The Freedom of Restraint: The Joy and Paradox of Formal Poetry

Weeklong July 15 to July 20 2018

Judith Barrington once said that her best work emerged “from between the scaffolding of a known form.” This is the joy and paradox of writing in form: the formal poem’s “rules” provide a safe framework and often force us to write things we couldn’t have written without the form’s parameters. Forms, both open and closed, both free verse and metrical, can be used as “vessels” to contain difficult material; and in order to meet the demands of the form, we often find ourselves using grammar and syntax in new ways—we are forced to work toward extreme compression, to handle rhyme and repetition, and to think deeply about the interplay and sequencing of images. In this class, suitable for poets of all levels, we’ll discuss and experiment with some of the traditional forms that are part of our inheritance: the ghazal, the villanelle, the sonnet, the shadowbox, the ode, the sestina, the cento, the elegy, the list and the litany, and accentual/Anglo-Saxon verse. We will also look at the different music and tone created by our four most common meters. The workshop will be a mix of reading, discussion, writing and sharing/workshopping of work. Work/poems critiqued can be poems already underway, new poems generated in class, or both.