There are many set forms of poetic structure. Books and websites abound, setting out the rules of form and content that allow us to label our work and provide a framework in which to explore a concent. The very stringency of these forms, where rhyme schemes, syllable counts and even content are dictated give us a measure against which we can be judged, and many will judge on the slightest deviance from the accepted norm.
I enjoy writing haiku. The ‘midnight haiku’ I started publishing a couple of years ago now have become a staple feature of the blog and I think I have missed no more than a couple of days in that time to illness. I like the constraints imposed by the widely accepted ‘English form’ of the poem; seventeen syllables in a 5-7-5 pattern leave no room for extraneous thoughts, but give plenty of space to explore ideas.
Technically, I don’t always get it ‘right’. A haiku should not simply be a seventeen syllable sentence split over three lines. There is not just the word and syllable limit to consider; there is a sub-text of rules for writing haiku, which Colleen clarifies in her weekly challenge. Amongst many other considerations, there should be a reference to nature or the seasons and, for some there should be ‘opposition’ between the first and second couplets, with the middle line providing the point of balance. But then, ‘English form’ haiku doesn’t get it right either when compared to the original Japanese form, where syllables are instead sounds and thus counted differently.
I struggle sometimes with the sound and syllable count, simply because I am aware of my own Yorkshire accent that will render that count differently than, say, an American or even southern English voice. Would a reader, for example, read ‘memory’ as three syllables or as ‘mem’ry’ in two? As I write, I can also count a silence as a syllable, but know that is impossible to convey in written form.
For me, writing haiku and tanka is a break from freedom. The constraints force me to look at what I wish to say and mould the initial idea into a pre-determined form. It is a good exercise in brevity, discipline and clarity… as well as a way to infuse a single concept with layers of meaning, there to be unpicked by the reader who stops long enough to consider what is read and written, but making equal sense to the casual glance.
Conforming to familiar forms is something we learn to be comfortable with. Form reaches its final shape through long evolution and we admire expressions of its perfection, whether in a prize-winning rose or a symmetrical face. Even in creative endeavours, we hold that perfection as a measure against which to judge results. Where writing is concerned, for example, opinion may by polarised by the ‘wrong’ placement of a comma or an unusual usage of grammar. Such anomalies are held as faults by purists, rather than being seen as an attempt by the writer to express a tone or concept for which there is no written form.
We all have our bugbears. One of mine, oddly enough, is that of being constrained by fashion to hold a shape that has no echo in the heart. I do not believe that true beauty needs to conform to any form. On the other hand, the source and reason of beauty matters to me. I find it grates when those who adopt a fashion for fashion’s sake break the rules, not to serve the essence behind the form, but simply because they care too little to seek understanding, merely apeing their own perception of an easy way to gain popularity.
Fashions come and go and, like any other fashion, becoming a slave to popularity is a self-imposed limitation of spirit. Rhyming verse is seen as passé these days unless you are writing comic verse or rhymes for children… but I often think in rhyme, so why should I not write what comes? I enjoy following the constraints of dictated form…but know that outside of those strict lines there is a freedom seldom found within them. The fluidity of the formless is the space in which new and unique beauty may be brought to being.
Yet, although we may be harsh judges of those who ‘break the rules’, being contrary creatures, we love the ‘quirky’, the innovative, the novel and unusual too. We can feel the difference between simply ignoring convention through arrogance and choosing to be creatively individual. What may be lacking in stringent adherence to the ‘rules’ of beauty is then made up for in individuality and it is the very flaws to which the purist objects that give a face character and charm, making it memorable. It is from the unpredictable mutation of a flower that a new rose is born; it is the white raven that stands out from the crowd. And poetry needs no form at all in order to speak to the heart.