Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Reader's Diary #64- Kate Braid and Sandy Shreve (editors): In Fine Form (up to Ballad)

Regrettably I haven't taken any more than the mandatory first two English courses at MUN. And neither of those were poetry. I was never brave enough to pursue English (job prospects?)- which is unfortunate because I certainly love it.

That's why I've taken it upon myself to give myself an informal English education. And it's books like these that makes it fun. In Fine Form is a collection of Canadian form poems, complete with detailed criteria of what makes them so. From the table of contents I see that it covers forms that I'm somewhat familiar with (such as ballads, epigrams and haiku) and some I've never even heard of (such as triolets, palindromes and pantoums). It should be an enlightening read.

In the preface, P. K. Page attempts to sell form poetry on its merits of keeping a poem (and poet) in check, satisfying our expectations, and teaching readers how to read. They're all arguments that I've heard before and that I even agree with to some extent. But still, I read (and write) more free verse. It's just that there's more free verse around (at least if you're looking to read anything contemporary). If form poetry seems more dated, that's because it is. According to Braid and Shreve, "by the 1950's free verse had become the norm."One need only look at the 60s to see where people's heads were at, and maybe the poets led the way (Ginsberg?). Maybe it was time to rebel against constraints.

That said, there's something to be said for being able to create within confines. Without confines there'd surely be a lot less modern music around- blues for example, and if you consider poverty a confine, hip hop as well. But maybe "confines" isn't the right word for form poetry. For starters, it's self imposed. Also, as P. K. Page points out "form can even provide a poem with additional meaning." It's precisely that reason, modern form poems excite me. Unlike poets of the 16th century, for example who may have been writing "form" because it was the norm, modern poets have more artistic freedom to pick and choose; form or free verse, and if form- which form? If they do choose form, I would suspect they have a good reason for doing so.

I'm looking forward to discovering new forms, more Canadian poetry and I hope to be inspired along the way. I've feared writing form poetry before, though I'm not sure why. Free verse isn't exactly easy either. Perhaps this book will help abate some of those fears.

I'm curious. Do you prefer free verse over form poetry? Or form poetry over free verse? Or have no preference at all?

1 comment:

Robert Hiscock said...

In terms of reading, I think I might prefer free verse but when it comes to writing I always have more fun working on form poetry. I think, as you suggest, the constraint forces creativity. For me, knwing that I have to express an idea within a set structure forces me to carefully examine that idea and strip it down to its most important elements. I think embracing form poetry (something I eschewed for a long time) made me a better writer.