindar Ode, Horatian Ode, and Irregular Ode. While understanding these three types can help appreciate odes, it isn’t necessary in order to start writing one. Odes can be written systematically with formal patterns, or they can be more relaxed and intimate. In odes today, what takes precedence is the thematic content rather than the structure.

Odes do not have to written about love of people (while they certainly can be)—in fact, odes  most often express love for ideas and inanimate objects. For example, in the famous poem “Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”, William Wordsworth writes primarily about youth (the contents of odes tend to reveal themselves within their title). Within its eleven stanzas, this ode dotes on the sensations of experience and life through a child’s eyes, such as meadows, groves, and streams.

Odes can also embrace common, everyday things. In his poem “Ode to Kool-Aid”, Marcus Jackson reminisces on the simple pleasures of a delicious beverage while also invoking memories of people: “In ninth grade, Sandra / employed a jug of Black Cherry / to dye her straightened / bangs burgundy.” In this way Jackson finds something that most people can relate to and transcends to personal and cultural levels.

The poem “Short Ode to Screwball Women” by Rachel Wetzsteon highlights womanhood during times of stress. Wetzsteon writes about times “when your wayward husband /

courted the heiress, you stormed her gates / disguised as a floozy” but redeems such struggles in the last stanza with “But a girl can dream, can realize, high / on heroines, that she is mortal / and therefore fearless”.

Odes can also be self-reflexive. Sharon Olds, who wrote many odes, countered Elvie Shockley’s “Ode to My Blackness” with her own “Ode to My Whiteness”. Shockley writes of her blackness: “you are my shelter from the storm / and the storm / my anchor / and the troubled sea” to which Olds responds of her whiteness, “You were invisible to me, / you went without saying. / You were my weapon, secret from myself.”

When writing an ode, consider keeping the subject as specific as possible. The more idiosyncratic or concrete the subject, the more detail the poet will be able convey. An easy way to begin an ode (once the subject is selected) is to write directly to the subject; if it sounds like the speaker of the poem is communicating to the subject, praise will be evoked efficiently.

Odes are perfect for celebrating beloved things, whether it is a favorite drink, matters of the self, or idealistic concepts. Think about something you can’t live without, something you adore, something you’re thankful for. Write an ode to this thing and you will be surprised about how much you have to say. This exercise may also lead to other themes you want to pursue in your writing, and will also make you feel good inside for cherishing the this beloved thing with words.

Nathan Elias is the author of the chapbooks A Myriad of Roads That Lead to Here: A Novelette and Glass City Blues: Poems. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) from Antioch University Los Angeles, and he has served as editor on the literary journal Lunch Ticket. His work has appeared in Entropy, PANK, Hobart, Barnstorm, and elsewhere. His films and screenplays have been official selections or finalists in festivals such as Cannes Court Métrage, Glass City Film Festival, Canadian Film Centre, Texas Independent Film Festival, and both Hollywood and New York Screenplay Contests. He has taught a variety of creative writing classes, including fiction, poetry, and screenwriting. Find him on his website or @_NathanElias