By Robert Wynne

Thank you for joining me! Over the past year or so, I’ve sporadically published some invented forms in this fine online journal, and I have decided to try to focus on churning out one new such column per month.  Since we will be meeting here more regularly, I felt I should offer a few general thoughts on invented forms, and how they fit into my own writing.

I primarily write free-verse, lyric poems, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the occasional sonnet, sestina, villanelle, even the odd pantoum.  I have found that I enjoy a poetic challenge, and adhering to the requirements of a form has benefited me in several ways:  my syntax and diction vary more when I’m working in a form than when I’m writing free verse, I am more likely to experiment with different viewpoints and voices, and forms can jumpstart my writing process when I’m sitting in front of a blank page without a sense for how to begin.  I’ll often use a form in lieu of, or in addition to, an exercise, and I invariably wind up writing something I would not have otherwise ever written – sometimes the result is even good!

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed playfully poking fun at poetic forms even while utilizing them off and on.  This led to Radius’ esteemed editor once recommending a reading of mine in OC Weekly in a brief write-up that said, basically, on a whim I was likely to read a poem in a lost Nordic form concerning flowers which could only be written after sacking Rome. In response, I wrote my first Sventina and presented it at said reading.  The folks at OC Weekly were kind enough to include that poem in the annual Best of Orange County issue, and I re-present it here as an example of how silliness in poetic forms can be taken to its (sometimes) logical extreme:

About Flowers

Chrysanthemum petals use Daisies for disguise.
Poppies flood the Irises of eyes.

Jasmine blushed all Roses jealous red.
Hyacinths rule Rome. Tulips are dead.

Gladiolas blow each Dandelion into air.
Orchids know even Petunias sometimes dare.

Carnations cower but Daffodils love light.
Flowers die but Birds of Paradise take flight.

So, I expect our monthly dialog to include some serious formal challenges, and some less so – some things that resemble exercises and some things with more rigid guidelines.  We begin on the lighter side of things, thematically, but with some strict formal requirements.  Perhaps you recall, as I do, being required to mimic a famous poem back in middle school or high school.  There’s something to be said for shoe-horning yourself in the cadence of something both successful and entirely foreign.  But why have just one goal, when you can have two?

I have written a number of Rejection Letter poems, and already posted a few examples of those here, but more limited are my Rejection Mimic poems which are both Rejection Letters and line-for-line formal copies of well-known Modernist pieces.  These can take quite a while to complete because the line, stanza and overall lengths are pre-determined, and non-negotiable.  You can, of course, use any poem as the basis – I just have a penchant for Eliot, cummings, and their contemporaries.  So, here are 2 examples of what happens when you combine the Rejection Letter poem with the Modernism Mimic.  With all appropriate apologies, and thanks to Google for the Italian translation…

rejection letter
by e.e. cummings





The Rejection Letter of J. Alfred Prufrock

Se hai un in linea traduttore,
puoi mai di andata e ritorno
al pubblicare mondiale. Immaginare
quanti più lingua puoi macellaio
grammatica in. Immaginare quanti
più rifiuti testamento risposta tu.

Let us publish, you and me,
With our poems fanned out across the country
Like a muppet singing on a bicycle;
Let us publish, each of our half-revisioned treats,
Our stuttering replete
With feckless fright on one-page offerings
And lengthy opuses about our suffering:
Treats that follow every specious tangent
So suspiciously content
To offer up that underwhelming question …
Oh, it must ask, “Where am I?”
As we await the next reply.

Every day the poets still submit
Even if their work’s not worth a shit.

The shallow words that rub their backs upon blank pages,
The shallow thoughts that stub their toes on blank pages
Tricked a tongue into the great state of believing,
Malingered long into grief’s later stages,
Folded in an envelope and tithed its meager postage,
Slipped into a mailbox, began the long dark trip,
But since the postal workers were on strike,
Basked in the glow of a power bill, and lost its grip.

And included are such rhymes
That the shallow lines two-step ‘cross the floor,
Scratching their backs upon blank pages;
There are such rhymes, there are such rhymes
To profess a love of every love and so much more;
There are such rhymes so clichéd and redundant,
And rhymes for all the pain and joys of teens
That sift through language unencumbered;
Rhymes for us and rhymes for them,
And rhymes online from a million televisions,
And from a million collisions and divisions,
Until there’s something for all to condemn.

