How to guide to writing poetry by genre/form.
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Oftentimes, after reading or even just perusing a collection of poetry, whether by a single poet or by several different poets, my reaction has been almost one of awe. Not because it was so great or moving or anything like that, but simply because it existed at all. Especially with more formal poetry, that is, poetry which follows a stricter form and set of rules, I was always amazed that someone had done this, that someone COULD do this. I thought it was neat, and often amazing that someone had succeeded in molding their thoughts into a restrictive form. But I also thought it kind of pointless…
Why, if you’ve got something to say, something you want said, why not just say it? Why restrict yourself with a form?
During my teen years and early twenties, I read and really dug more modern poetry—the beats and those who followed, especially. Though they occasionally rambled, they said it like it was, freely and unrestricted. As Ezra Pound declared in his 1912 essay on “Imagism,” poetry should be written in the language of the common man and should be “composed in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in the sequence of the metronome.” I agreed with this ethic whole-heartedly and ate up all that I could find which fit it. Through the beats, I fell in love with the French symbolists and prose poetry—Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine… (I remember particularly liking Baudelaire’s “The Evil Glazier.”) Normal speech, normal language WAS poetry. Alas! I had found some authoritative backing for my dislike of poetic forms. I was free and I ate it up…
Years later however, returning to college as an adult, I was once again forced to deal with poetic forms. My old demons and knee-jerk reactions to which, were still present and resurfaced. I buckled down and prepared to swallow the bitter pill: go through the motions for the grade and all that, when something unexpected happened. Something pretty remarkable…
What happened was this: nearly 40 years old and after more years of interest in writing, and poetry especially, than I could tally, I finally gained an appreciation for formal poetry. One particular class I took, taught by a woman I have come to think as more a mentor than merely a professor, Dr. Elizabeth Daumer, forced us to look at poetry through the lens of genre and form. It was the first time I really began to truly see the possibility of the poems’ forms adding yet another layer of meaning AS WELL as a set of rules not being merely restrictive, but adding to the poem. I'm reminded of all of the times in poetry classes over the years, reading poetry being described as "dense," as having "maximum meaning crammed into minimum space." What was discussed was how everything contributed, not just the words, but everything. And each word is especially loaded. The punctuation matters, the spaces matter. All of the connotations which a word brings to mind are especially present in a poem. Even the very form adds another dimension of meaning, as well as aiding in the process of creation. Some forms practically wrote themselves, others helped me to get my mind around a certain topic and help me organize and approach my thoughts. The scientific approach has a method of analysis and I began to see the possibility of genre and specifically poetic forms as being analogous to a method of investigation.