Thursday, 29 April 2010

Thinking about the Journey and the Physical form of a Poem

I find myself at a point where I am re-examining form. Although I mostly write in free verse I have always had a bit of resistance to writing in unusual forms. I am not necessarily talking about concrete poetry but unusual ways of setting poems out on the page. As a reader I have a slight aversion to poems like this and have sometimes found the practice slightly pretentious - usually when I have a read a poem several times and it is not obvious to me why they have done it. There are however obvious exceptions - Philip Gross springs to mind and also Jen Hadfield and Alice Oswald. These writers use form in unusual ways but it is immediately obvious to me why they have done so. Poems about landscape and water lend themselves well to this kind of treatment because it adds physical movement to the poems.

Being on the Creative Writing MA I am learning a lot and I have found that my writing horizons are rapidly expanding - so this week I find myself confronted with the issue of form in my poems. The new poem that I am most pleased with - Footslog - is very much about movement and the physicality of the landscape. The first draft was a stream of conciousness piece but on further drafts I quickly became aware that it needed breaking up in some way so as not to overload the reader with densely laden imagery. Initially I broke it into eight line stanzas but somehow this didn't seem quite enough. At this point I took the poem to my poetry group who suggested taking all the punctuation out of the poem. Once I had done that I liked the poem better but I still needed to resolve the issue of breaks within the lines where previously I had used commas. My initial solution to this was that I made the spaces between the words bigger at those points but I found that with every draft I wanted to make the gaps even bigger, but, for some reason, I was still resistant to the idea of moving the words down to a separate line.

I began to feel very frustrated although I was really happy with the content and order of the poem and so was slightly trepidatious about taking the poem to my tutorial. While I was waiting outside my tutor's office I started reading The Water Table by Philip Gross, a book that has some similarities to my own work in terms of content, being about the landscape and environment. Gross is a writer who does play around with form and in this book it really works adding a new layer of meaning to writing that is already incredibly strong. So in retrospect, and given all the signals, I should have been less than surprised when my tutor produced a version of my poem in which he had really played around with the form. Immediately I could see that the poem made more sense than in its linear version. It had a tremendous sense of movement and some of the actions had been made more physical by the ways that the words were placed on the page. For instance when I say "to the left" the text was on the left side of the page and when I say "on the right" the text had been moved to the right. In another line I talk about "fire dropping" and the word dropping had been "dropped" down to the next line. My tutor was, however, reluctant to give me a copy as he didn't want me to feel bound to it, and it is after all my poem. I think what I will do though is edit it without looking at his version and then come back and look at his version afterwards.

If you had told me a year ago that in a years time I would be writing poems about the landscape and in unusual forms I would probably have laughed. It just goes to show how given the right conditions as a writer our work can grow and evolve.


Arnold said...

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pupski said...