Category Archives: poetic forms

Notes on the Sonnet form

We are reading poems in Sonnet form for our summer issue. So far, many submissions seem to echo or mimic Shakespeare in his archaic form. The definitions offered on the submissions page are the basic definitions, but in the hands of a skilled poet, the form can be altered somewhat. We are looking for artistry more than the rigid adherence to the form. That’s not to say the abandon all the rules, but to say that learn the rules so well that you can bend them to suit the needs of the poem. I offer you an article by Annie Finch, “Chaos in Fourteen Lines,” and a few sonnets that can help you in creating your sonnets. This article by Annie Finch cites several modern sonnets. Please, pay careful attention to creating a powerful “volta” in your sonnet.

The one modern sonnet that I would like for you to read isn’t available online and is copyrighted. It is “Therapy” by Kim Addonizio from her poetry collection Tell Me.

In this journal, we prefer poems that technically skilled yet are accessible to a broad audience. Personally, I prefer poetry that resonates emotionally yet retains a logical coherence. In the end, an average reader wants to connect to your poem, and it’s not likely to happen if the poem is obscure. So, clarity of expression is critical. Since the internet is an open medium, I want the poem to reach some isolated soul in a distant land to read your poem and connect with it, be comforted by it, and be inspired by it.

Having said all that, I want to emphasize that we are looking for a variety of styles and themes including traditional style. This post is here to let you know that there are options besides the common styles and themes. Here are the guidelines for submissions.

If We Must Die
— Claude McKay

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Remember
–Christina Rossetti

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

Mad Girl’s Love Song By Sylvia Plath – A Villanelle

The Literary Nest is now a poetry journal. To mark the new year and new beginnings, I am holding a Villanelle contest.

A villanelle is a form closer to my heart because of the song-like quality and repetition that resounds, emphasizing the claim that the poet wants to make. I’ve been partial to the lyrical poetry since it allows the mind to roam free and still be rooted in reality. In many cases, a villanelle can tell a story like narrative poetry does. Take, for example, Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” True, that the reader has to imagine and fill in the details, but the story builds up to the graceful climax at the end.Similarly, “The House on the Hill” by Edwin Arlington Robinson tells a stark story that a reader can imagine. The tone and the carefully chosen refrains “They are all gone away.” and “There is nothing more to say.”  guide the reader to build a story. The graceful closing leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind about the gradual destruction of the people, the decay of the community, who lived there.

So, what story Plath’s “Mad Girl’s Love Song” tell? With its surreal, dreamlike tone and imagery of heaven and hell, the narrative is far from linear.  There is a story, however.  It’s the story of struggle in the narrator’s mind and the back and forth arguments that lead to the final resolution. During the internal discussion, the story of love and loss unfolds. It turns out that the narrator isn’t a ‘mad girl’ after all. It’s an often-repeated story of the betrayal of the narrator, presumably a young woman, by a deceitful lover. The narrator is left to wonder her sanity, hence the title. Through the waltz-like movements of the thoughts and the poetic lines, the dance of the internal struggle goes on.

The darkness descends when the narrator closes her eyes. The real world comes roaring back when she opens her eyes. The stars waltz in and out of her dreams. She dreams about the lover’s passionate wooing, and she equates it with God’s grace falling over her. As like every other love story, the lover goes away and has no intention of ever returning. “I grow old and forget your name.” She wonders if it was all in her mind. Did she make it all up? In some ways, she did make him up, made up all his desirable qualities because love is born and exists in one’s mind. The physical manifestation of love is not possible without the brain making up the narrative of love. In that realization, one thing is sure: the narrator is not a mad girl, but one who narrates an astute observation about the nature of love.

I hope, readers, that some of you are inspired to narrate your story through the villanelle form and submit. Who knows, you could possibly win. If you don’t remember Annie (as if that’s possible), read her poetry, her poetry textbooks, and join her online poetry groups to exchange information about form and meter. All that information can be found on her website.

