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  #11  
Unread 05-15-2022, 06:41 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Roger,

If you don't understand the question, how do you know you've answered it? A problem familiar to many a student in my experience. So, the saying goes that if all you've got's a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Or, take Goethe's heroine who knows her lover is planning to leave because he starts writing to her in French. Different formal choices impose different ways of looking at the world: writing an epic instead of a ballad not only makes what we say different, it makes the categories we think in different, likely also the human relationships, I would think this is non-controversial. Yes, we write limericks because we feel like it. But different girls, and different attitudes to women, inhabit a traditional sonnet and your proposed limerick about a girl from Nantucket. Again, I would think this is self-evident, and worthy of some sustained thought.

Hi Jane,

I like your David Anthony - thank you! And like Susan's key metaphor, i find your recipe metaphor intriguing. It's true, spaghetti and lasagne are not the same experience, and that lies in their formal choices more than their ingredients, like the difference between salad and ratatouille.
As to the narrowing or expanding of the universe of thought, I'd say this. Form guides thought, much as train tracks guide the train into the future. The tracks offer the train the chance to move at speed - a plus, we assume - but limit its scope of movement - a minus. So, form in its structure of repetition and variation imposes ways of thinking about lived reality. Mme de Stael calls rhyme "an image of hope and memory," for instance, and that seems exactly right.
Sarah-Jane devoted some space to this in her ghazal thread. The premise was that ghazals favor non-linear narratives, or a certain way of looking at cause and consequence, past, present and future. She added that sonnets favor a certain dialectical progression to resolution that dovetails nicely with a particular way of looking at the world - one that involves a volta in experience, for instance. I hope I am doing her thought justice here. But experience does not necessarily have voltas, nor is it necessarily dialectical.
There's a story I used to tell about a Zen koan and Winnie-the-Pooh's birthday to illustrate this point. But perhaps instead I'll stop here.

Cheers,
John

Update: Eeyore's birthday, actually. And Jayne, I wish you a speedy recovery!

Last edited by John Isbell; 05-15-2022 at 07:00 PM. Reason: birthday and recovery
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  #12  
Unread 05-15-2022, 07:29 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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John, my key metaphor is as specific as I can get to discuss poetic form in general. I don't have any "one size fits all" ways of talking about the multitude of specific forms, each of which has very specific things that it is suited for. A triolet, for instance, is ideally suited to exploring the ways in which tiny changes in a line, such as in the punctuation, can change the meaning of the whole line. You start out thinking the poem is about one thing and find out that it is about something else. Meanwhile, all of the repetitions give the poem a very songlike effect to the ear. Any formal poet with lots of experience gets a feel for which form to use to create which effects with which kinds of content, just as surgeons know which scalpel to reach for to deal with a particular kind of surgery.

Susan
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  #13  
Unread 05-15-2022, 07:36 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Thank you, Susan! I know what I at least was hoping for in starting this thread was the kind of in the trenches detail you provide about writing triolets. And I find your remarks on them compelling.

Airy generalities are all very well as a preamble, but at a certain point, specificity is welcome. Thus also, Roger on the limerick, or Jayne on the David Anthony triolet she posted. Let me add that I am a different person writing tet than I am writing IP - tet makes me tighter, crisper, a little more brusque - and that tercets or even quatrains for me are a quite different thing than, say, ottava rima, they are less expatiatory. I tend to want to take my octets and pare them down to clarity. Also, over the years I have become increasingly fond of end stops. Repeated enjambment to my ear should be used in moderation, unless you're Milton. And I like stanzas to be self-contained unless there is good reason for them not to be.

Cheers,
John

Last edited by John Isbell; 05-15-2022 at 07:41 PM. Reason: thoughts on meter
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  #14  
Unread 05-15-2022, 07:44 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
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John, I am not one of your students, so you can spare me the condescension that your students are apparently accustomed to. When I said I didn't understand your question, it was a relatively polite way of saying that you didn't pose a coherent question in the first place. It was not a confession of ignorance, but an invitation perhaps for you to stop "restarting" the thread and simply tell us what you're on about.

And yes, of course different formal choices carry with them different ways of looking at the world. What did I say that was different? Limericks carry with them the bawdy, punny, mostly light-hearted way of looking at the world, whereas elegies have a different outlook. My point was that the form doesn't impose itself on the poet and make the poet adhere to a particular worldview, but the poet chooses the form because it seems to fit the poem the poet has in mind to write.

As Frost famously said, if you have an urge to say something for eight lines and take it back for six lines, you may find yourself writing a sonnet. But in Frost's formulation, the poet chooses the form based on the shape and tone of what she wants to say. The form generally doesn't come first, but the impulse to write a poem comes first, and the form follows from the specific nature of that impulse.
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  #15  
Unread 05-15-2022, 08:18 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Roger,

Indeed you are not one of my students! That is likely a good thing all around. And I am glad to see you understood my question in the end.

Cheers,
John
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  #16  
Unread 05-16-2022, 03:47 AM
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Sarah-Jane Crowson Sarah-Jane Crowson is offline
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Hi,

I’m sorry that I’m here so late - both questions that John posts are not ones that I can just speed in and answer. I think slowly (think snail in the middle of a pavement).

Around cultural appropriation I think it’s like many other ethical questions - there are some clear ‘no way’ actions (just like racism and holocaust denial is clearly unacceptable) and on the other side of the continuum there might be people who only used materials/ideas they felt were rooted in their own culture (although that would be very tricky to define because culture are porous) - and there’s also the sense that without cultural porosity we’re all the poorer - and an awful lot of grey area in between. I think it’s about having the critical conversation that is important - and about citing sources, and not shying away from complexity.

