Oh boy. Major problems trying to understand what is going on here after reading the first 21 pages. It feels like the author is trying to say everything at once in a rather disorganized manner jumping wildly from topic to topic and intellectualizing and abstracting what should be rather simple ideas about overall form. Add to that British terms like “quaver” instead of eighth note and “crochet” instead of quarter note and the level of difficulty in reading is further increased. While I do indeed understand every sentence, this jumping around all over the place and the confusing diagrams that only the author could love make for a tedious read (I do understand the diagrams but they don’t really work as intended). I’m 7% through and honestly don’t want to continue even though the subject matter is something I am very much interested in.
Let me take a stab at describing “form” while describing poetry and see if I can do a decent job of it. This is bound to be a lot harder than it seems.
A poem is necessarily based on a metaphor. If we have text with a regular meter and rhyming scheme then we have verse, not a poem. A poem can be poorly written and verse can be great art. Still the distinction remains between the two that a poem is steeped in metaphor while verse is not.
What further differentiates a poem from regular text is meter. There must be a regular ebb and flow of accents natural to the words. The most difficult to master is free verse where the patterns are not blatantly obvious but the words flow wonderfully, and the easiest is iambic pentameter where every other syllable is obviously accented.
A last and often ignored aspect of poetry is that it is necessarily intended to be read aloud. In this it is much like a musical score in that it is not brought to life until performed as opposed to remaining stagnant on the printed page.
So a poem is metered text based on a metaphor that is to be read aloud. Let’s add further that poems tend to have a regular rhyming scheme. Once the meter is set the listener expects it to continue in like manner. Once a pattern of rhyming first occurs the listener expects the pattern of rhyme to continue in like manner.
And now we will speak of form.
If wine is the idea then the wine glass is the form. The glass has shape and it has volume. Only so much wine will fit into our glass so we want to choose only the very best wine we can find.
Everything we write takes on a form. There is a series of words that lay on a page. Poems tend to take on a more regular structure as does music. In order to understand such a concept let’s define a sonnet rather rigidly as an example and forget for the moment that there are different sorts of sonnets.
In our sonnet, as is the norm, it will be composed of fourteen lines. There will be three groups of four lines each (quatrains) and will end with two lines (a couplet). So our sonnet will contain exactly 140 syllables (14 lines with 10 syllables per line). An example follows.
The Patrician Sonata (excerpt)
Oh how do I begin this tale of mine When passion clouds the vision of my eyes And trembling hands beat lonely rhythmic lines My tortured heart first shudders, then it sighs. Can petty words depict a summer breeze? Can paints portray the symphony of birds? Expression fails me: crippling disease! Yet try I must amid these falt'ring words. They say that art transcends the medium To speak of things that others can't express Those passages so meaningful to some Are difficult for others to assess. How many are the ones who share my fate Where inspiration's guidance came to late?
My sonnet above is rather like verse in that it seems to lack a true metaphor. Let’s not worry about that failing and just call it verse in sonnet form. I wrote it as part of a larger work more than 30 years ago. Let’s examine what is going on here and then I’ll explain the larger form this individual sonnet is a part of.
In each quatrain a different idea is expressed:
1. I’m an emotional wreck.
2. There seems to be no adequate way to explain what I am experiencing and why.
3. Maybe some can understand if I can employ “art”.
4. The ending couplet serves as a transition to the next sonnet in the sequence. Normally a couplet would tidy things up.
So we have the form of the sonnet as I decided to define it. Every other line rhymes except for the ending couplet which rhymes in consecutive lines. You might find it of interest that I created a larger form based on the already difficult to write sonnet.
I invented something called the Sonata as a specific structure of sonnet sequence. My grander form was to design a series of nine sonnets divided into three sections, movements if you would. Many musical sonatas have three sections called movements. My poetic Sonata was to be divided into three sets of three sonnets each, so to show the basic structure of this particular work I could write it thusly:
The Patrician Sonata
1. The Object
2. The Fantasy
3. The Tragedy
So I have three distinct sections that will address different aspects of my theme of hopeless obsession. First I describe the discovery of the object of obsession (infatuation), secondly I write about dreaming of the object which is out of reach, and finally in the third section we have the “hero” choosing to remain in the dream rather than face harsh reality and moving on with his life.
So it is a horror story of sorts, a Moby Dick if you will. Obsession destroys the man.
I will spare you the rest of this so-called Sonata because it has proved to be unpopular both in its idea and rendering. Still, I like the notion of creating a large and difficult form and fighting my way through to completion. Three sets of three sonnets each to tell a story.
Again, poetry is metaphor, meter, and often rhymes in a consistent pattern. The flow of the meter and rhyme dictates a form whether you choose one of the tried and true structures or not. It is the nature of the beast.
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Hmm? That book about the composer/arranger? I had to put it down because it was so jarring and confusing. Time to pick it back up and see if it starts to make more sense to me as it moves forward. I’ll report back when I have more to say.