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Thursday, December 01, 2011

Formal Versifying

I’ve been going through one of my phases of, ‘Who am I kidding? I’m a terribly bad poet!’ I’m told it happens to all of us. My present phase was initially triggered by seeing the movie Camino, which I loved. When someone asked me about it, I began by saying, ‘It was complex.’ It was, and that was one of the things I loved about it. It dealt with a complex situation and didn’t attempt to over-simplify, but to lay out all the complexities for our view. This interested me. For years now I have been aiming for simplicity in my poetry, training myself by practisng haiku and tanka. I realised I’d like to get back to some complexity now.

Then I began looking through this year’s work with the idea of putting together a little collection for xmas presents to family and friends. I was shocked to see how prosey my language has often become. That is not necessarily a side-effect of striving for simplicity, clarity and accessibility — but in my case it’s obviously a danger I have to watch out for. Time for the wheel to turn! I don’t want obscurity, would still like to be clear and accessible, but just ... well ... not so straightforward as to risk dullness and banality.

As I don’t happen to have any complex ideas burning for expression, I decided I’d better try for complexity of form. I find this also leads to heightened language. Restrictions can act as a sort of crucible! If I do enough experimenting with form, perhaps that language will extend to any free verse I might be inspired to create meanwhile.

It’s not an absolutely new thing for me. I have always played with form, whilst preferring free verse and using that most of the time. Now I’m going to focus mainly on form for a while. I don’t know how long — until I get sick of it, I suppose. I’m sure there’ll be some free verse as well, now and then.

The prompts at the wonderful dVerse poetry community are helpful. Some are for specific forms, others suggest particular approaches and techniques which I can use to the same end. I think particularly of a recent prompt on the technique of conflation. The responses to these prompts indicate that there are plenty of others out there who are interested in playing with form, not just me. Some are beginners; some are very accomplished poets indeed. Many of the participants also frequent the (similar) Poets United and imaginary garden with real toads sites.

I was surprised, then, on suggesting to the Free Verse Weekends group on facebook that we might start another group for formal verse, to discover that it is evidently not an activity the excellent poets there usually engage in. (Except for haiku and tanka; many of those same poets are in the facebook Haiku on Friday and Tanka on Tuesday groups as well.) Several expressed themselves willing to give form a go, but I was more looking to see if there was an existing need/desire. Apparently not. So I’ll just continue to play at dVerse etc.


  1. Rosemary!

    You nailed that issue for me: I also go back and forth on poetry....on form, etc.

    I love freeverse best, but I also learned discipline with tanka and haiku. I found that a couple of years of writing tanka as I did...was more freeverse than tanka. Tanka has a structure that most ignore...that top and bottom poem with the pivot line in the middle...and there are other 'rules' to tanka that people (me included!) ignore.

    Sonnets are hard, and I have written some, but I think for most of us...not 'professional' poets, that we fall into what we like best and run with that.

    I don't know what develops a poet, having only been writing poetry for 5 years now, and mostly a novelist, but I go back and forth on form.

    And I think this is healthy.

    And I also have great doubts about my attempts at poetry and 'being' a poet. I think we all do, but then again....we can't stop writing poetry, regardless the form.

    I am just very grateful for anyone who reads my work...and comments. I learn from people and have found this new d'verse group to be very supportive and encouraging. Otherwise, I would feel like wind howling in the wilderness on my poems.

    As for having something in the oven of poems...I go blank for a while and then life comes up with something that burns.

    My best to you.

    Lady Nyo

  2. Thank you, Lady Nyo, for this discussion. I too do not always stick to the old rules for tanka and haiku but have tried to keep to the (somewhat different) spirits of them. I agree with you that sonnets are very hard!

    I have been making poems all my life, and for many years did regard myself as a professional poet, in that I was paid by literary magazines for poems they published, and also paid for performing my work, for writing reviews of poetry, for conducting poetry writing workshops, and for teaching the poetry sections of professional writing courses.

    Then, in my fifties, I changed my life in a number of ways, and from those changes — as well as from embracing the internet — came also a change in my approach to sharing my poetry. I am not now in a position to interact with many poets in my offline life, so I am glad of all the online interactions. And even though my poetry blogs don't get many hits in comparison to some others, still the readership is much more than I ever achieved through literary magazines or sales of my books.

    But that's different too — what I share in my blogs may be considered first drafts (though of course I get them as good as I can at the outset). I do go back and improve them as occasion arises, but the whole process is very different from submitting to editors and so forth. Is it better or worse? I don't know ... just different.

    You have nailed something too: we can't stop writing poetry, regardless.... It's a vocation! May we live up to it as best we can. As to that, I love and admire what I have read of your poetry. It certainly deserves its readership. :)

  3. Thank you, Rosemary. I don't have 'legs' in poetry but at 63, I am in it for the long run.

    I think it's necessary to learn the tanka and haiku, for example, then make it your own. I think we should attempt to break out of the restrictions, but I do believe we should be knowledgeable of those restrictions. They were there I would guess for a reason.

    The internet certainly has changed the face of publishing, outreach, audience, just about everything. It's a double-edged sword, though.

    I am so pleased to meet you, Rosemary, even within these confined quarters. I will be a visitor to your blog because I like what I have read already.Your voice sings.

    Lady Nyo

  4. do you ever plan poems top down of setting out metaphors and leaps and then writing towards that? it might be a way to add tightness and keep accessibility. forms are a good mental habit for the reasons you say.

    glad you got to see the babe. coordinating visits with anyone seems to take a dog's age these days.

  5. That's an intriguing idea, Pearl — and not one that had occurred to me, no. Now that you've suggested it, of course I'm going to have to try it! :) Thank you.