Playing with Form

Writing to a specific form can pose a real challenge and for me it is certainly a departure from the way I usually like to write. Precise rhymes and repetitions can make it difficult to create an interesting poem and to maintain a logical flow. However, this structured practice can be beneficial as it forces you to think very carefully about grammar, punctuation and construction.

 
The Grave in the Road (villanelle)
 
A villanelle follows a precise structure but is generally considered to be technically easy compared to many other forms.
 
It is comprised of five three-lined stanzas and is completed by a sixth four-lined stanza.
 
The first line of the first stanza will also be the third line of the second, fourth and fifth stanzas.
 
The third line of the first stanza is also the last line of the third, fifth and sixth stanzas.
 
The second line of each stanza must rhyme, as must the first and third lines of each stanza.
 
I found the villanelle difficult but after reading through many examples I found inspiration in Sylvia Plath, Carolyn Kizer and Anthony Hecht. Their use of partial rhymes and slight alteration of the repeated lines inspired me to write of this strange incident witnessed in Phnom Penh.
 
My neighbours appeared to be digging a large hole in the road. It looked like a small grave. Clearly this is extremely unlikely; people are almost always cremated in Cambodia and despite the very early hour the road was relatively busy with people heading out to market and going about their business. However, the incense and offerings placed on the newly filled site were disturbing. I’m absolutely sure there is a logical explanation for what they were doing – if only I knew…
 
I have tried to convey the disturbing aspect through the use of partial rhymes designed to put the reader slightly on edge. The rhymes utilise the same /əʊ/ vowel sound but have a /l/, /d/ or /ld/ sound at the end thereby linking the sounds again but in an imprecise and unsettling way. I have also attempted to combine the mundane and the strange by framing the weirdness of the situation in the ‘gold tinged morning’ and the normality of the day.

 
Dan’s Days (Listing Poem)
 
A listing poem is considered an easy form. It is generally accepted that each line of the poem starts with the same structure / words (uses anaphora). The poem can be of any length and does not have to have any particular rhyme or meter.
 
The initial quote is from Time Out.
 
My son was actually born in the afternoon but I went to hospital at around 5 a.m. in the dark and in pouring rain. The birthing room was a dimly lit cocoon with no view to the outside world and I had no real awareness of time passing. My son was born in a birthing pool and had no muscle tone, looked grey and floppy and was slow to breathe. I had been told babies born in water are sometimes less aware that they have actually been born and therefore can take a little longer to respond. Apgar scores are a rapid assessment done at birth and repeated soon after. At three, my son’s was very low but the fact that it rose to nine by the five minute point showed there was nothing at all wrong. He slept for an age – right through the night – but the midwives woke me to try and feed him.
 
The rains that started the night we went into the hospital continued on until the whole country experienced flooding. We arrived home (the house having been burgled whilst I was in labour) and very soon after the village was cut off by the floodwaters. We saw a bride taken to her wedding in an army truck from the local barracks, the only vehicle able to get into the village due to the bridge being submerged. On our first trip out to the local town we saw dead pigs that had been stranded and drowned in the floods being piled into trucks and carted away.
 
The foot and mouth crisis came shortly after we moved to Scotland and sheep and cattle were slaughtered on a large scale. We started off rambling around the lanes, my son in his pram (prambling) with me pointing out the cows and sheep but before long the fields were empty and the dead animals loaded up and disposed of. There were disinfectant baths across the roads in and out of the village.
 
My son grew up bilingual speaking English and Khmer (‘K’mai’ is the Cambodian word for ‘Khmer’). Mouy, bpai, bpi is one, three, two in Cambodian. The re-ordering of the numbers is a combination of a child’s early learning and poetic licence to aid rhyme and rhythm.
 
When we moved to Wales my son learnt to speak Welsh (Cymraeg) and the numbers here are Welsh for one, two, three. The use of one, two, three should show how easy it seems to be for young children to pick up new languages and the earlier mis-ordering of the Khmer numbers more about age than language learning.
 
Once again there is water surrounding us but this time on an island. When I first brought my dad to see the house I had rented he romped through the wild gardens and turning to me, with a big grin, said ‘this is boy country’.

 
Northern Territory Triolet
 
A triolet is an eight line poem. The first line is repeated for the fourth and seventh lines. The second line is repeated for the eighth line. It follows a specific rhyme scheme of a-b-a-a-a-b-a-b.
 
I have played with the punctuation and precise wording of the repeated lines in order to alter the meaning a little bit but the repetition remains and is amplified in the use of the word ‘pooling’ in a ‘non-repetition’ line.
 
Restricting a poem to a specific form is a great exercise and I really feel it should hone a poet’s skill but ultimately, these ‘form poems’ are not a piece of me in the same way that my other work is. My other poems feel as though they are torn from me whereas the ‘form poems’ feel more akin to an academic exercise…

 
On My Way to Work (Triolet)
 
Another triolet but this one doesn’t follow the precise rhyme scheme that is, technically, required. ‘Sky’ is only a partial rhyme with ‘way’ and ‘fray’ and ‘flies’ should really be rhymed with ‘road’… I like it this way. What better subject matter to slightly subvert the strict form than a murder victim having been thrown from a passing car into the street. The poem uses the imagery of dredging meat in seasoned flour prior to cooking as the man had been treated no better than a piece of meat and his body had rolled in the dust of the road when he was thrown from the car. Being dead and surrounded by curious strangers he still seemed to be regarded like a piece of meat.
 
Going to Work (Triolet Re-structured)
 
This is a re-working of ‘On My Way to Work’ and follows the set rhyme scheme of a triolet. I would normally edit a piece rather than re-structure in this way, leaving the original poem intact but I thought it was interesting to be able to compare these two very similar, quite different versions…

 
Alphabet Rhymes (A variation on an abecedarian)
 
An abecedarian is a kind of acrostic poem with each line (or verse) starting with successive letters of the alphabet. I’ve written a variation on this theme here, making it much more childlike and being reminiscent of a child’s alpahabetical memory aid. However, towards the end of the poem the subject matter veers away from the child friendly and moves into darker territory. The ‘z’ is that which infers sleep in comic strips but is used to evoke the image of the ‘sleep of death’. The death refers specifically to the death of the husband; the ‘x’ being that of ‘x marks the spot’ but this being a place of death that cannot be reached by the living.

 
The Funeral Band (Rondeau)
 
The rondeau is of French origin and comprises fifteen lines of eight or ten syllables in three stanzas – a quintet, a quatrain and a sestet. The first part of the first line becomes the rondeau’s rentrement when repeated as the last line of the latter two stanzas. The rondeau has a precise rhyme scheme comprising a-a-b-b-a / a-a-b-r / a-a-b-b-r (where ‘r’ is the rentrement).
 
This is a partial re-working of another poem The Ties that Bind Us although the focus here is slightly different. I’d term it a variation on a theme. I use much of the same language and the focus is on the white cotton tied around the mourner’s wrist at the funeral of a loved one but here the repetition of ’till it falls off’ becomes like a refrain for the mourner – maybe she can start to live again and come to terms with what has happened when this funeral band falls off.

 
Cars (Tetractys)
 
A tetractys has five lines and those lines have one, two, three then four syllables with the last line having ten syllables, making a total of twenty syllables for the poem. A double tetractys reverses the syllable order for the second stanza. The syllable count corresponds to numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 adding up to 10 and being known as ‘tetractys’. For more information on the mathematical side check out Euclides and Pythagoras! A tetractys should express a complete thought.

 

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