The Hell of Form

I wrote a poem last night. An honest-to-gawd poem. It hasn’t been happening often lately, partly because I’ve been so busy, partly because I’ve been more interested in going on dates with short fiction, and partly because I’ve been putting too much pressure on myself.

The title of this post comes from a Beckian Fritz Goldberg poem that you should read in a book you should also read (Lie Awake Lake) because it would be good for you.

I’m teaching a workshop at The Writer’s Center right now called “The F Word: Poetic Forms,” exploring primarily non-traditional forms (although to do so hefty discussion of traditional forms is obviously involved). Last week, my students took a traditional form and altered it to suit their purposes, which I think helped them see the possibility of “play” in their poems.

Not that their pieces were “light”; in fact, it was quite the opposite. But several of them sought out restriction that helped them.

When I was writing last night, I let a form establish itself in my first stanza–a loose form, mostly involving number of words, a first-line simile that dictated the next lines’ content, and a shift out of the stanza into the next prompted by a who or the word “where.” I also gave myself the loose premise that the poem would be about the idea of flickering, which ultimately kept it close to the idea of light and vision.

I’m not unhappy with it, although it feels like an evolution.

The last poem I wrote was a sonnet about the movie The House on Sorority Row (1983), which uses only sight rhyme and no sound rhyme on its otherwise traditional rhyme scheme (the last couplet, for example, uses “laughter” and “slaughter”).

But I miss the feeling of being swept up by the hand of a sequence of pieces. This piecemeal work is less fun for me.

I’m trying to bring my obsession with form into my prose, but it’s more difficult for me there. In my last story, I tried working with the idea of “negative space storytelling,” where the backdrop of the narrator’s story is sort of the “true narrative,” but it is lensed through the narrator’s more immediate experiences and concerns during that time, and the events are shuffled out of order, since the narrator is too young to understand the causality of one event leading to the next.

Writing is fun. I should do it more often.

Nothing is new anymore, the death of poetry, etc.

I’ve been leading a workshop on poetics at The Writer’s Center for a bit. It’s afforded me the opportunity (and impetus) for going back and rereading some foundational essays that I’ve read and not thought much of since. In a lot of ways, I’ve been surprised, surprised again by them. I’ve reloved Amy Lowell, found common ground with Frost, watched Marianne Moore play nicely with the boys and struggle with herself, and witnessed Williams’s own failings to adequately describe “the measure” in poems.

But it was probably Ezra Pound’s “A Retrospect” that I found most interesting. I have a generally low opinion of Pound, mostly informed by his failures as a person than a poet, although I also feel that he had an undue influence on American poetry of the last century. But, then again, he’s in large part responsible for the rise of Modernism and the practice of poetry we all engage in today–whether we write in Modern or postmodern tradition today, we are still contending with Pound’s edicts whether we like it or not.

I don’t know if it’s my attention span or my intermittent readings of poetry, but I feel often disappointed by what I encounter in the world. I want something to surprise me, and lately I’m rarely surprised. I’m looking for a formal surprise, I think. I want a poetry that inhabits something new. It need not be about something new, or using language that is new, but I want its shape, its space, its form to be something new.

I don’t like it when people use the term “form” too narrowly. So often it implies “pattern,” which is think is unfairly limited and does not account for all the formal considerations a responsible poet must make. Rhyme and meter are elements of pattern. Stanza breaking can be patternist, but most often it is a formal concern, as is line length, as is white space, text shape, etc.

I started working on a little thing that isn’t poetry yet, and I’m thinking of how I can take this received form, which rises from reality television and the form of the synopsis, and make it more poetic. I want the poem to begin and end in delight. If there is wisdom there, then take it. If not, leave the poem happy, leave it having been dazzled or surprised. That’s all. I’m not smarter than you. If anything, I might remind you of what you already know to be true.

My Biography As Told in a Series of Facebook News Feed Updates

1977
Charles Jensen is now online.

1979
Charles joined the group “Bipeds.”
Charles turned on his chat feature.

1983
Charles joined the Eagle Elementary network.

1986
Charles kissed a girl, and he liked it. (Sort of)

1990
Charles RSVPed for the event “Moving to an island.” So far, 0 of his friends are attending.

1991
Charles RSVPed for the event “Moving off an island.” So far, 0 of his friends are attending.

1994
Charles is skipping class for the first and only time!!!!1! w00t
Charles was tagged in the album “Prom.”

1995
Charles wrote on Palmyra-Eagle High’s wall. “Peace out, bitches.”
Charles has joined the University of Minnesota network.
Charles is no longer interested in women.
Charles is now friends with Dorothy.

1996
Charles was tagged in a note: “Alcohol: the cause of and solution to life’s problems.”
Charles and Marlboro have made it clear on Facebook they are in relationship.

1999
Charles has joined the group “Summa cum laude/unemployed.”
Charles is bleeding maroon and gold. And rent money.
Charles now lives in the Downtown neighborhood of Minneapolis.

2000
Charles now lives in the Falcon Heights neighborhood of St. Paul.
Charles is no longer friends with snow.

2001
Charles became a fan of saguaro cacti, Sparky the Sun Devil, and sweltering heat.

2002
Charles is writing and reading poems.
Charles and Marlboro have ended their relationship.
Charles became a fan of yoga.

2004
Charles was tagged in the album “Hot Pants Halloween 2004.”
Charles has updated education info: MFA Arizona State, 2004.

2005
Charles posted a link: Little Burning Edens.
Charles was tagged in the album “Hot Pants Halloween 2005.”

2006
Charles has welcomed Arden to his family using the Dogbook application.
Charles updated education information: MA, Nonprofit Studies, 2008.

2007
Charles joined the group “Gay Retirement: 30+”
Charles sent a drink to Beau using the Smooth Seduction application.
Charles is moving to a new apartment for the 17th time since 1995.
Charles now lives in the Avalon neighborhood of Phoenix.
Charles was tagged in the note “New chapbooks from New Michigan Press.”

2008
Charles is ready to be done with school forever.
Charles tagged Arden in an album: “Moving to DC.”