Relaxation Techniques

Why do we have forms? Perhaps they have their origin in song, or at least the oral tradition. Some common reasons given are

Some writers use standard forms as templates - starting points from which to wander. For other writers the standard forms are attractors - if a draft is beginning to acquire some sonnet-like features, the poet will steer the poem in a sonnet direction. Either attitude can lead to poems which are loosely formal.

Sonnets, like other forms, have definitions that offer some flexibility - for example, it's common to have "substitutions" (deviations from the usual iambic). Such variations break the monotony of metronomic iambs. However, if too many rules are flouted, readers may challenge the description of the piece as a sonnet, even if no explicit claim is made.

The amount of accepted flexibility varies according to fashion, form and readers. E.g. it's commonly accepted nowadays that a Villanelle needn't have exact repetition, but an Acrostic needs to be precise. Some readers judge poems partly by their loyalty to the standard form, and look upon deviation as regrettable: acceptable only if compensated for by good imagery, etc. For others, standard forms are just reference points on a landscape that provide a useful way to help describe a poem's format. Factors in reader responses include


Here are some examples of how poets deal with form

My problem

Write a sonnet, and you drag sonnet's tradition behind you - your poem will be read in the context of the tradition. A poet should expect this reaction from readers when using forms. The tradition changes though, and the sonnet changes. Readers with different experiences will have a range of expectations when faced with formal works

I don't value naturalness or visual layout. If form and content don't combine, I think form should at least contribute something. I'm also genre-orientated. This leads to some problem scenarios

Of course, rhyme, consonance etc need not be used regularly at line-endings. Some poets scatter their effects. However, whereas in a sonnet a poet can defend the use of a rhyme because it's required by the form, in free-form poetry, each inner rhyme is potentially a jangling, jarring, tell-tale sign of the poet's wooden ear. Patches of regular rhythm are like iambic eddies in otherwise "natural", conversational flow. Writers of hybrid free form poetry sometimes fall into a rhythm and rhyme, then just as easily fall out of it without considering the reader reaction. When people say that "free verse" is harder to write than formal verse, perhaps this is partly what they mean.

See Also

Updated January 2006
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Tim Love