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Monday, April 24, 2006

Reader's Diary #77- Kate Braid and Sandy Shreve (editors): In Fine Form (FINISHED)

After finishing Braid and Shreve's In Fine Form I can honestly say that I got what I came for. First, I wanted some good poems to read. I found lots. There were of course some that I didn't enjoy, but if they all appealed to me, that would be amazing. And of course, there were probably some I'd enjoy after a few more reads. Second, I got exposure to forms I was unfamiliar with (I now love triolets). Third, I got a crash course in form poetry and terminology. I'm glad there won't be a test in it because I'd fail miserably, but it was nice to understand what made say a sestina, a sestina- even if my knowledge is only for the time being. I'm sure I'll come across the definitions again and maybe after multiple exposures they'll start to stick.

I gained a much deeper appreciation for form poetry and it made me alter my schema of form poems a little. I used to think form poetry was stuffier and too caught up in rules to be truly expressive. That's not true. Sometimes I think the "constraints" fosters creativity. And sometimes, I don't think they're constraints at all. Most of the poets in this collection gave the impression that they chose the form they chose because it fit their idea, in other words the form worked for the poem, not the other way around. For example, when Carole Glasser Langille chose a villanelle to write about the crows of Kentville, it was the perfect form. The repetition that the form requires works in a number of ways; it re-emphasizes the number of crows and how they are taking over, it shows the town's obsession with them, and it makes the whole situation that much more eerie. I also had the suspicion that form poetry was more difficult to write than free verse. And while there's no denying that when you see a form described as having a tercet AB1B2 followed by a quatrain abAB1 followed by a sestet abbAB1B2- it just looks daunting and not worth the trouble. However, when you are able to decipher the key elements, form poems have the advantage of using often time-tested meters and rhyming schemes that have proven themselves to be pleasing to the ear. I guess I'm saying that if a poem sticks to a known form, it might even be easier to convince someone it's well-written. Obviously that's not the entire story and other factors come into play; word choice, punctuation, etc, but the point can be made that when it comes to difficulty of writing, free verse and form poetry have their own unique challenges and advantages.

Another particular poem I feel the need to comment on is Christopher Wiseman's "Triolets For Ken". In these three triolets, there's a narrative being told by a man haunted by the tragic death of his friend who fell while climbing a cliff to collect seabirds' eggs. Why do I like this poem so much? I'm not sure. The poem itself is wonderfully written- on the surface level the story is easy to follow and intriguing; it opens with "Three times a year the nightmare comes again" What is the nightmare that haunts him? The poem grabs the reader from the get go. And like the villanelle I mentioned earlier, has repeating phrases that increase the eeriness and mimics the way the event comes back to haunt him. Even beyond the surface, the poem is magnificent. I love the symbolism with the eggs in the final triolet. If eggs bring to mind the beginning of life, than surely Ken's collecting of them is ominously mirrored by Nature's reclaiming of him. I could go on with aspects of the poem that make it great- but the biggest reason I like this poem so much is because I can relate. No, I didn't have a friend die tragically, but my cousin and I spent our childhood climbing the cliffs around the shores of Twillingate. In our adulthood, we've often remarked about the dangers we took for granted. Sure we had amazing fun and I wouldn't trade those memories for anything, but I guess as you get older your mortality sings louder and louder. This poem is for all of those who had mortality sing to them at a young age. And for those who are fortunate enough to appreciate that it didn't.

I'd like to close this post with a triolet that I've been working on. I'm a little concerned that its rhymes might be perceived as juvenile (though there's an argument to be made why that might be appropriate) and that it might have a bit too much sentimentality (one of my biggest beefs). Anyway, any comments- good or bad- would be appreciated-

Triolet for Dad

I will not arm wrestle my dad.
I will let him have his day.
So despite the dream I've had,
I will not arm wrestle my dad.
Since your father has gone mad
He remembers it as play.
I will not arm wrestle my dad,
He has had his day.

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