Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pick a Form, Any Form

When I am stuck in a rut creatively, I turn to poetry forms. The limits they offer work like any writing prompt - they give a writer rules to follow, instructions, boundaries, in which they can play with language. Much like a child in need of discipline, a poetic form can give a writer safe terrain in which to experiment.

I steer away from rhyming forms, as well as strictly metered forms. They are hard to do well without careening toward greeting-card-esque treacle. And honestly, I have trouble understanding meter - I spend too much time sounding out words, counting beats on my fingers when I can just rely on my own natural sense of language's rhythm and music. So I opt for poems with repeating lines (Pantoum or Villanelle) or repeating words (my favorite, the Sestina), or poems that employ a syllabic or word count (Tanka). I also really like found forms, like the Cento or OULIPO.

Here are some of my favorite websites for poetic forms. I encourage you to try your hand at forms, from the ancient and lengthy to modern and minimal. Two of my latest favorites are the Palindrome and the Blitz.

Shadow Poetry: A Poet's Writing Resource - lots of great traditional and invented forms.
Robert Lee Brewer's List of Poetry Forms - an interesting mix.
Shot Glass Journal's Glossary of Poetic Forms - no examples, but lots of these are shorter forms.
American Academy of Poet's Poetic Forms & Techniques - an in-depth look at many classic forms.
Poetry Foundation's Glossary - a searchable database of forms.
The Poet's Garret - offers lots of variations on classic forms.
Wikipedia - always worth reading up on the history of a particular form.

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