What is form? Why should it concern us as poets? What benefit do we gain from perfecting it? Is form beautiful as Plato and other philosophers of his ilk once professed? And what does all this have to do with poetry? All good questions. Not sure if I’m the one to tackle them are not, since I’m not a professor, nor a worshiper at the feet of aesthetics, etc. Just a poet who reads poetry and writes down what comes to him; yet, along the way as I’ve become aware of the mechanics of poetry: rhetoric, meter, tropes, motifs, etc. I’ve learned that just like an automobile, or athlete, or ice skater, etc., that everything flows into and out of forms. Whether these forms are solid and stable, or in process and movement isn’t worth my pursuit at the moment.
Form is creativity itself manifest. As a verb, “form” means to make or generate. (In a neat parallel, the verb “generate” is related to the noun “genre .”)1 In the old days a poet was called just that a “Maker”. A maker of words that matter, a mattering of things in their being, a shining of those things through speech in the speed of thought, a weaving and a dance of sound that brought ideas and things together in an electrical magic of empowerment and enchantment. Poets were the creators of worlds. Now that is a big responsibility.
Form is what makes the batted ball sail over the fence, or the leaping dancer sail across the stage, and for no two people is the successful form exactly alike. Similarities may be important, and they are worth studying, but the best form has an element of idiosyncrasy. Everyone is different. (Pinsky, 107) One could study the art of poetry, trying to enhance one’s sense of form, by thinking about kinds of line. There are countless variables, among them the length of the lines, uniform or varying, the degree and timing of enjambment, iambic or loose iambic or not iambic at all, arranged in stanzas or not, degree and kind of rhyme, end rhyme or not, degree and kind of intensity on a range from prose to incantation, etc. (Pinsky, 111)
Putting aside the idea of models or formulas, what’s the best process, in the pursuit of form? The answer will be different for different writers at different moments. But one suggestion might be to say or at least mutter some words—words you think, or have read, or have heard spoken— and keep listening, patiently and calmly, for something that feels right in their arrangement.(Pinsky, 114)
When one thinks about form, one begins to realize there is no set forms for poetry anymore. In a democracy there is this sense of equality, of a flattening of the field rather than as in the feudalistic ancient age a sense of hierarchy of forms and pre-set models and forms into which one flowed with emotion and thought. Now we live with what is termed free-form verse. What does that really mean? For me it means that each poem becomes its own model, its own unique form unto itself; that as a poem it listens to the momentary flux of time’s ruins and out of this chaos of events and motions pulls together a form to give it meaning for this moment alone. Ever after meaning comes from each persons confrontation with just that: the flux of reality fixed in the energetic form that the ‘Maker’, the poet put it into.
One could think of a poem as – to use a modern metaphor, a machine or computer: one plugs one’s mind into it, listens to it, reads it, analyzes it, is electrified by it, challenged, shaped, exploded; else, one is stunned, brought to bare, armed, empowered by it, etc. Poems as machines are like little engines waiting to be powered up by users. The poem sitting there silently is like an automobile in the garage, just a useless piece of junk metal; yet, the moment a person is hooked into, opens up the door, starts the engine, the poem-auto becomes this marvelous device for transport, for moving abroad, for journeying to unknown or know destinations. All this is possible because the poem is set in a form that enables us humans to plugin to its power. Form makes and unmakes meaning. Form is our creativity, but it needs people plugged into it to realize that.
That’s my thought for the day!
1. Pinsky, Robert (2013-08-05). Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters (p. 107). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.