Love haiku? Sonnets? Sestinas? As I declared in my initial sabbatical salvo, one of the things I would like to do– in addition to all the research I’m supposed to be doing– is to experiment a bit with formal poetry, learning about them by “doing” them.
My goal is to write a poem per week during the contractual year when I am officially on sabbatical: from July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015. Each poem will be accompanied by some observations about how I see the form working–what it’s good for, how one goes about writing it, and so on.
As a prelude, I thought I’d try a poem in a form that comes from the Oulipo group, a group of French poets I learned about this past spring when I was doing research about using algorithms and math to create poems. (I was teaching an introductory course on literary analysis to a class made up mostly of science majors and thought this might be a way to interest them in poetry. It, well, sort of worked. But only just sort of.)
The most famous Oulipo forms are N+7, where you take an already existing text and replace each noun with the noun that appears 7 entries down from it in the dictionary; and the lipogram, which is a poem written without one (or more) letters from the alphabet. I might try one of these later on, but the form that intrigued me initially is called the snowball, where each line of the poem is a single word, each line one letter longer than the one before. So here goes—my snowball poem:
So what did I learn? Well, for one thing, this is a poem that clearly favors the modifier! As I stated before, the point of the Weekly Poem Project is not to write poems that are good in any way, but to learn by doing–to write poems to see how they work. This form seemed like it would be really hard at first glance, but ended up being quite easy. Once you determine your subject and your verb, it seems natural to just surround them with modifiers. It is a poetic form that resists little words like conjunctions and articles, which makes it generate meaning in a very “dense,” concentrated way … so even though the poem itself looks more like a pine tree than a snowball, semantically, the name snowball is quite appropriate!
As a challenge, I wonder what happens if you try to delay the subject–or the verb—in a snowball poem. Or both. How long can you delay revealing the subject and/or object while maintaining standard sentence structure? Anyone want to try? (I know there are some real poets out there … :->) I’d love to see your attempts at the snowball in the comments!
I’m interested in trying all kinds of forms, so if you’re too bashful to post one of your own poems but would like for me to try a different form on for size, suggest away 🙂
The Weekly Poem Project begins, for real, in 2 weeks!