For several years, I have conducted poetry workshops for children in the schools in my area. Some years I am only invited to do one or two; other years are busier. Often, I am asked by either teacher or student to explain why I write more free verse poetry than formal poetry. I suppose the answer is, I don’t know. As the definition provided above from the Poetry Archive site, as well as the title of this post, indicate, it isn’t necessarily up to me. From the Poetry Archive:
What free verse claims to be free from is the constraints of regular metre and fixed forms. This makes the poem free to find its own shape according to what the poet – or the poem – wants to say, but still allows him or her to use rhyme, alliteration, rhythms or cadences (etc) to achieve the effects that s/he feels are appropriate.
Some of my favorite moments working with my poetry group were when someone would look at the draft of a colleague’s poem and say, “I think this poem wants to be a sonnet,” or whatever form the poem was obviously yearning to make apparent. I confess this happened more with the other poets in the group – Ann Campanella, Brenda Graham, and Gilda Morina Syverson – than it did for me. It does seem that polite poems who like to follow the rules don’t seek me out very often! Oh, but when they do, what a rush!
I think it’s important for every poet to write formal poetry, even if it feels intimidating or unnatural. Playing with form is, for me, like digging in the garden – it’s difficult and sweaty work, but it also elevates my intentionality in the process. I have heard other poets say that formal poetry is best when the subject matter is particularly difficult. It binds the emotion and prevents the poet from wandering off into sentimentality.
Normally, I am an easy task master over my poems (sometimes too easy – hence, the number of unfinished and flawed drafts I have in my possession!), but sometimes a poem challenges me to apply some discipline, like a child craving the safety of enforced rules. So, I do so. However, as with all poems, the ones that seek me out almost already fully formed are my favorite ones to meet and introduce around, and if they are formal, it is even more of a thrill. What follows is such a one, a sonnet. Thanks for reading!
February and gray, the days of blue
sky and platinum sunshine so few
you could tweeze them off
the calendar and be left with enough
time to worry over the future:
a death, a crash, good-byes, a war.
Time to worry twenty and more times
from frozen sunset to liquid sunrise.
Cold mercury snakes in glass tubes
rigid, harsh harbingers of stark truth
truth about days, small and aloof,
while mothers shake
by windows reflecting eyes dank
with sleeplessness and anxious wait.
Suzanne Baldwin Leitner