It’s amazing what is possible with restrictions in place. Imagine your creativity as a mass of water. All that water on a perfectly flat plane will just blandly be there. Water thrown from a bucket is better. It has volume and direction and importance, but there is still a lack of form. Water out of a fire hose nozzle is powerful, direct, forceful and present. It does things that water with no form or restriction can’t do. I hold a great deal of respect for e.e. cummings and the rejection of form, but I wanted to see what would happen to my writing within certain parameters.
The form of the Shakespearean sonnet is simple. There are three quartets (four-line chunks) followed by a couplet. The quartets follow an ABAB rhyming scheme and the first line of the couplet rhymes with the second. They should be in iambic pentameter, but it’s okay to throw a trochee in if need be. The ten-syllable-per-line rule is pretty strict however. So these were the parameters I had been set. I added one more: I was on the subway and I forced myself to write one line per stop. These all came quickly and I think there is an added purity to them, or at least a lack of second-guessing. I edited them later on.
I think the best way to write well is to read well. I notice that if I read a lot of Neruda (which I do) my poetry will try to locate his style and “Neruda-ness,” whereas if I write a lot without reading very much, it all tangles and garbles and wronks into a vortex of nothing good. Form disintegrates and function sort of limps along behind it. Both the picture and the poetry are from a while ago, but I need somewhere to start and I figured the beginning was as good a place as any.
There is far too much shaking on this train
I fear I cannot say what I need to
The envy on the walls makes my eyes strain
It’s going nowhere that I can’t get through.
If these constraints are meant to set me free,
And make the future close enough to touch,
Then why is it that writing enslaves me,
And I end up not saying all that much?
Just what could be the word I’m looking for?
A word that sings when all the others speak.
Does merely one word fit, or are there more?
Perhaps it’s meaning that I’m meant to tweak.
To play with language is God’s right alone
And we, mere pretenders remain unknown.
Just who am I to think that I write well?
It’s possible I fake it every time.
The rotting corpses soon begin to smell,
My notebook graveyard’s filled with lies and rhyme.
I persevere in spite of all the facts
My head down, shoulders out in defiance.
Perhaps an about-face to retrace tracks,
And slump on downhill back to compliance.
My style’s one of exquisite self-torture.
To write one of these poems is to bleed.
This one pretends to be a real scorcher
But in it I find nothing that I need.
It’s not that self-deception bothers me,
But rather that I see my shit clearly.
I hope I have the chance to look at Death
I’d really like to look him in the eye
I’ll say, “Okay, this is my final breath,”
And in his soft embrace away we’ll fly.
His iron-feathered wings won’t hurt a bit.
His call will be a long-forgotten tone
He’ll place me in his arms and there I’ll sit,
Reflecting how it feels to soon be home.
Like seeing land after long months at sea
I’ll weep, embrace my ultimate return
Death’s gentle, corded arms will set me free,
The sand upon the shore will slightly burn.
I welcome Death like I welcome the dawn
But massive beating wings are long-since gone.