Natural Forms (draft)
Literary forms can be sonic (using rhymes or alliteration),
typographic (shape poems),
lexical (acrostics), numeric (haiku, syllabics), or depend
on content. Some of these are considered more natural to use than others, and
some are considered more natural to poetry than to prose. For example,
forms that depend on sound are considered more applicable to poetry, and
are more natural than acrostics - which are commonly dismissed as gimmickry.
Forms can be imposed on language from without (adapted from a music form, for
example), or can emerge over time
"from within". Mechanisms that come into play when a form evolves include
It's common for natural processes to share a basic design and build
variants upon it - changing the scale, the parameters, or the low-level
details. This saves on genes.
- Bottom-up rules - a form needn't imply a hierarchical controlling
agency. Simple, low-level, short-sighted rules can be sufficient (birds
in formation, a tree's branch structure). Complexity theory offers examples. It's
possible that a form may grow from simple localised rules based around iambs.
- Phase-locking - things that oscillate tend towards harmonising
(people walking across bridges, groups of menstruating women). I think
there's a tendency to standardise nearly-matching objects, so iambic
lines could tend towards pentameters.
- Randomness - Room for low-level, constrained randomness is built into the
design of natural objects - e.g. leaves. This is partly a consequence of
nature's laziness but it also a useful survival mechanism.
In poetry an element of constrained randomness can be introduced using rhyming
These mechanisms are implicated in the development of the sonnet, which can be
considered as an organic form that slowly developed "by committee". It's
flexible enough to be used by ee cummings, enduring because it's flexible,
bending rather than breaking as fashions change.
- "The Neural Lyre", Turner and Poppel
- John Frederick Nims suggested that the Petrarchan sonnet was influenced
by the Golden Mean.
- The Shape of Poetry (by Paul Lake)
Updated July 2000
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