The importance of form

Where there is no love, put love—and you will find love. Where there is no memory, put memory— and you will find memory. Where there is no pull, put iron filings, put metals, put bindings, put jaw traps wide open, and there you will find pull. —John of the Cross
–From Sarah Vap’s “Thirteen Untitled Poems”

What better way to begin celebrating Valentine’s Day than with something you love? We started out this morning doing things we love. My husband played video games that involve killing aliens and cursing his 12 year old teammates who keep messing up while I edited my poetry manuscript in between reading poems.

Form is important in poetry. It seems nearly everything in poetry. It can suffocate the content or give it way too much room. Denise Levertov says, “…content and form are in a state of dynamic interaction; the understanding of whether an experience is a linear sequence or a constellation raying out from and into a central focus or axis, for instance, is discoverable only in the work, not before it” (essay here).

My dear editor, Heather Dobbins, did a fantastic job reminding me of the importance of form in poetry. “Form doesn’t work here. Change it.” she wrote in her orange ink. I played with the form of several poems, cut a stanza from a four stanza poem, went from couplets to tercets in another one.

She also reminded me of the monostich, a poem which consists of one line:

“Coward” by A.R. Ammons

Bravery runs in my family.

“Untitled” by Valery Bryusov

Oh, cover your pale legs.

Or one she suggested from my own:

“Hurricane Andrew”

He died on the table, the doctor said.

How powerful a one line poem can be!

Then there’s the visual form.

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 4.55.27 PM

Back in 2013, I wrote a poem a day for the month of January (I can’t believe it’s been that long!). One of the poems I wrote (draft notes for it here) was titled “If I Were a Compass.” The poem has felt very stagnant for a long time. Yes, it made its way into my manuscript, Swallow Tongue, but it felt like a heavy unwieldily thing. I could sense it was going to go places, but hadn’t figured out the direction yet.

Then my dear editor wrote “put in 4’s like cardinal rose?”

As in, MAKE IT LOOK LIKE A COMPASS.

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 5.03.24 PM

And I did it, and it finally looks and sounds right. My very first visual form poem (unless I had to do it as an assignment in elementary school…).

Yay for form!

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