As If a Poem Per Hour Wasn’t Hard Enough …

I decided that I would also be selecting forms I was not as familiar with, forms with different structures, rhymes, and meters to attempt as a way to push myself in the craft. I have always been a fan of structured poetry; to be able to say something with varying degrees of profundity while controlling for language has been a far greater challenge to me than simply slapping together a free verse poem, and maybe I am a dinosaur in this sense, but I am happy to be one.

This is not to disparage free verse as a form – there are amazing free verse compositions out there, and I like to think I have made a few myself – but more a defense of structured poetic forms, which seem to be getting the short end recently. When I look at calls for submissions in various poetry journals, I am disheartened to see how many are critical of concepts like rhyme and meter and structure, and to me, the essence of poetry is to embrace all possible facets equally – whether it is stream of consciousness all the way out to the most rigorously structured of forms. As poets, we often write what we feel, see, or experience, and sometimes that is a simple enough act (how many of you reading this post have woken up in the middle of the night to the siren song of your muse and grabbed quill – literal or virtual – and penned out a verse or two that spontaneously appeared from the ether?), but structuring it somehow makes the act better. I don’t know – maybe I am a rambling twat at this point.

Still, one of the reasons I signed up for this challenge is to challenge myself; when I was a high school student oh-so-long-ago, my Grade 12 English Literature teacher gave the class an assignment: write a sonnet. Without trying to sound arrogant, the sonnet form was something I felt I had mastered back in Grade 9 or 10, and would not prove to be challenging at all (and to be honest, high school poetry assignments were often met with an amazing lack of enthusiasm from all but a select few of the student body, so it would not be that difficult to stand out), so I approached the teacher and asked her to make it harder for me as I did not want to pen a sonnet in the 10-or-so minutes it would take me to do it and be twiddling my thumbs for the rest of the class (ah, busy-work assignments – so much fun). She was incredulous and refused, so instead of penning a sonnet, I returned to my seat and contemplated how to make it more challenging (in the end, I wrote three sonnets – Petrarchan, Shakespearian, and Spenserian on the theme of aging, with Petrarch being about birth/youth, Shakespeare being adulthood/middle-age, and Spenser being about old age/death; also, I wrote the sonnets as stand alone pieces that could be read together for the thematic element, and I chose the order I did to reflect the order of their development as sonnet forms as well as life-stages). To me, these poems became so much more prolific as a result of challenging myself, something I do not feel they would have achieved had I not taken this approach.

Oh, and to add to the challenge of the marathon (and myself) – I am selecting 24 forms that I have limited to no experience writing, and I will use the forms in alphabetical order when writing my marathon poems. Now I just have to wait for the prompts to see if they inspire me or not.

At any rate, this is my introduction – I am willing to guess I come across as a pretentious poetic snob, and if that is your take away, so be it. In actuality I’m not – I just like challenging myself and pushing myself to be better in pretty much anything I do.

In the interim, good luck to all of you taking part in the marathon next week, whether you’re doing the full or either of the half marathons. I look forward to seeing what inspiration brings!

Cheers,
JR

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