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Does the Author's Journal

of

Inventive Literature

Accept Formal Poems?

This is an important question which we find a bit tricky to answer. The short answer is "All the poems we publish could be described as formal poems, but we define formal poetry a little differently than you may expect."

The long answer follows.

Musicality

Sound-techniques such as meter, rhythm, rhyme, assonance, etc. are certainly used more often in formal poetry than in free verse. Nevertheless we call these techniques Musicality, not Form. 

Pattern

 

Nor do we regard the mere existence of "Pattern" as rendering a poem formal. Pattern arises from repetition, but repetition can be aimless and form cannot.

Poetic Diction

 

Poetic Diction is not form, either, but we are addressing it on this page because formal poetry does tend to use poetic diction. At one time, or so the followers of Wordsworth felt, poetic diction became habitually purple and overly predictable. A movement came into being toward a more conversation way of using words in poetry. Poetic diction -a special way of using words just for poetry - became despised.

 

In our time we see the opposite problem. Poetry is required now to be so dull and pedestrian that it can only be distinguished from prose by the fact that it falls into lines and stanzas. (Sometimes it doesn't do that, and then it can only be distinguished by the fact that its creator calls it poetry.) How human is it, really, to avoid the slightest elevation of diction within that very art form people look to for an elevated literary experience? To avoid poetic diction in that very art for which it is named?

 

We think people like their poetry poetic; and we encourage the elevated, unusual, and expanded uses of language for which poetry conventionally provides the excuse. Archaism is perfectly acceptable, so long as it is employed with taste and consistency. (In other words, you'd need a good reason to switch between modern and archaic language within the same poem.)

 

How They All Relate to Form

We notice what others notice - that the same people tend to enjoy and use form, pattern, poetic diction and musicality. It just so happens that free verse eschews them all, and free verse is the preponderant form of poetry in our time. Poets with facility in one or more of these techniques are therefore undervalued, and tend to be lumped together as backward.

 

Here at the Author's Journal we regard people who wince at a rhymed couplet, the un-ironic use of the word 'Behold,' or the coupling of 'verdure' with 'violets' to be the cultural equivalent of a 3-year old who gags when presented with an authentic Ethiopian Doro Wat, lightly seasoned with berbere.

 

The situation in which most journals publish only vers libre, in this simile, is like an endless succession of meals composed entirely of vanilla ice cream, on the theory that everything else is irritatingly restrictive and apt to be done badly.

What Is Form?

Form is the total effect of a set of requirements for a poem. Those requirements might be composed of any poetical technique. Whatever they are, they limit what can be done in the poem - and this set of limitations produce a shape, and the shape generates an aesthetic effect. It concentrates the poet's efforts in a specific direction, eliciting depth.

 

The mere dictation that the poem should be presented in lines and stanzas, rather than in sentences and paragraphs, is a requirement, which is why vers libre itself is a kind of formal poetry. However as free verse has the fewest requirements of any kind of poetry, it might be described as the least formal. 

Isn't Form Too Artificial and Contrived?

Poetry, we consider, is the art of language. It is the art which uses language for its material, as painting uses paint for its material. Language is inherently formal; for the sentence itself is a miracle of form, which every human being of normal intelligence learns to use correctly and effectively by the age of 4 years old. A human race which could no longer form sentences would be lacking in a natural achievement. It seems, then, that form and artifice are natural in that they belong to a mature human nature.

Taking delight in the artifice of others is also natural and belongs to human nature. The good poet thinks of his reader's enjoyment when he writes. The best poet thinks of his most intelligent, virtuous, and delicate reader when he writes.

So What Kind of Poetry Should I Submit?

 

The only kind of poetry which is completely informal is the kind which is indistinguishable from prose by any means other than by the fact that it is called poetry by its creator. Do not send us any of that, we beseech.

Generally, the greater the number of poetic techniques the poet has attempted, and succeeded at, the more we admire his poems. Send us lots of that kind of thing, we implore.

If your poetry is jagged and incoherent, then we might find it rather depressing. The way a poem is arranged carries what might be described as meta-meaning. The inventors of that way of arranging a poem, in other words, had a philosophy and that invention was suitable to their philosophy. And everyone who uses it ever after must deal with the importation of unspoken philosophies into their poem. The inventors of the jagged and incoherent model of poetry were moderns who were protesting the falling apart of their culture. While culture is still in ruins, we think that sensitive prose is the proper art to deal with that anguish. Poetry was made for delight and bears ill the burdens of the social activist. 

The skilled poet understands the aesthetic effects produced by his techniques and employs them with due consideration. Any technique can create a ridiculous effect if it is piled on too thick, and likewise if it does not harmonize with the meaning of the poem. Generally, however, we find that as beauty presents its own excuse for being, aesthetic effects do not need any justification. They are there for delight, and that is what we feel in them.

So send us what has been metely measured out, and what has fallen into waves of rhythm; send us what lilts and what pounds and what roars and what whispers. All that rises above pedestrian speech, send us. All that coheres and all that is tastefully arranged, we seek; all that searches out the limits of the power of our splendid language, we desire that you send to us. 

If you think you can't pull it off, do it as a joke first. You'll get the hang of it.

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