What I want to get out of my study of form

Form is a very wide-branching subject, and as such my declared objective of “studying form” and its relationship with aesthetic is extremely vague. I’ve had a few projects stewing in my mind in an equally vague and abstract form for several months now: a finely formed, well-worded, multilingual poem about not being able to write poetry, and two “epic” works, one of which is a fictional story about the rise of the Roman Empire.

The idea came from a computer game called Rome: Total War. It was a combination of the game’s storyline and (mostly) my imagination. I’ve had the story for a long time, but only recently did it occur to me to experiment with epic verse and turn it into a long poem. There is a very specific feel conveyed by the employment of certain words and their combinations, which I was able to capture, briefly, in this opening line:

Dare we remember what thousands died in vain to glorify one

        ruthless Roman patriarch;

the story of a warrior’s vendetta will be told.

It is a verse that is meant to be heard rather than read. It begins very suddenly and explosively with the use of a very dramatic word: not “I remember” or “long ago and far away…” but “Dare we remember…” a word that begins with a plosive, a very attention-grabbing phoneme, represented by the character “D.” The energy explodes out of this dramatic beginning and hits the listener in waves: …what thousands died in vain to glorify one ruthless Roman patriarch…” It then proceeds in a sort of denouement, gradually fading out: “the story of a warrior’s vendetta will be told.” There is a (to my mind) characteristic trait of illuminated reverie here: the subtle rhyming that isn’t quite rhyming, but more of a ring; “the story of a warrior’s vendetta…”

     The style of branching out employed here is similar in principle to the Welsh literary form of cynghandedd (cung-han-deth), a word literally meaning “harmony.” It is a very basic yet unique idea of rhyming–or more accurately, ringing–within one line of verse. There are various methods of employing stress, alliteration, rhyming, etc. but the basic idea is to illuminate the words being used. This is what I am attempting to experiment with, and understand, because the nature of cynghandedd has everything to do with the Bardic tradition, as well as William Blake.

     The most important element to my interpretation of cynghandedd is that the words flow directly out of inspiration, rather than being meticulously thought out, drafted and re-drafted. This is, in Bringhurst’s words, “speech propelled by…narrative impulse.”

     This, I believe, is why Whitman developed his highly influential style of free verse, or verse libre, as the fancy French academics always seem to prefer calling it. Free verse, while not nearly as structured and disciplined as professional Bardic verse (hence the name “free verse”), is a method of poetic illumination; words that flow out of pure inspiration. In other words, bachelardian reverie. And this is the skill I am trying to master by studying form.

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