Poetry essay: conforming to form or not

Some times when a poet writes poetry they will use a poetry form.  It might be a traditional form like a haiku or a sonnet.  It might an experimental form like the ones on this blog.  It might be a form the poet develops as they write the poem.

In using a poetry form, there might be a question of if a poet should conform to the restrictions of the form as they are writing a poem or not

For example, if a poet were writing a 5/7/5 haiku, and the third line sounded just the way the poet wanted, but only had four syllables, should the poet keep it that way, or should they find a way to change it to five syllables to keep with the form?

There are other situations as well where this issue might come up.  Maybe a poet is having difficulty with a form.  Should they work to keep the structure, or should they alter it so it is easier?  In another situation, a poet might like aspects of a form, but feel certain parts don’t fit their expression.  Should they keep those parts or change them?

As in many situations, there are benefits to both ways of working.

In terms of sticking to a form, they are benefits.

One benefit is that sticking to a form inspires creativity.  By having to conform a poem to a form, and have it sound good, a poet might have to be more creative than if they could alter the poem however they wanted.

A second benefit is the philosophical idea of maintaining fidelity to a form.  There is the somewhat philosophical question of is a form really a form if it can be changed at any time?  A poet might feel that it is important to maintain a sense of conformity to a form for the sake of the idea of what makes a form a form.

As a third benefit, some poetry forms are recognizable.  Think of an English sonnet.  If a poet conforms to the form, they can have the benefit that some readers will recognize the form they are using.  This might appeal to some readers.  On the other hand, if they change the form, a reader who knows the form might view it as a mistake.  They might think the poet made an error in using the form and see the poem as having reduced quality.

In terms of altering a form, there are benefits as well.

One benefit is that a poet gets to combine structure with free expression.  A poet can benefit from aspects of the structure of the form while at the same time changing the form to fit their expression.

A second benefit is that writing poetry can be easier.  It might be easier for a poet not to have to conform to certain poetry form restrictions at times.  It can make the flow of writing easier and save the poet time.

A third benefit might be the development of a new poetry form.  A poet might have a form that almost works for what they want, but by changing it some it works completely.  They might find those changes are good in the sense that they fit other situations as well.  The form with those changes might then be a new poetry form.

Trying to make the decision about whether to conform to a poetry form or not can be difficult.  Weighing the idea of sticking to a form vs. writing something simply as it flows isn’t always easy.  Sometimes a poet can feel it is more important to maintain the form and other times they might feel it is more important to have the expression they wanted.

There are a number of ways to make the decision.

One way might be to set some sort of time limit.  For example, assume a poet was writing a poem according to a form, but for some reason some aspects of the form were not working for them.  They might set some time limit for working with those aspects and trying to get the poem to work.  If they can do so in the time, they stick to the form, if not, they change it.

Another solution, might simply be to flip a coin.  A poet might equally be able to write a poem according to a form or with changes to the form.  To decide which to do, they might just flip a coin.  This makes the decision simple.

A third solution might be for the poet to write two poems.  They might write one poem with changes to form.  This might be the more natural poem.  After that they might try to write the poem to conform to the form.  They could then compare the two.  They could present them to people, get opinions, send both out for publication consideration, or something else.  They could let their own views and the views of others help them decide which approach was better.