I had a lovely student once who was in love with the patterns in Navajo blankets. They’d read books and books about them. They were also really worried about cultural appropriation (much more so than I was at that point in my career) and we talked about it at great length - neither of us really coming up with any easy answers. For the record, their design work didn’t copy or really even look much like a Navajo blanket.

I think in the end we came to a kind of shared thought that because Navajo blankets had been hugely culturally appropriated by Bauhaus etc anyway, they were in a way, doing a bit better than Bauhaus because at least they could point with respect to their sources, and they were able to clearly articulate where their inspiration came from. They had thought about it critically. And they weren’t taking any power or agency away from Navajo culture or living people or (knowingly) marketing their work in a way that would negatively impact- but then the question remains that we didn’t know anyone from that culture to ask. So we didn’t really know.

I don’t think it was resolved. I still have no easy answers. I guess my lodestone is whether the artist can critically justify why they’re doing and why - that kind of 'yes, but', and 'if I', and weighing up the possibilities. And sometimes that might be more possible because of an individual’s belief system (if an artist believes in a collective subconscious then we’re all drawing from the same root value system anyway). And sometimes it might be whether the artist can justify whatever it is they’re doing because of the craft, or their original story - or whether they have sought out feedback from a community they’re appropriating from! I guess for me it’s partly about engaging with the conversation rather than being dogmatic, from either sides of the continuum.

Me? I sit in the murky middle ground, feeling dizzy, loving Doreen Massey’s idea of space as a simultaneous set of possibilities, of stories intersecting. I like Susan’s much less murky idea of the key.

With the sense of structure of writing creating/reflecting the argument/how people think - the context was, for me, trying to explain to John why I’d chosen the ghazal form to write what was probably a semi-confessional poem. I felt the ghazal form gave me a more open structure than, say, a sonnet, or rhyming couplets, which would have been rooted more in my (western) tradition of writing. Partly that’s because I don’t see the past (in that poem - sometimes I do ) as linear, and I see it as full of repeating images - the repeating end words of the ghazal fit with that.

If I’d chosen a sonnet form then I’d have had to bring in a dialectical argument which I didn’t want to do with that poem. But I’m really only just starting to come to these knowledges about form because I’m quite new to it - you’re all already there!

What I think is interesting, though, is you could explore the sonnet (and some, not all, Western forms) as being forms that prop up that systematic way of dialectical thinking (just as I read that the ghazal form can prop up the female as passive/idealised).

So, in terms of the conversation, I think it maybe goes both ways. The poet chooses the form that suits their purpose for the poem. In doing so, depending on the content of the poem, they contribute to a wider narrative that might also reinforce certain ways of looking at the world, beyond and above the particular poem.

Not that it matters, particularly, unless the things they are propping up are at that side of the continuum which is ‘no way’. But it’s what I (personally) like about surrealism and psychogeography and those kinds of practices, because they break things up, often with humour, and open up some of those patterns of thinking by subverting them gently. But equally, even though things like surrealism might have started as symbiotes, living off the popular culture of the time - they have now (arguably) become dominant narratives (with their own structures of thinking and preconceptions which might benefit from breaking up) in their own right.

Apologies if that isn’t clear, by the way, or if it’s a bit one-dimensional. This isn’t something that I’ve had a long time to consider, but I did want to join in with the discussion while I had a spare hour this morning!

Sarah-Jane

Jayne!!! How lovely to see you! I hope you are feeling okay (how miserable to have your typing arm in plaster).
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  #17  
Unread 05-16-2022, 05:56 AM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is online now
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I had the experience once of translating Russian hexameter into English pentameter. I did it for two reasons: 1) hexameter (iambic at any rate) is unwieldy in English; 2) English is a more compact language, and a shorter line helps take up the slack. A friend objected, so I did it over in hexameter. It took some padding (always a problem), but the flavor was completely different (food analogy). More leisurely and elegant. It was like transposing the poem into a different key (new key analogy). I apologize for bringing this down to the level of counting syllables when the thread was taking on such cosmic proportions. Just feeling talkative.

Carl

Last edited by Carl Copeland; 05-16-2022 at 06:04 AM.
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  #18  
Unread 05-16-2022, 12:41 PM
John Riley John Riley is online now
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I know of no modernist in any form who said everything is arbitrary. Most modernist did and do realize nature and life on this planet are more complicated than ABA.
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  #19  
Unread 05-16-2022, 01:25 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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I don't often start threads so let me just say rather clunkily to Sarah-Jane, Carl, and John, as to those who wrote earlier, thank you for moving this discussion along! I think it is very interesting.

Cheers,
John

Last edited by John Isbell; 05-16-2022 at 01:25 PM. Reason: earlier
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  #20  
Unread 06-03-2022, 10:36 PM
Tim McGrath Tim McGrath is offline
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Rhyme schemes have no inherent meaning, except that they, like sex, provide tension and release. In ABCB, the first B sets up an anticipation that the second one, in a musical sense, resolves. A good rhyme, though, has resonance beyond its sonic properties

Don't hang no pictures,
Don't hang no picture frames,
I might look like Robert Frost,
But I feel like Jesse James.

Last edited by Tim McGrath; 06-04-2022 at 01:52 AM.
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