On Saturday 25 June I ran a poetry workshop in Basingstoke Disovery Centre that explored form: what it is, what different kinds there are, why we use it and why we don’t (if we don’t).
It’s a controversial theory, but it is mine (thank you Anne Elk [Miss]), that some modern poetry is nothing more than prose scattered artfully across a page. I wanted to illustrate how the poets I admire made their decisions about line breaks, stanza placing and other visual clues that add so much more to a poem on a page. Our eyes take in so much more information than merely the meaning of the words.
It was brilliant that everyone turned up early, so we were able to use all of our available two hours. I had prepared a range of poems for us to discuss, from eighteenth century Christopher Smart to some of my favourite poets writing today. We talked about why they might have chosen the form they did for particular poems.
My main aim for our group was to give them the tools, by the end of two hours, to be able to defend why they had chosen to write in free verse (if they had – and most of us do these days, myself included). We needed to know what forms we were discarding and be confident in positive reasons why a freer style was what we needed to express that particular poem.
There was also sighting of the volatile chimera of the prose poem: a form so dangerous it can usually only be discussed between poets in a locked room with trained negotiators present. In my case, I had chosen one by the exemplary John Glenday, so I knew we were safe from any accusations of ‘it’s just a bit of prose’. There really is a difference, and now my participants know what it is (if I’ve done my job properly).
We had exercises and challenges and laughs and biscuits, and I hope two hours of hard work that was also fun. I can’t think of a much better way of spending a morning than kicking poems about. We could have gone on all day.
I had at least one happy punter, who tweeted this later in the day:
Isabel Rogers, 25th June 2016