Response to George Szirtes

One of George Szirtes claims on form in poetry is that it serves as “an act of triumph of meaning and structure over chaos and meaningless, and also with the triumph of civilized values over barbarity.” He then goes on to describe the process of creating form within a poem as “cooking with the raw materials we are given,” which really stood out to me in particular. Form is important to poetry because it allows you to look at words and develop deeper understandings of them within a line. Words on their own don’t have a lot of meaning beyond what we assign to them when we hear them for the first time. Poetic form allows us to take those raw meanings, simplistic on their own, and turn them into something with more sustenance. To take words and put them in order is crucial to the life of the poem.  Without form, it would be words on a page, nothing courageous or graceful to be revealed. I agree with Szirtes that while language it magnificent, it is not necessarily well disposed to us. We are not born with the innate ability to make sense of words on a page, much less assign meaning to every piece of language we come in contact with. Therefore form serves a way of neatly organizing those words, of allowing meanings to arise by the reader within a line. Prior to reading this article, I have always considered form to be a confining aspect of poetry, but now I am under the impression that it’s may be the starting point for all poetry.

Thoughts on Form in Poetry/Reaction to Szirtes’s reading


Form is an adhesive element to the larger whole of a poem, for it microphones literary meaning and experience from within its vessel.  While there is a good mix of white and black, more often than not it is the white spaces that echo the song of poetry than anything else.  This is something I’ve become more and more aware of as I’ve developed as a person and as a writer, and it’s definitely something I want to learn how to control more.

I’ve always found a certain delight in manipulating line breaks, spaces, punctuation, and rhyme to change the way a poem is mentally read and received by the reader, and to alter the emotionality and experience the poem offers to its readers. I’m certainly into delving into this and uncovering new techniques for formatting poetry.

In George Szirtes’s prose piece, “Formal Wear,” he addresses various features of importance to poetic form. I appreciated his admirably approach to unclothing the sentence—how the sentence carries the most responsibility within the machinery of the whole piece—both sound, meter, rhyme, word choice, flow, and various other intricate gears and screws of writing are the bulk of what gives a sentence its meaning, its voice—but that, according to Szirtes, “the line will make its own music too, with or without instruments” (3).

I am a big believer in having poems accessible enough to the readers in such a way that it is the form itself which invites the reader into the poem, to encounter a realization entirely personal to that individual being. In the same way, the sentences or lines crafted by poets are what allow this process to happen, by first enticing their own ghosts to enter into the house created.

Language, to Szirtes, is “a product of the imagination,” and there is something to be said for the specific or vague images created by the poem holding more meaning because structure triumphs over chaos and meaninglessness (2).  It is in this statement that I align myself most, because this is the mindset I tend to have when rereading my work or thinking about my writing/editing process. I like to think that the white space on a page can sometimes speak the most to the reader. There is something to be said, or echoed in the empty spaces that fill a page of poetry, specifically the places in between lines or between stanzas. These are the places that have come to be the most important to me, chosen with careful fingers and conscious thought.

Reaction to Szirtes reading

I think – or I like to think, that I am a visual and highly conceptual person. In this sense, form matters in my writing because it provides a way to block up and organize my ideas, whether it’s a progression of emotions or a story. Personally, I have found traditional forms such as haikus or meters a bit stifling, possibly because I do not have much practice with them but I can appreciate the form and structure they bring to poems as literary devices. As Szirtes says, “verse is not decoration, it is structural”. In his piece “Formal Wear: Notes on Rhyme, Meter, Stanza & Pattern”, he says several things that caught my attention.

The first of these was that ‘language is a very thin integument or skin stretched over a mass of inchoate impressions, desires and anxieties’ which connected with something else states in the piece, ‘poetry is the triumph of meaning and structure of chaos and meaningless’. In a world where there are a myriad of coincidences but also such a vastness that at times, nothing seems to make sense, the idea that poetry can bring order to the chaos of it all, seemed like a novel idea. Szirtes connects all sonnets and by extension all poetry on a higher plane by saying that ‘all sonnets share communion with other sonnets littering the landscape’, extending his idea of all art sharing a single space. I think it’s a widely held belief that art is in a separate world of its own from the rest of the world and what Szirtes says connects everything, which I found very interesting.