Thursday, February 19, 2009

More on form (& content!)

Just back from Chicago and Virginia; seems oddly (very oddly) colder here than there.

Just a few notes on form, based on a comment by Hank Lazer on our Multiformalisms panel at AWP. He referred to form as epistemology, a way of perceiving the world, which reminded me I once developed a series of exercises designed to show how form refracts world, without asking students to follow any particular rules. Hence, the exercise goes as follows:

Write one sentence on each prompt:

--Sit under a tree and observe what you see as an aspect of yourself. (Nature poem)
--Describe the same situation three different ways and then draw a moral from it. (Shakespearian sonnet)
--Write about a friend who died. (Elegy)
--Write sentences with various modes of repetition. (Villanelle, etc.)
--Praise an inanimate or animate object. (Keatsian ode)
--Praise or insult someone. (Obvious!)
--Write a sentence in which you eliminate one or more letters. (Oulipo)
--Write a sentence in which you describe a natural scene and then open a trap door. (Haiku)
--Write a sentence that contains everything. (Prose poem)

And so on. The prompts are just as much fun to write as the responses, I suspect. And while these sentences do not get at forms as rules, they do get at forms as ways to see. Once a student discovers a way of seeing that appeals to him or her, then you offer them a rule bound form. But this would make the alteration of form a kind of new lens on the world, rather than a violence perpetuated upon it. A mode of jazz rather than terror. One might consider Coltrane's favorite things not as a destruction of The Sound of Music, but as a correction, an episode of play, a signification on it. With signifying comes wit, which adds as much (at least) as it takes away.

Tomorrow my students in all classes give me documentary poems. Can't wait to see what they come up with. In the two 273s I asked for poems in which students started from a family member or friend who had been involved somehow in a historical event. Based this on C.D. Wright's One Big Self: An Investigation. Amazing to hear them struggle with this, as if unattached to history. That may be the main lesson. The Poetry & Politics students will have read Mark Nowak's Shut Up, Shut Down. (That is on google, my word.)

And still brooding on the way visits to the Alzheimer's home send me running to write, where my ordinary daily life does not. Something about forgetting that is more compelling than memory, despite old (pre-psychotropic) fears that memory could destroy a woman. What we forget we are bound to re-produce?

1 comment:

Jill said...

One student
said "Can we go
back to writing
I'll forget
these words
you're asking us
to remember."