Poetry

From the Editor’s Desk

Poetry—the best words in their best order.
—Coleridge

The first law of the world is that it repeats.
—Robert Hass, “Notes on Form”

When I consider poetic form, it is not in light of rules and expectations set by tradition, otherwise known as the traditional forms: sonnet, sestina, villanelle, haiku and others. Nor is it the physical shape a poem makes on the page, or the body of the stanzaic arrangement, as it is with concrete poetry. Nor is it the inner mechanics or metrical composition, nor is it rhyme or syntactical pattern. I am thinking about the shape a tight cloud of starling takes as it moves through the air and quickly changes direction (e.g., see a murmuration of starling)–something no longer itself, then itself again.

I am thinking of movement and the thingness inside the movement of poems. Not the meaning of poems, but the being, the space created by what a poem craves and carves out in the imagination so that it might be filled. The relationship between elements or individual lines that gives the poem contour. I’ve heard others describe form as simply the container for what moves from nothingness or the unmanifest to the manifest, the created, the recognized, the felt. So perhaps poetic form is not the body, but the place for the body in the world:

Catherine MacDonald

away from the boy. Through narrow
gaps in plaster and lathe, the wasps

found him in the dim tangle of his space,
where he hid from math and letters

Catherine MacDonald, “Brood”

Or perhaps it is a mental state that takes shape, coming to or going away, but not quite of the world which seems anything (perilous?) but hospitable or comfortable:

Heidi Poon

How many people are already asleep

on the seizure unit? How many people need
an institution more than a home?  

I do. The clock answers the prayers
from the hallway. The clock answers for God.

Heidi Johannesen Poon, “The Kind World”

Or it is existential, where a quiet war is waged, filled with restraint, a space of coalescence between this life and some other, a longing, or a fear, all processed behind glass and, therefore, un-joinable where the speaker passes:

Giles Goodland

The mist in the valley is lifted tissue-
wrap, and under it is the same mass to which
light gives shape. When fields turn
to that stretch of water

Giles Goodland, “Train”

Or the between space is given by a natural phenomenon taking place in an unnatural space, a thing that by joining, identifies us among the dispossessed, the overlooked, the unimportant:

Annie Woodford

The rest concentrated only on eating

against the ice that will lick the thicket
where they bed down tonight—somewhere

in sparse wood between landfill and interstate.

Annie Woodford, “Candlemas”

When I talk about form, I mean the light a poem contains or the rich cargo of darkness. The gesture it makes and by which I have met and now know it, even as it has gone through me and is gone. The resonance. All elements combined.

And so, I was lucky to have been at the sea when considering this piece on form, because the sea is a single thing and a chaos. But it was not the paradise seashore enjoyed by the wealthy. It was only the dirty sea of Nags Head, North Carolina, where the beaches are regular brown sand and little signs on the dumpsters back of the shitty motel we stayed in remind fishermen to clean their catches in some other place.

But the waves present a sameness with variance, a form, and they come rolling in like clear lines of poetry, each giving way to the next, an instantaneous creation and destruction, a rise and fall. And because I was reading the recently deceased Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, I was reminded, as if I can escape the news, of the constant groping for and often violent destructive change brought forth by generational (d)evolution, which is also like those waves, but of values and expectations rising and succumbing.

It seems futile, and probably is, to recognize such things. The connective measure of timelessness. But it is not another nothing.

—Darren Morris, Poetry Editor