Pushing Against Fences

Wendell Berry wrote, “The impeded stream is the one that
sings,” and I have to admit the first time I read that I thought it was a bunch
of hooey. After all, one of the things that lead me to write poetry in the
first place was the fact that I could ignore grammar and punctuation rules.
(Okay, be kind, I was in seventh grade.) But honestly, for years I wrote
primarily in free verse and never wanted to try to write any other way. Oh the
open air, oh the unfettered road.
Of course, it was only a matter of time before I realized
that swaddling my work helped it. What do I mean by that? There is a school of
childrearing (not one that I adhere to since I don’t have any kids and no,
Jack Russell terriers do not count) that contends that infants learn control of
their limbs faster and are stronger when they are wrapped tightly in a blanket (i.e.
swaddled). I learned that writing in form often pushed me into places that I
wouldn’t normally go. Rhyme scheme? Well, I’ve never used “mettle” in a poem
but it sure is a slant rhyme with gentle. Compression of the line because I’m
writing in syllabics and I only have ten syllables to each line? Off-kilter
looping of thought process because writing a pantoum sort of forces you into
that repetitive structure?
And don’t think that because you write prose, there’s no
such thing as form. Lyric essay is a form. Science fiction is a form. Braided essay,
short story, short short story, all forms. Changing up the form that you write
in might bust you out of rut. Might force you to look at your
subject matter from a different point of view. Might just push you up against
the fence which makes you fight back harder and really own whatever form you’ve
been writing in.
I guess I’m trying to say that it’s worth giving it a whirl.
Like all aspects for writing, intentionality is everything. As long as you’re
making deliberate choices to craft your writing to fit the subject, the
audience, and the occasion, you’re in the ballpark. You can work with
If you’re a poet, I’d like to encourage you to take Alyse
Knorr’s “Forms of Poetry” workshop during April. (Register here.) Here’s the
dreamy description:

Immanuel Kant once said that “In all beautiful art the
essential thing is the form,” and Irish poet Paul Muldoon has stated
that “Form is a straightjacket in the way that a straightjacket was a
straightjacket for Houdini.” A knowledge of form significantly deepens and
expands one’s understanding of poetry, whether for purposes of reading or
writing. This course will introduce students to a wide range of traditional and
contemporary poetic forms, including the sonnet, accentual, syllabic,
haiku, pantoum, villanelle, visual poem, ballad, acrostic/mesostic, open
field, and free verse. In this class for students of all levels, we will read
examples of each form, examine the history of the form and how it’s used today,
try our hand at writing in each form, and discuss the relationship between form
and content (a.k.a. when and why to use each form). We will also discuss and
practice ways that contemporary poets subvert, remix, or otherwise revise
traditional forms to suit their needs.

 And if you’re not a poet, it would be fun class to take in
honor of National Poetry Month (April, natch, we thought this out impeccably).
Hope you all have a fabulous week. By the time you read this
I’ll be in Juneau to judge the state Poetry Out Loud competition. If you’re in
Juneau, come see me on Monday from 4:30-6:00 upstairs at Salt (200 Seward St.). Let’s talk!
take care,

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