Choosing a Fixed Form for your Poem
If you want to know how to write a sonnet deviantART has you covered but what if you want to know if the sonnet is the right choice for the poem you intend to write? The point of this journal is to introduce the steps in the process of choosing a fixed form to write in and some questions a writer should work through to find a form that suits the content.
Know Your Forms
There's no way around this one, in order to choose a fixed form you must first know what's out there. A great guide here on dA to get your bearings on poetry forms is BeccaJS' PE: Poetry Forms- An A-Z. Here's another excellent guide that is for Eastern Poetry Forms.
PE: Poetry Forms- An A-Z An A-Z of Poetry Forms!
To kick start this week at projecteducate, we're starting off with a slightly lighter-hearted article listing just some of the poetic forms that exist out there. Lets be honest, there are hundreds and we can't list every single one. This is just a slice of the forms out there and if you are wishing to expand your understanding of different forms, do some research and don't take this as gospel!
Each form has a direct link to a site that describes the form in more detail, usually with examples too. I have also included some good examples from dA when I have found them.
Yes some of these link to wikipedia!
ABC- A poem where each word, line or stanza starts with the next continuous letter of the alphabet. Also known as an "Abcedarian"
Eastern Poetry FormsThe Haiku Club: Eastern Poetry Forms
WakaTankaKyokaTanka DrawingTanka ProseRensakuChoka
If you want to discover new forms, I highly recommend perusing ProjectDFC's form charts from previous years. They are chock full of strange and often esoteric forms that may be right up your alley.
I must put in a plug for my favorite form, the sonnet. Did you know that there are many different types of sonnets besides your traditional English and Italian? Check out Crowns-of-Sonnets' FSC guide.
If you are unfamiliar with poetic forms, keep in mind that initial awkwardness with these forms is to be expected. They require practice in order to really get a feel for them. If you have a form in mind, one thing that helps me is to write small portions (only a couple lines) of a certain form to get a hang for the rhyme and meter/syllable scheme.
Remember that free verse is in itself a form. If you choose to write in free verse, ask yourself how you want the poem to look and sound, and come in with a plan about it. Don't simply stick with what comes off the top of your head; chances are you'll be writing glorified prose instead.
Western and Eastern poetic forms are extremely different from each other. To cover all these differences would be beyond the scope of this article, but if you would like to know, I would suggest you first read a couple of Shakespeare's sonnets, and then some of Du Fu's shi poetry. Which reminds me, reading fixed form poetry is a great way to absorb and internalize it.
May the Form Be With You
In writing poetry there are two basic approaches regarding the writing process. You may choose to write on a topic or theme in mind first (the what), or you may have a specific form in mind first with which you find a topic later (the how). Both approaches are equally valid.
As you write fixed form poetry, you will realize that forms have a certain intrinsic quality to them that make them adept at tackling certain topics and handling certain sounds. As a result, instead of having your topic as the starting point (which I think is usual for most poets), you may want to start knowing what form you want to write in.
Other times, when you write using forms, you may find that the form leads you down a different direction vision-wise because it simply sounds and feels better. Go with this flow; you'll find that it will help you discover a facet about your subject that you didn't consciously think of before. I have had many a poem start about love, but end up being diverted in the process to capture something completely different. I would even daresay that in general it's better to let the form guide you first, rather than trying to force your own exact thoughts and ideas into the form.
Sometimes, though, you do need to fully convey a topic in its entirety as it is, such as in epic or narrative poetry, which tells a story. In this case, remember that unlike in prose, you don't need to hit straight to the point at once. The tempo and the pacing of the piece is completely under your control.
If you are especially practiced or feeling rather "transgressive," you may want to break the rules of a form. When done successfully, it can really provide your poem with some punch. Don't be excessive about it; else you may as well write in a different form.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Do I want to brainstorm my piece starting from a topic, or starting with a form?
How flexible am I willing to be with my topic?
Does the way this form sounds complement what I want to write about?
Is this poetic form a Western or Eastern form?
Do I want to break the conventions of the form? How will it make my piece better?
Fixed Form Poetry Groups
A big thanks to Nichrysalis, who made the outline for this article, wrote the intro, listed all these awesome resources, and allowed me to pick up this article in his stead. Get better buddy!