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Thread: question - poetry in form

  1. #1
    candlelight poet Lycosparks's Avatar
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    Jul 2006

    question - poetry in form

    Hello all! I'm fairly new to the site, but love it here!

    I am a creative writing major, with a concentration in poetry. This coming semester we will be tackling form and theory: villanelles, sestinas, sonnet series...

    Does anyone have a method for doing so? Do you write in free verse first, then try to put it into form? Do you choose your repeating words and rhymes first? I've written a lot of poetry, but such a restriction is overwhelming. I appreciate any advice you have! Thanks in advance! :-)
    ~ Lauri

    "What makes the engine go? Desire, desire, desire." Stanley Kunitz

    And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,
    If to the human mind’s imaginings
    Silence and solitude were vacancy?
    ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley

  2. #2
    Registered User
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    Aug 2004
    Hello, Lycosparks.
    Surely, villanelles, sestinas, and sonnets can seem quite difficult to write (and read sometimes). Especially, if you feel very accustomed to writing in free verse, this may pose quite a challenge. I, personally, almost always write in a Romantic style (nearly all of my poetry rhymes, has rhythms, and/or has maintained syllables), yet still tend to find villanelles especially difficult.
    In terms of sonnets, do you focus on any specific kind, such as Shakespearean (English), Petrarchan (Italian), or Spenserian? I have also seen free-verse sonnets, but those seem much more contemporary.
    With villanelles and sestinas . . . *sigh, as challenging as it sounds, I cannot but recommend to always think one or two lines ahead of you - not only with the rhyme, but also with the repetition of lines. If you can, even pre-meditate the whole poem, perhaps even writing out the intended progress of the poem before constructing it into its structure.
    Just out of curiosity, will you study the terza rima style, too? That style, for me, never grows old - one of my favorites, popularized by Dante Alighieri.

  3. #3
    in angulo cum libro Petrarch's Love's Avatar
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    Dec 2005
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    I make no claims to talent, but I've written a lot of sonnets and similar forms. My first advice would be to start with the Shakespearean sonnet form, since the more rhymes involved (as in the Petrarchan sonnet, for example), the harder it is to make it sound natural in English. It's also the easiest to start with because you can think of it as three quatrains and a couplet, which seems less daunting somehow. Then, the best thing seems to be to just write a lot of them about absolutely anything, no matter how stupid sounding, until you've got a feeling for how the language moves and fits within the form.

    If the rhyme completely throws you at first, try writing some things in iambic pentameter blank verse. The scansion, choice of where to place the caesura, etc. is a lot more important in sonnets, sestinas and other tightly structured poetic forms than people usually realize. The blank verse will at least help you get an ear for the scansion, so you don't have to concentrate as hard on that at the same time as finding a rhyme. Also, if you're not used to working with rhyme, I would pick up a pocket rhyming dictionary at least to get you going.

    I've never had much success trying to transform a free verse piece into a more formal structured piece (though I have had success the other way, and sometimes even plan essays by writing a sonnet on the topic), but maybe some others here have had that work for them? Mostly, and I know this sounds vague and unhelpful, but by just writing, experimenting and practicing a lot you'll probably start feeling comfortable with the forms. Don't let the form intimidate you. Try to think of it as a tool, or as an empty vessel waiting to be filled. Best of luck, and I'm sure we'd all love to see some of your finished vilanelles or sonnets or what not here.

    "In rime sparse il suono/ di quei sospiri ond' io nudriva 'l core/ in sul mio primo giovenile errore"~ Francesco Petrarca
    "Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can."~ Jane Austen

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