Reflections on Form

I have never seen myself as a poet. I write things, and poetry is typically written, so in that way I can see myself as a poet, but I don’t feel at home in poetry. We discussed form a lot in our last class and I’ve enjoyed learning more about form because it resists me. I don’t see my writing as visual art. I hear my writing. I always read what I’ve written out loud to myself to hear how it sounds on the page. I love how words sound and how tone and inflection can change what they mean. But the way it looks? I’ve never really cared.

Maybe that’s a little bit sacrilegious to write on a poetry blog. I’ll elaborate. I want to care, but I don’t have the natural instinct to place line breaks and broad spaces between words to craft a certain form. It’s very new to me, but I want to understand it better and play with different forms. I find free verse a bit daunting at times because it demands vision, which as a poet I haven’t quite yet found. I’ve always thought that writing is a way to explore what I don’t understand, but yet have ideas about. If “form is never more than an extension of the content” of a poem, I find that intimidating. It seems to suggest that a poem wants to fill a certain form, but yet I might not understand what the content demands.

Fears like these keep me writing. Perhaps some of you feel similarly about form, or about the content of your poems, but ultimately I’m excited to exist in a place where I don’t exactly know what to do with my words. There’s possibility living in that space.

2 Replies to “Reflections on Form”

  1. You’ve articulated a lot of the same insecurities I have about poetry. Thanks for that. But in all seriousness, I wouldn’t be surprised if this uncertainty ever goes away (If it has for someone, I’d like to meet that person). Synthesis of form and content, I don’t want to believe, is something that can ever be automatic, and if it can be then it probably wasn’t that worthwhile to begin with. I have to put so much effort into understanding the inner mechanisms of poems (there’s just more concentrated meaning than fiction or CNF, I feel). I mean, I’ll still freeze if someone asks “How is this line (or word or line break or whatever) functioning in this piece?” about any type of creative writing. Maybe I’m just bad under pressure, but, either way, I agree with you. I think we’re perfectly fine feeling uneasy. But, yeah, it’s still super tough.

  2. Once, in the midst of a frazzled end-of-semester portfolio-editing powwow, I asked a peer poet how she did it. She had poems with words that trailed across the page, long cavernous spaces in the middle of lines. I had spent a semester expounding on the sensitivity of her line breaks. I asked her, in what must have been a desperate tone, how she did it. “How do you know you put the words and spaces in the right place? How do you know if it means anything?”

    She looked up at me from her editing and, similarly tired and desperate, she told me: “I don’t.”

    TL;DR I think Dan is right. I don’t think anybody ever gets that comfortable in it. And we shouldn’t!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.