 

Music in Poetry

If you love to write poetry and you are like me, you love to write in formal meter but are not completely comfortable with the rigidity of the meter. Yet, I bet many of you speak and write in rhythm without even realizing it.  If you have ever recited Mother Goose rhymes, you recognize the swinging and swaying of the words.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockleshells
And pretty maids all in a row.

Which words in this nursery rhyme did you emphasize? Did a pattern emerge?

How about these lines?

I feel the nights stretching away
thousands long behind the days
till they reach the darkness where
all of me is ancestor.
Do you feel the similar swaying? “da-dum da-dum.”
This rhythm is Trochaic. A stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable.  Look through your poem(s). Can you make simple alterations to make your existing poem into a Trochaic one?
For a complete guide to meter and a step-by-step guide to scanning, check out Annice Finch’s blog post.
Do send us your poems for the upcoming issue.

Bop – A Poetic From and Contest

Thanks to Ani Poet and Poetrywitch Magazine contest, this week, I discovered an interesting poetic form, ‘Bop.’ It’s a relatively new format invented by Afaa Michael Weaver.

The basic rules are:

  1. Three-stanza poem
  2. First six-line stanza presents a problem, followed by a refrain.
  3. Second eight-line stanza shades more light on the problem by elaborating the problem. The same refrain, as stanza one, follows.
  4. Third six-line stanza offers the resolution to the problem. The same refrain, as stanza one and two, follows.

Here is the complete form definition.

And here is the contest information.

13241321_799231706843822_3652717692110979024_n

 

 

 

 

Here is the well-known poem, Rambling,” by Afaa Michael Weaver.

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/rambling?mbd=1

Pantoum

hqdefault

I am creating a series of posts as a handy reference of poetic forms and meter. The Spring 2016 issue of The Literary Nest includes a pantoum, so let us talk about that form.

According to all the sources, the Pantoum is derived from an ancient Malaysian folk poetic form. The most significant feature of this form is the interweaving of lines with certain repetition built in the design. This repetition gives the poem a feel of forward movement without losing the historical context, sort of keeping the memory alive.

A Pantoum contains four-line stanzas with the following rhyme scheme: lines 2 and 4 of the previous stanza are used as lines 1 and 3 of the next. The poem can have an indefinite number of stanzas. In the final stanza, lines three and one from the first stanza are repeated as the second and fourth (final) lines.  A perfect Pantoum contains four four-line stanzas. Let us illustrate the scheme by an example. I use Harmonie du soir by Charles Baudelaire, to avoid the copyright issues. This poem does not circle back to the first line.

Structure Harmonie du soir by Charles Baudelaire
Stanza 1
A
B
C
D
Voici venir les temps où vibrant sur sa tige
Chaque fleur s’évapore ainsi qu’un encensoir;
Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir;
Valse mélancolique et langoureux vertige!
Stanza 2
B
E
D
F
Chaque fleur s’évapore ainsi qu’un encensoir;
Le violon frémit comme un coeur qu’on afflige;
Valse mélancolique et langoureux vertige!
Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir.
Stanza 3
E
G
F
H
Le violon frémit comme un coeur qu’on afflige,
Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir!
Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir;
Le soleil s’est noyé dans son sang qui se fige.
Stanza 4
G
C (or I)
H
A (or J)
Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir,
Du passé lumineux recueille tout vestige!
Le soleil s’est noyé dans son sang qui se fige…
Ton souvenir en moi luit comme un ostensoir!

It is important to remember that the form should not “drive” the poem. If the form begins to restrict the expression of content, the poet can choose to change the form to fit the content. If you are inspired by the form, expect to practice a lot and have patience. I can’t wait to see more submissions of form poetry.

Some well-known Pantoum examples are:

“Something About the Trees” by Linda Pastan
“Parent’s Pantoum” by Carolyn Kizer
“Iva’s Pantoum” by Marilyn Hacker
“Pantoum of the Great Depression” by Donald Justice