Using Structure in Poetry
tools of the trade for various forms of poetry, a few thoughts
I like to think of poetry as living somewhere on the road between prose and music. Real music, I mean, with rhythm and melody and harmony. Poetry is its verbal cousin.
There are certain poems — some pieces in blank verse or free verse, for example — that are on the prose end of the spectrum. And there are others that actually overlap with music. Poems by Robert Burns have been co-opted and set to folk tunes. Others by Goethe have been set by the likes of Schubert. As well, some song lyrics have become separated from their original tunes and now exist as poems in their own right. The old ballads come to mind. And a good deal of wonderful poetry belongs just in the middle.
All of this really does set poetry apart from prose writing. This, and the sheer intensity of expression, as Ansel Guarneros recently pointed out in this article:
Now, we can discuss the advantages and disadvantages of form and tradition and freedom and the rest of it. But it is in the essence of poetry to be structured — whether loosely or closely, whether to the ear, the eye, or only the mind. Structure is one element that produces that intensity.
So here are some thoughts (possibly rather rambling) about structure in poetry.
One of the core elements of structure is repetition. Repetition — along with its corollary, variation — is one of the greatest tools of any artist in any field. Painters, sculptors, musicians, dancers, filmmakers, and on and on… and poets — we all have this wonderful tool available. For the poet it comes in a wide variety of forms.
It is easy to look at rhyme and see that here is a case of repetition and variation. Each rhyming word ends with the same sounds but is a different word. But it is just as true that an idea can be restated (in another way; this is where the variation comes in), words re-visited for emphasis, an image…