I spent the day researching obscure poetic forms. And it was enormous fun — thinking about what to pour into those elegant white cups of structure. Along the way, I wrote this poem for my sisters (the least structured of women). But we’ll get to the poem in a moment.
Because what’s important is this whole cup thing. How the shape of the container/ vessel impacts what goes inside. I don’t drink tea (or coffee) from ugly containers — and don’t go making more of that than I’m saying. 🙂
Anything worth writing deserves the best possible — and most appropriate — presentation. Forms also help us give shape to the booming chaos within, especially at times of grief, or even great joy. I have written elegies and eulogies (and yes, there is a difference), and the shape of a poetic elegy is no more difficult than a spoken eulogy, sometimes easier.
Form, after all, is just shape. It’s drinking green tea from the celadon tea set my husband brought me from Korea, not from the Aynsley pot my tea conspiracy gave me.
That’s reserved for when I need to remember I’m loved, and have overcome difficult times.
A sonnet (at least in my hands) is rarely funny, although that can have its own appeal, the subversion of a form. Any more than I’ve ever seen a tragic limerick. The form (and all its cultural readings) doesn’t go there.
It’s why I don’t drink juice from a teacup, or hot chocolate from a goblet. The forms war w/ the content.
This may be more than you ever wanted to hear about form, structure, and cups. 🙂 But it’s important. Honest.
Because people AREN’T cups. And our ‘form’ needn’t dictate (or even seriously impact) our ‘content.’ I don’t have to wear old person clothes — I needn’t eschew my beloved jeans. Any more than I had to wear a dress to my son’s wedding. 🙂 I can reject form, up to a point. (I’m NOT going to a funeral in pyjamas, despite how many students turn up for class that way!)
But in poetry? I’m sticking to my initial claim: form is a great way of enabling content. 🙂
septolet for four sisters
our lives stairstep
each sister a tread
family the risers
Last night, discussing structure and writing with my elder son, I said I couldn’t write w/ too much structure. That writing is — for me — a discovery process. Structure, I told him, can actually kill my ideas.
Later, as I lay in bed half-asleep, I thought about poetry. And realised that what I said was only true of prose (at least for me). I write most easily (and possibly best) when I have the structure of a form. Sonnet, haiku, tanka, lune ~ each draws forth the content to fill the form’s formal structure. They act like scaffolding for my creative process.
Kind of like using the right tools to crack lobster… 🙂 Sure you can use your hands. But a claw cracker and tiny fork make it soooo much easier.
The more I thought about it, the more I realised: structure is a kind of mindfulness. It’s almost meditative. Certainly it’s contemplative. If I have to fit the inchoate feelings/ images/ thoughts within to a skeletal framework, it’s almost like magic — following the breath to calm. A kind of practice…
I think creativity often responds beautifully to structure. But what seems like structure to one person may be torture to another (my son’s process sounded antithetical to my own), and our own methods may well not even feel like ‘structure,’ they’re so deeply internalised.
Once, at a workshop, I heard the Pulitzer prize-winning poet Henry Taylor talking about his struggle to stay a ‘working poet’ while he fought brain cancer. Taylor said he did clerihews — a form invented at the turn of the 19th century. They were all he could manage, he said. But they did the trick: helping him keep poetically nimble.
When my days are full of scullery duties, or enrapt with my grandson, and poetry seems (even for me) almost too much, I turn to haiku. Haiku are my practice, the way clerihews were Taylor’s. And it’s because of both forms’ structure that they work as practices. The form allows the mind to work on the content, not wondering about things like line breaks. At least, not so much. 🙂
Holding Trinidad Gildersleeve,
I’m inclined to disbelieve
That paradise requires death.
It’s in my arms, and drawing breath.
My grandson burnt his hands Sunday. Not horribly, but badly enough that he cried inconsolably for hours. Today? He’s his usual sunny self: slapping the Cheerios on the highchair tray, pulling my hair, and laughing at nothing at all.
Why can’t I be like that? Why can’t I let go of yesterday/ last year/ some childhood nightmare? How does he DO that??
Watching Trin, I learn as much as my doctoral studies, I swear. Obviously not ‘content’ (a word I’ve come to mistrust hugely), but critical life skills. Mostly how to be happy. And it begins — just like the Buddha said — with letting go.
Trin has no expectations, other than what happens in the now. He’s used to being loved, I grant you. But he isn’t… attached to it, if that makes sense. When he’s burned (through no one’s fault), he cries because it’s not going away. But then? It does, and he moves on.
The picture at the top of the page is a Japanese kirin, known as qilin in Chinese. It’s a mythical animal, a cloven-footed, dragon-like chimera. And it has healing properties, some say. It’s the product of innumerable foldings of paper, carefully creased to bring to life an animal that probably never existed, other than in fable & legend. And yet Satoshi Kamiya, the origami artist, could see it so clearly in his mind’s eye that he was able to create a recognisable kirin. From gold paper.
Here’s the problem for me: my brain wants to be able to create the tangible from the evanescent: bubbles from air, a poem from a dream, a meal from a wish to comfort. But the very vision that enables that creative thought also makes me subject to that Buddhist bugaboo: attachment. I become attached to my creations. I build castles (sometimes from… well, alliterative substances) that I never end up even visiting, but which still cause me grief.
Trin can’t create a poem (yet). Nor can he envision much of what isn’t there in front of him. (To be fair, sometimes he has a hard time with what’s tangibly present!) But he also doesn’t attach to what has never been. He doesn’t worry about something that may never come to pass.
So no, he can’t imagine a kirin. But he also doesn’t fixate on the pain of a day now past. I’m not sure I have the better deal…
My grandson hurt himself today. Not horribly, but bad enough that he’s been crying for two+ hours.
On a lovely spring day — temps in the lower 70s — he was on the deck w/ his folks, crawling happily around. Apparently, the threshold strip is too hot for baby hands. 🙁 Even though I felt it later, and it seemed only very warm to me, it raised blisters on newish palms.
This is bad enough, but remember: at 11 months old, you use your hands for EVERYTHING. Crawling, eating, holding, exploring. And blisters HURT.
So a day that began beautifully — with a hungry Trin chowing down on his brunch of eggwhite from my breakfast sandwich, Cheerios, and bananas — in the flash of an instant went to trauma.
That is, I suspect, the nature of life & Buddhism, right? Change… even when life changes (at least temporarily) for the worse. But listening to my beloved grandson sobbing his heart out, as his mommy & daddy try to soothe him? Heart-rending. I try to console myself with the idea of kintsugi, mending broken places with gold (or kisses and parental love). The idea being that damaged places can be beautiful — they make us human, make us grow.
But it still doesn’t seem very fair…