I was much more comfortable and used to free-form writing. I didn’t want rules and restrictions. I didn’t want to have to worry about following a pattern or a rhyming scheme. And yet, that’s exactly what I was introduced to for my poetry writing sessions. Our teachers introduced us to structured creativity. That sounds contradictory, but it’s really not. There may be established limits, but that’s really where you prove your skill. I didn’t want to be given a very specific writing topic that I had no experience with, but having a specific prompt meant I needed to engage in writing in a new way.
The goal was to find a way to make these poems seem more natural, as if you intended for lines to rhyme instead of being forced to. I, however, struggled enough to meet the requirements that it was tricky to really have fun with it. I was more focused on getting the rhyming right at the end of the line than to make sure I maintained the proper rhythm of syllables within each line.
During the second week of Governor’s School, I took poetry writing with Starkey Flythe. I’ve never met a more random person in my life. He kept us laughing and engaged, though. I have him to thank for the more unusual writing exercises of the program. One day we focused on writing sonnets, and I believe everyone was given a different prompt Mine was on plastic surgery. Who writes poetry about plastic surgery? At the time, I was only aware of this practice of using surgery to drastically alter physical appearance because the person, usually a woman, feels insecure. I may have longed to change things about myself, but not to the extreme of surgery. Of course now, there are many ways that plastic surgery could be beneficial, especially helping burn victims.
Plastic Surgeon’s Office
Her noisy footsteps interrupted the usual tone
Of the office. The soles of her feet
Were those of an elephant’s beat
Stampeding its way among the unknown.
She declared her looks would not suffice
And the tears she shed would never comfort
So she wanted an operation of some sort
Therefore she needed my advice.
Her muddy brown hair draped in her face
Her nose was crooked and in need of care
A removed mole would stop the constant stare
The scars were to be without a trace.
I quickly said the procedure could be
A smile appeared and she danced around joyfully.
With Ron Rash, we also focused on form poetry. He introduced us to a variation of rondeau. A rondeau is a short poem that has two rhymes throughout. The first few words or opening phrase from the first line are repeated twice in the poem as a refrain. Here’s one that I completed. I’m not sure if I liked this piece at the time, but I do like it now.
The lilies danced among the trees
And painted pictures along the way.
Their bold green stems strongly sway
In the golden gentle breeze.
Their leaves float as if a sneeze
Completed the day
The lilies danced.
A little girl fell to her knees
And plucked some near the bay
She didn’t want one to feel betrayed
So all were gathered and as she squeezed
The lilies danced.
We explored sestinas, which I would argue has to be the most complex poetry structure. Ok, it may not be, but it’s complicated. This type of poem isn’t so much about rhyming as it is about repetition; the end words for each line matter!
So you not only need to choose wisely with your six words since you’ll be using them repeatedly throughout the piece, but it’s helpful to have words with multiple meanings. For instance, you can use the word wave to describe the movement of the ocean, or the gesture used in greeting. This format really stumped me. My efforts turned out very cheesy. I ended up trying to make it into more of a story, which just didn’t work.
Another poetry form we tried were villanelles which consist of two rhymes repeated throughout the poem along with two lines that are repeated as refrains. A well-known example is Dylan Thomas’s poem “Do not go gentle into that good night.” The tricky part of this is crafting lines that can be repeated without it seeming like overkill.