“To be able to communicate through image, sound, association, and, sometimes, on an almost subterranean, instinctive level through rhythm and rhyme, makes for a particularly potent art form.” — Owen Sheers
Those are the beginning words of “Testing Form” written by Owen Sheers, author of Pink Mist, and one of 3 authors for this chapter. “Testing Form” is the second chapter of The Writer’s Guide to Poetry; and it begins with a linguistic approach to poetry the by examining the phrase “less is more.” For Sheers, poetry must be written with familiarity by using the language that its writer closely identifies with. He tells us that poetry is unique because of its relationship with language. I would extend this uniqueness to all forms of art and written communication and not limit it to just poetry (although, I might add that Sheers does make a strong effort to show that the language we use is one that is a part of who we are and of our worldview).
Cynthia Zarin, author of Orbit, talks about rhyme in a way that I haven’t thought about in a while. She says that rhyme is about expectation. I would add: anticipation — for what is expectation without anticipating a pattern?
Zarin goes on to tell us about rhyme structure and about the few that she has played with in her own poetry. Through her perspective, structure is what improves poetry and that writers should think of structure as a game in which we play with in order to push ourselves to create better art.
“[S]tructure leads me to invention to say things I didn’t know I would think or write before the form asked me to supply it. The cat sat on the mat. But what about the rat? Now, there’s a story.” — Cynthia Zarin
“Embrace the omniscient” is what Rodney Jones, author of Village Prodigies, tells us to do in his straight-forward, unabashed way. To take the self our of poetry and to begin reimagining ourselves and the world we see is his advice on form. He gives an analogy on the elements of setting and tells us that images from our world can easily become objects of interest for our art but only if we “imagine them over time.”
“[T]hink of the poet, not as a persona, but as a person in a booth; perhaps as a person with an affectation; a person pacing around a desk who pretends to be someone else.” — Rodney Jones
Form Is Subjective
I like to think that the language we predominantly use is long-weighted with history and with memories. Its use to communicate to those we love and dislike make it malleable; but at the same time, it has defined so many worldviews — and even shaped the course of historical events. I think the best way to approach form is to understand its own history and power structure. Who made the rules and why are they followed? If we dig deep into our linguistic roots to understand the language that we use to create our art, then perhaps we may be able to find common-ground or universal patterns that shape what we can do with poetry and with any other form of communication.
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Header, book cover, and “The cat, mat, and the rat” images are screenshots from the book.