Finding My Form

I think I may have chosen my 2022 poetry form. I started looking early in the week but got distracted by exhaustion and illness and smashing my toes all to hell. But today, sitting in my quiet office and feeling productive because I’d checked a lot of things off my to-do list, the thought of poetry came into my head. I had just finished watering my plants — I’ve started thinking of them as my indoor container garden — and it was a little after 5pm. I should have packed up to leave, but instead I thought about poetry and sat down with The Google.

Next month is National Poetry Month, and for the last … I don’t know … surprising-to-me number of years, I have taken on the challenge of writing a poem a day for the month. I haven’t always succeeded. There were a couple of years in there where getting through the month was enough work without adding poetry to the mix or when the poems were so heavy I couldn’t carry myself through 30 of them. But I have succeeded more than I’ve fallen down, and I’ve written a lot of poems over these many Aprils.

In addition to writing a poem a day, I decided early on that I would pick a particular form and write that form every day for the month. One year (my favorite year in some ways) I chose the tanka. Another year it was the erasure poem. Last year it was the golden shovel.

So I’ve been trying to decide what form I want to write this year. First I went back to Japanese poetry. Something about those forms with their tight syllable counts has worked well for me. The tanka was a huge open door, but I also liked the choka and tried out the bussokusekika, too. But neither they nor their compatriots were speaking to me this time around. I looked at the ae freislighe, an Irish form … And maybe it should be the magic one, but it can’t be because I cannot for the life of me understand how the form works. I read the description over and over, but none of the example poems I read made sense against the description. So … no.

Today I spent some time with the ghazal. I had thought about ghazals a couple of years ago, before settling on the pantoum, so looking at it today felt familiar. And it felt comfortable, too. I thought, very briefly, about the duplex, a form Jericho Brown invented that grew out of the ghazal and the sonnet. But I want to try a single form before taking on a complicated combined form.

There was also the surprise of reading about ghazals and learning that Brown invented the duplex form … because way back when, I invented a form, and then spent a long time not being able to believe that I could actually have invented a new form of poetry. And I’m obviously no Jericho Brown, but the idea that a person in these modern times actually could just invent a new form warmed me. The duplex is far more sophisticated than my sweet little arun, but my arun holds its own, I think.

Here’s a lovely example of a duplex by Brown. I suspect I will try this form eventually. Right now it feels almost claustrophobic to me, if that makes sense. It turns so tightly on itself, I feel trapped even as I read it. That will make for an interesting challenge, but not this year. As I said, I think I should work with the ghazal first. There is plenty of challenge in there!

There are still almost two weeks left of March. Plenty of time for me to change my mind about what form I’ll take on in April. But the ghazal feels right in my head and heart. Feels right.

And that’s all true … but it’s also true that the villanelle is sitting on the sidelines, watching me, tapping her foot and wondering when I’m going to ask her to dance. I don’t know if I can do it. I’m pretty sure that I shouldn’t do it. But she is looking fine. She always looks fine. One of these days, she and I are going to have to go for a second turn around the dance floor. I think she calls up too much fear from the soul-crushing workshop I took with Patricia Goedicke in my freshman year of college.

Oh. So yes. Realizing that that is what’s making me steer clear of the villanelle definitely means I need to choose it one year because I can’t continue to let Goedicke hold that power over me and my writing. Punto.

Yes. Because every child is born a poet. Thank you, maestro Piri Thomas, for that reminder. Thank you.


It’s the 15th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

14 thoughts on “Finding My Form

  1. Ah, so much to love in your poetic musings. I also had my little poet heart crushed freshman year in college and wrote only a few poems for the next four decades. I posted a poem during this challenge in 2018 and have been writing poetry regularly ever since, including a poem a day each April. I have this community to thank for the kind remarks about that poem. If you are inclined, either in April or after, come write poems w/ Sarah Donovan’s community on her website EthicalELA.com where you’ll find some familiar faces from this community.

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    1. It frustrates me how many people I know who experienced instructors that were so damaging. Like you, I stopped writing after that bad workshop experience. I’m sorry to know your experience shut you off from writing poetry for so long. I started writing poetry again when I became an adult literacy teacher. I started writing poetry because my students were going to be writing poetry, and I couldn’t ask them to take the plunge without me.

      I love that you’re writing now and that you’ve been doing the 30/30 challenges in April! Thank you for telling me about Sarah Donovan’s group and website. I’m definitely going to check it out. Happy writing! 🙂

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  2. I really enjoyed reading this slice and remembering my own forays into poetry writing in April. I skipped last year–had ZERO desire to do another daily anything challenge after making it through March. But I’m feeling both energetic and rested this month and I might join the April challenge again. I discovered after the first year that I really need a theme or focus of some kind. I haven’t tried a daily form yet, so I’m going to do some research into that idea. Thanks!

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    1. Back-to-back months of posting every day gets really hard, it’s true! And I hear you about having a theme. I did choose a theme a few times. I don’t know if I’ll do that this time. Have fun writing!

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  3. I have never taken the poetry challenge…I’m lucky if I make it through March. My students enjoyed writing pantoums. It always made them feel like they actually wrote more than the really did with the line repetitions. One of my favorite forms of poetry is the sijo, a Korean form similar to a haiku. Good luck with the challenge.

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    1. I really liked the pantoum form. I made that year’s challenge much too hard for myself, though. That was one of the years I chose a theme. I made it a #SayHerName challenge, and every one of my poems was written for/about a Black woman who had been killed by police or died in police custody. It just got too heavy. I will try that form again, one day, though. I’m with your students as far as liking the repetition. And thank you for introducing me to the sijo!

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  4. Lainie Levin

    I love this post, and I’m more than a little bit envious that you have it in you to take on new and/or challenging forms of poetry for poetry month. Yes, I will work to write a poem a day. But I think there will also be days (many of them) where it will just be haiku, or blank verse, or what-have-you because I’m spending my cerebral capital elsewhere.

    Instead, I will get my vicarious brain-stretching from reading your beautiful stuff. Not too bad of a trade-off, if I say so myself.

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  5. Ah I always wondered how you decide on which form each year. Nice to see some of the process as you know how I adore running amok with poetry forms. Of course you know the complexities of that ae freislighe now call to me. Also the duplex, which reminds very much of the pantoum form, so there’s that. I’ll pop in and out for April, but I’m not even going to pretend I can handle another monthly challenge right behind this one.

    I’ll just sit back and enjoy what you create this year..

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    1. That ae freislighe looks so much rougher than the ghazal I’ve settled on. And the duplex fascinates me, but I’d definitely not ready yet. I know you’re not doing a 30/30, but I look forward to seeing what poems you write this month!

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  6. I will be writing a poem a day in April, too. I’m thinking of doing it with my students, as well. I hadn’t thought of sticking to one form all month, but it’s an interesting idea. I will be curious to know what your final decision will be.

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    1. Choosing one form is an idea I got from Sonia Sanchez. I went talk she gave years ago (2010?) and she talked about writing a form until she felt she’d fully understood it. She wrote many more than 30, but I figured a month’s worth was more than enough of a challenge for me! Enjoy your poetry writing!

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