Every day the poets still submit
Even if their work’s not worth a shit.

And included are such rhymes
As blunder “What to wear?” and, “What to wear?”

Rhymes on t-shirts black, and mail in its lair,
Without good news which has been so rare—
[You will say: “How his resume has lost its bluster!”]
My night socks, my cufflink’s bright brass cluster,
My leather belt so brown, just new enough to pass muster—
[You will say: “But how his clothes have lost their luster!”]
What to wear
With my beat-up old Converse?
In the past I had a rhyme
To go with attitudes and platitudes which each second I’ve rehearsed.

For I have been myself unsteady, been myself—
Have been the soap operas, sitcoms, reality shows,
I have treasured all my life these paltry clothes;
I’ve been the viewer sighing with a sighing stealth
Watching channels for each hour’s demise.
  So how can I revise?

And I have been unwise, unsteady, been myself—
Unwise because my poems sing a fabricated phrase,
As if I’m not fabricated, as if I’m not contrite,
When I recite whatever words I’ve taken from the shelf,
Then how can I incite
Anyone to understand what my gaze conveys?
  And how can I revise?

And I have been refused, unsteady, been myself—
Refused by editors of all sizes
[Strangely coveting Pushcart Prizes!]
Is the reputation of each press
That which makes me so depressed?
Rejections challenge each poem, question its health.
  And can I then revise?
  And who can I incite?

Should I send, sonnets in a group to Barrow Street
About the steam obscuring manhole covers
In empty alleys wet with dew, clouds holding their breath?…

My poems want to run or climb a tree
But follow worn-out pennies to the bottom of the sea.

Unwelcome time, rain’s architect, sleeps so fitfully!
Restless under covers,
Snoring … scared … without a lover,
Waiting for dawn, to prove the sun won’t flee.
Could I, after multiple submissions,
Finally gain my words much needed recognition?
Although I write in solitude, print and send,
Though I have seen my work [grown slightly frayed] come back without a letter,
I’m still not published—but trying to get better;
I have read examples and submission guidelines,
And I’ve been told my where my poems belong, the sidelines.
What’s the opposite of transcend?

But will it appease me, come the fall,
With red leaves, wind gusts, early dusk,

Amid the dirty dishes, amid orange rinds and corn husks,
Will it please my sense of style,
To silence my doubts and practice my guile,
To flatten Silly Putty from a ball
To copy Opus from the Sunday funnies,
To pray: “Lord help me out, those verses I mailed,
Just let one get the call, let one stand tall”—
If finally, a nameless editor prevailed,
  And said: “These are not what we want at all.
  These will not do, at all.”

And will it appease me, come the fall,
Will it make me crack a smile,
With the chill air and the graveyards and the wrinkled sheets,
Amid the first drafts, amid exercises, amid chapbook competitions—
And this, abandoned mission?—
There are only so many pages in a book!
But because a restaurant patron owes his dinner to the cook:
Will I sigh and keep at it while
An envelope, perching on the desktop and trying not to fall,
Or mingling with a pile of bills, exclaims:
  “These will not do, at all,
  These are not what we want at all.”

No! I am not T.S. Eliot, though I’d like to be;
Am only a member of his entourage, at best,
Made to pad an audience, to welcome guests,
Explain the Rum Tum Tugger in his absence,
Inconsequential, hoping to be heard,
Poetic, curious, and conspicuous,
Fan of most sentences, but not every word;
Sometimes, it seems, so hard to trust—
Or even, sometimes, too intense.

I’m so cold … I’m so cold …
I shiver in the weather while my poems do what they’re told.

Could I publish work online? Do I dare create more verse?
I will post my work on Facebook, with a picture of a hearse.
I am working on haiku for short attention spans, so terse.

I do not expect anyone to publish me.

I’ve been told my words will never find a home
By muses laughing with their hair thrown back
While journals put my poems on the rack.

I still send work out like a plea
And dream of publication every night,
Until rejections so frustrate me, I just write.