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Chapter #4 - Forms of Poetry

i. Random Forms of Poetry

Here are some unusual contemporary types of poetry. The examples should be taken as illustrations to demonstrate techniques rather than examples of great significance in modern criticism. In learning the methods, try to capture the skill and method; but, as always, sieze any opportunity to produce something that can be considered an art form. The use of random elements in writing poetry is a skill worth learning. It can help a poet understand the portion of his inspiration that is least predictable.

ii. Stream of Consciousness

The most random poetry created by the human mind is stream-of-consciousness poetry in which the poet writes words, and allows free-association in the mind to suggest other words or thoughts. Another random form is computer- generated poetry. The computer generates nouns, verbs, adjectives, articles and adverbs in sentence patterns.

Here is a stream-of-consciousness excerpt by the author:

The Rattle For Battle With One Thought In The Void

He rushed and rashly rustled
the rushes; Jim the rollerboard six
The alligators roar is deserving
of all that is scattered thereon
Analogy grieves as the splattering stream
Rolls its pebbles to roundness: and tumbles on down to the sea.

Although the poem is asymetrical in its pattern, the rhythm is an important element, competing more strongly for attention than the sense of the words, which carry evocative rather than literal meanings. Half of the essence of the poem is the rolling rhythms of the words as they sound read aloud.

Here is a computer generated poem:

Furthermore, crackled the fat presidential seal smelled.
A frank bunwarmer cooled the presidential seal.
A cozy and sweet smelling boot bumped.
Thus, bumpily the small bludgeon painted.

It is easy to see the degree of human input in the two types of poetry. In the computer-generated poetry, the poet must list a number of each of several pre-programmed parts of speech. The computer, then, generates lines of random combinations. The computer-generated poetry I have seen is distinctively similar to all such poetry. The individuality is far less apparent than in any form of poetry made completely by people. The poem has the feel of words picked by a silicon chip rather than a person. There is no warmth, no intuitive sense of the rightness of words working together. The computer occasionally surprises with usable combinations that a person is not likely to originate. It is possible to mix a line of computer generated poetry with lines written by a poet and develop a surprisingly unorthodox idea.

In reading completely computer generated poetry, the reader knows its origin and does not look as deeply for sense or rhythm. There is no conversational flow of speech. In the free-association poetry the poet was obviously more motivated by the way words fit together. The computer generated poetry seemed to have no sense of this factor at all.

iii. Finding Found Poetry

Another modern form of poetry is Found Poetry. It is composed of text found by the poet in signs, grocery store aisles, overheard conversations or advertising. If you are in an environment where there is little textual material you may be severely limited in producing found poetry. Our environments are generally so rich in such material that it is fairly easy to write. Here is an example of Found Poetry written by the author in an environment with very limited examples. It is easy to guess where this poem was written.


Fresh, thin cut onions,
Exit. Moo Juice.
Meetin' Room- Wash Rooms
Taste the Difference
Smuckers, Concord Grape Jelly.
Certified Angus Beef
Texas Toothpicks
Sugar, distributed by Sysco
Half and Half needs no chill.

This poem comprises nearly all the written material that was visible at the time. It seems to tell very little but does establish characteristics about the environment. In Found Poetry the words must be taken directly from the environment. Additional words cannot be added. If a poet finds old Burma Shave signs, he can work them into a highway Found Poem. In the 1950s, US highways had signs placed along them advertising Burma Shave shaving cream. They were rhymes with a few words on each sign you met as you went along the highway. They were mostly poems.

Here is a link to a found poem taken from conversation by the poet: Found Poetry by David Miller

iv. Write a Lot

If you are experimenting with found poetry or free association or computer generated poetry, spend time writing many examples in different environments to develop skills with the forms. Like any form they are better if you seriously try to make something worthy of them. Look up sites on the Internet for the various types. You may find that you prefer a traditional style of poetry with its traditional themes but you may also enjoy experimenting with clearly contemporary forms. Don't be afraid to make up rules for new forms of your own and experiment with them.

v. Everybody Writes

Keep in mind that there were times in ancient days when only a few people in a city were capable of reading and writing. The poets of that day had to read their poems to others and could not publish them or post them in public places with much expectation of readership. Literacy today is widespread; and reading and writing are enjoyed by a vastly greater number of people. This means that more people have the opportunity to make their observations available to others. The poet of today like the artist of today does not exist in great seclusion but in every environment. Noble topics are still written into poems, but ordinary household topics are there right beside them. A poet may choose to write poetry covering a broad range or a narrow range. If you like deep thought as well as humor you will probably have no problem finding a place to publish your work. If you write about a specialized topic in great depth, you will still find others of similar interests.

vi. Concrete Poetry

(Concrete poetry is not too hard.) A modern poetry form of some interest is Concrete Poetry. It is a poetry in which the form is visible in a way that is much more unavoidable than in other forms. Here are two fairly obvious examples also by the author.

Belt Butte

Benchmark of Earth

Basement mud stone

Signet ring of God

Proof eternal calm

Watches Belt Butte

As you can see, Belt Butte is written in a perfectly square form that depends on each written character taking the same amount of linear space. There are eighteen characters per line counting letters and spaces. Belt Butte was composed on a typewriter which had regular spaces.

Bird # 3

Poe's raven told him nothing nevermore and Vincent's circling crows were a threat to destroy sunlight. Now I saw a bird, black with a yellow beak, orange rubber legs pecking to kill the lawn, storm bird hates with claw, evil beak, s u n and eye

vii. Try Your Own Variations of Visual Poetry

Concrete Poetry has also been called Typewriter Poetry. The effects possible with Concrete Poetry are made more complicated but also more versatile by the computer. A poem may depend upon the font chosen or upon calligraphic lettering or letters cut from a newspaper. Most concrete poetry still has a strong influence of the typewriter. Emoticons on the computer could be worked into a poem as a concrete element.

viii. Remember Whether You Use Variable or Fixed Fonts

In writing concrete poetry on the computer you must both send and receive the poems the same way. If your email is set to receive fixed fonts you will see the words differently from the way they will look set to receive variable fonts. In a variable font the letter "I" for instance will be narrower and take up less width on the line than the letter "W." In a variable font "W" is usually the widest letter. When you write a poem to go online you must know what fonts can be accepted by your hypertext software and use those fonts. Then you must follow through all steps of the text handling process to make sure they appear as intended. If you do concrete poetry as graphics files you will be more assured they will appear in proper form. You may need to consult a technician if there are problems. For most Typewriter Poetry you will need to use fixed fonts all the way.

ix. Look for Specific Forms of Poetry Online

In Concrete Poetry, the form takes on illustrative quality in word or picture form. To understand more about Concrete Poetry, check out a book on the form or check out a website of Concrete Poetry. Any form can be found in books or websites with very little effort. Try looking up Haiku, Tanka, Sonnet, Villanelle, Sestina, Limerick, Ballad, Blank Verse, Free Verse. Each of these will give you examples of a well-established form. Form may refer only to the form of print on the page, as in concrete poetry, or rhyme pattern, as in a couplet or sonnet.

Concrete poetry can be very simple or quite complex. You are only limited by your poetic and artistic skills as well as imagination. Spend some time looking at examples in books or online. It will be well worth the effort.

Article written by Don J. Carlson. All Rights Reserved

For more information, please contact: Don J. Carlson

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