Monday, January 28, 2008

Essay: Finding the Form - Kristen Ogden

This cool essay, Finding the Form, appeared at the Kenyon Review blog on Sunday, written by Kristen Ogden. She riffs on some quotes by Denise Levertov and other poets -- a meditation on the idea of form following content. I'd like to hear from other poets out there -- does the content of your poems determine the form, or do you fit the content into a form? Obviously, those of you working with formal verse will have a different take on this, but I'd still be interested in hearing your views.

Denise Levertov’s Question: Is there inherent form that the poet can discover and reveal?

This is us, in each moment at the paper, fretting over what it should be and will do in the world. We might say,

Dear Poem. I have had a synergetic moment. The rain falls from the roof and down to the ground like fringe on a flapper dress. In the spaces between each dance, leaves grow on branches down toward the ground, which is covered in rotted leaves from the days without rain. In this room, my feet are too cold, and the space heater hums. See on that postcard, the haystacks in the fields of rainbowed grass? Where, poem, should I begin? With what word or phrase–and how, then, to lay you all out onto the paper so that these not-yet-fully-formed emotions are transformed?

“Form is never more than the revelation of content.”–Levertov

Content transformed to what? This cold makes me think of winter. It rains here in winter. The people rush at the slightest sprinkle, and I am left to contemplate the cold–and this lovely hat my sister knitted for me for Christmas, which doesn’t match the scarf because she ran out of the yarn half-way through the project.

Running out of yarn half-way through.
Content is exploratory, got at through the process of
pulsing along the vein; discovering
the form that wants to
be the poem.

If we are to base form on an ‘intuition’ of order, are we discovering what it is–the poem–supposed to do and how to be in the world? Is this what is called an absence of form, or is it the finding of your authentic vision?

Constellations. Concentration on constellations can be dangerous. But what is more beautiful? What brings more mythology to light than the constellation, with its gods and goddesses, and the big spoons for holding the magic of the cosmos and ready to ladle it into soup bowls.Constellations retain their forms, but move about in the sky and are wholly dependent upon the temple from which one views each constellation. ‘Recognize what we percieve.’

So the poet stands openmouthed in the temple of life, contemplating his experience, there come to him the first words of the poem.“–Levertov

Please read the whole article then come back and share your thoughts.

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