Poetry and Shape

Something we’ve talked about in class recently has been stuck in my head: form reflecting content, specifically shape poetry. It appears that there is a serious divide and debate about this, and it is something I never really thought about. While I have read many a shape poem, I didn’t particularly consider myself capable of crafting one of worth, one that transcended its shape. Sometimes, though, I agree that they might go too far.

The argument has been made that, possibly, shape poetry makes it easier to comprehend for those to which poetry is less accessible. Although I see where those arguing this are coming from, I also wonder why we shouldn’t utilize a visual aspect to our poetry as well? One of my favorite kinds of poetry, and subsequently one of the forms that began me on a poetry-writing journey, is ekphrastic poetry. Ekphrastic poetry is that which is inspired or incited by a work of art. It might be another point for debate, but at times I think that it behooves an ekphrastic poem to be printed alongside that which inspired it. Is this going a bit overboard? Beating the reader over the head with this image? I don’t know. I think it depends on how far from the original work of art the poem takes the writer –how much it deviates from the visual.

Last week, I posted on the blog about novels which combine literary forms, specifically an example from a book by Zadie Smith. For those who are not inclined toward shape poetry, do you dislike shape poetry when it stands by itself? Does it make a difference when there are connotations to characters and plot line of a novel?

Not only do I think that shape poetry is visually interesting, but I think it can be done well. It depends on whether or not the content is more insightful than a reflection of the shape. If the poem is simply describing the shape in which it is contained, with nothing to take away from it besides its existence, then I would agree with those against shape poetry. However, it does have its strengths. We shouldn’t completely discount it as being “gimmicky.” Doesn’t it make sense to fuse artistic mediums sometimes in order to create something stronger than it would be on its own? Thoughts?

One Reply to “Poetry and Shape”

  1. Rachel,
    Personally, I think that shape poetry tends to limit the writer to one concrete topic, because the reader is so aware of the visual shape of the poem. I haven’t ever really seen a shape poem I’ve liked, and while I love playing with white space and line breaks, shape poems just don’t lend themselves to my poetics, either. I feel like poetry is meant to break barriers, go beyond the limits prose and other written media sets up, and I don’t think shape poetry lends itself to that expansiveness. Feel free to disagree with me, though!

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