Thursday, July 07, 2011

Guest Blogger Maggie Mendus: In Praise of Poetic Structure

NOTE: Today's guest blogger is poet, author, & blogger Maggie Mendus . I first met Maggie at a writer's workshop I taught. She has relentlessly pursued her passion: writing and publishing poetry. 

Maggie is "a poet who writes to heal." A retired language arts teacher and a pianist, she is published in "The Eclectic Muse," "Romantics Quarterly," "Harp Strings," "Poets’ Forum Magazine," and "Sandcutters." She and her husband live in the wooded dunes of Lake Michigan. She is the author of Broken Consciousness

Wait, don’t go anywhere. Just because you might not read poetry written in the classic forms doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. I mean it. I was taught to write poetry in traditional forms, and I know the trend these days is free verse, sometimes very free.

Oh, I’ve been to those readings where some bearded guy with dreads sways in front of an audience, eyes closed, head thrown back, the dramatic glissando of his voice sliding between whispers and shouts. I try, but can’t follow his train of thought, and I don’t like being aboard trains that might derail. He’s a performance poet, for sure.

Now I have nothing against beards, dreadlocks, performance poets, or (well-written) free verse. But hey, what I’m hearing has to make some sort of sense. And these dudes go off down winding paths of wild emotion. Their angry tirades, political ravings, and decadent wanderings into love and sex never make sensible circuits with beginnings, middles and ends.

I keep an open mind. But traditional verse met me on the road and we became friends. No, the French villanelle wasn’t easy at first. But reading villanelles (same form as Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas) ignited something in me. I wanted to write one, too.

Why am I attracted to the difficult? Believe me when I tell you that my first attempts were macaroni and cheese compared to a delicate soufflĂ©. But the detailed rhyme scheme kept my attention, and after a lot of blood, sweat, and tears I produced one, an original expression that obeyed the structures the villanelle imposes. I felt as if I’d passed some sort of test with flying colors.

"Poetic fences create boundaries." Photo by Jane M. Sawyer.
Of course that motivated me to write more, and the villanelle became my favorite form. Practice, like keeping my fingers nimble for the piano by playing scales, aims me toward success. I find the sonnet more challenging, but I like writing anaphora and terza rima. I write triolet, rondeau, pantoum, and other formal verse, finding that structure is freeing. Poetic fences create boundaries, and in traditional verse a line is just that, an exact number of syllables, a particular rhythm, a certain rhyme.

This quest urges me ahead and keeps me writing. In early March I published a book of 52 poems, BROKEN CONSCIOUSNESS: Reflections of an Epileptic , and all but one are in traditional form.

Why not try your hand at a poem in one of the classic forms? A great guide is Lewis Turco’s The Book of Forms , a worthwhile tool. Like me, you might resist….at first. But who knows? Also like me, you may become hooked. 

A final word from Ami: I share Maggie's love of structure in writing. Some of my most rewarding writing is done within a strict structural framework. What are your thoughts? Are you a classicist? A student of structure? Or a proponent of chaos? Weigh in with your comments below. Extra points for comments written in structured verse.


Amber said...

compile me a poem
the puzzle completed when
words snap into place

Ami Hendrickson said...

Bonus points for you for your lovely haiku!