"Acrobats" by Ian Hamilton Findley - Shape Poem

Shape poetry or concrete poetry is s type of poetry where the shape of the image contributes as much to the meaning as its words. “Acrobats” is a piece of shape poetry created by one of its more prominent practitioners, Ian Hamilton Findley.

The piece is very simplistic and relies on only one word, repeated several times in a several ways. Since the letters are spaced out, there are numerous paths you can trace to form the word acrobats. The many different forms the word can take represents the many actions an acrobat would wake. Every path is just a different position. In fact, you could trace an entire routine by taking different paths through the letters.

"A Miracle for Breakfast" by Elizabeth Bishop - Sestina

The sestina is another rigid type of poetry that uses repetition to spectacular effects.

The sestina follows a strict pattern of the repetition of the initial six end-words of the first stanza through the remaining five six-line stanzas, culminating in a three-line envoi. The lines may be of any length.

(envoi) ECA or ACE

At six o'clock we were waiting for coffee,
waiting for coffee and the charitable crumb
that was going to be served from a certain balcony
--like kings of old, or like a miracle.
It was still dark. One foot of the sun
steadied itself on a long ripple in the river.

The first ferry of the day had just crossed the river.
It was so cold we hoped that the coffee
would be very hot, seeing that the sun
was not going to warm us; and that the crumb
would be a loaf each, buttered, by a miracle.
At seven a man stepped out on the balcony.

As you can see, in “A Miracle for Breakfast” the second stanza uses the same end words as the first stanza in a different order. These 6 end words are consistently repeated throughout the poem to create a unifying idea. Despite being divided into stanzas, the six end words and their repetitive nature keeps the poem revolving around them. In this case, the story revolves around coffee and crumbs that a group of people hope to receive as the sun was going down by a river.

Bishop created this poem during the Great Depression. The throngs of people waiting to get just a crumb of bread and coffee. The crowds looking up towards the balcony where the government distributed only a little leaving some dejected people to flick it “scornfully into the river.” They were all waiting for miracle which alludes to Jesus feeding 5000 with seven loaves of bread and a few fish.

Unfortunately, they would not get a miracle. Instead, the narrator dreams of better days, escaping from reality. The envoi, a summary of a poem, brings her back to reality and as she glimpses across the river she sees the miracle working for other people. This could represent the people’s discontent with how the government were treating them vs. how they treated banks and other corporations. It could also represent the people’s desire to join communism or fascism, anything to get out of the hole they were in.

Link to the Poem

"An old silent pond" by Matsuo Basho - Haiku

Haiku’s have a very rigid format. It must be three lines of 5 syllables, 7 syllables and 5 syllables. “An old silent pond” is among one of the world’s most famous haikus and was created by one of its earliest practitioners, Matsuo Basho.

With such limiting features, haikus must be incredibly concise and deep to convey any meaning at all. Taken literally, “An old silent pond” wouldn’t mean much. Instead, the context of the poem must be examined. The writer, the time period and other factors must be considered in order to obtain the full meaning of poem.

Basho’s haikus are meant to be dramatic, exaggerating humor, depression and other feelings. Basho also uses his haikus to emphasize human’s smallness in relief to the greatness of nature’s power. By casting the pond as ancient and “old” , Basho makes it larger than life. The pond is a relic, something that is there and will always be there. The frog represents life and no matter how much he disturbs the water, there is still “Silence” in the end. Humans are but a splash in the ancient history of nature.

An old silent pond...
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.

“This Land's Not Your Land” by Elvis McGonagall – Slam Poetry

McGonagall was the world champion in slam poetry in 2006 and is famous for creating poetry that relates the world we live in. Many times, they’re satirical and relate to current events and issues. “This Land’s Not Your Land” falls under that category. In his poem, McGonagall takes a classic American folk song and twists it into a modern day alternative that expresses his own beliefs about what’s wrong with America.

Slam Poetry formed in the 1990s and became known for its energy and vitality. It helped revitalize poetry as a performance art. Typically poets perform at poetry slams and are judged based on their delivery and content of their poems by a panel of judges or peers. This style became very popular with a young group of developing poets of diverse backgrounds. Most pieces of slam poetry tend to be political, drawing on the world’s injustices and problems.

McGonagall drew upon the popular perception of American conservatives to create his poem. Like many other people, McGonagall grew discontent with Bush’s regime and wrote a series of poems bashing the republican president and his supporters. He did this by taking a song about American freedom, prosperity and justice and twisting it into a piece of political satire. Even the title and “author” have been changed to match times. Instead of Woody Guthrie (The creator of “This Land is Your Land”), it is now Backwoodsy Guthrie symbolizing the perception that republicans are redneck hicks from the backcountry. Instead of “This Land is Your Land,” McGonagall changed the title to “This Land’s Not Your Land” to symbolize the racial, economic and religious intolerance within America.

In true satirical fashion, McGonagall picks on corporate America, rednecks and Christians. He acknowledges their intolerance of others and how they believe anyone who is different are “communists” or “arty-farty funks.” He pokes fun of American values which have changed from freedom and happiness to burgers, guns and Starbucks. Lines like “We're pumpin' out Mohammed's diesel/
Fillin' up Christ's limousine” reveals McGonagall’s belief that Americans went to Iraq for oil. His sacasm shows up clearly when tells us how the “golden arches of MacFreedom/Built on African debt” or how we exploit “Asian sweat.”

Link to Poem
Link to one of McGonagall's readings (This is another poem, not This Land's not Your Land

"Parent's Pantoum" by Carolyn Kizer - Pantoum

The Pantoum is very similar to the Villanelle as it also originated in France and involves the use of repetition. Pantoum’s these days can be of any length. They’re usually composed of 4 line stanzas with the second and fourth lines of each serving as the first and third line of the next stanza. The last line is usually the same as the first.

Parent’s Pantoum follows these guidelines fairly closely. There are 9 stanzas of 4 lines and 1 stanza of one line. The first and last lines are related but not the same and the second and fourth lines do serve as the 1st and 3rd lines of the next stanza. However, the poet, Carolyn Kizer breaks away from tradition by not repeating the same lines in the last couple of stanzas.

Kizer’s poem juxtaposes an old woman and her younger child who has suddenly grown up. This is why she’s surprised at all “these enormous children.” Like any other parent, the speaker is shocked at how fast her charges grew up. The rest of the poem then builds up to one point, “They don't see that we've become their mirrors.”

These children are so afraid of becoming old that they look older than their parents even feel. They “moan about their aging” because they’re so afraid of it since it stares them in eye every time they look at their parents. By wearing “fragile heels and long black dresses,” these younger women try to become younger than they are.

The roles between the two groups are also reversed. The younger girls are now the patronizing ones, acting like superiors to their own parents. Now, the older women “pour like children.” It is like their a child of their children.

Pantoum’s, with their unique form allows for one continuous thought. While stanzas are usually meant to act like paragraphs, separating different ideas, a Pantoum links all the paragraphs with a common theme. In this case, aging.


"Do not Go Gentle into that Good Night" by Dylan Thomas - Villanelle

Villanelle’s are incredibly confusing and convoluted with a whole set of very specific rules. The first rule is that the entire poem must be done in 6 stanzas; the first 5 must be triplets and the last must be a quatrain making a rhyme scheme of aba aba aba aba aba abaa. This gives us a total of 19 lines. Two lines repeat throughout the poem. These two are usually the 1st and 3rd lines from the first stanza and are alternately repeated such that the 1st line becomes the last line in the second stanza, and the 3rd line becomes the last line in the third stanza. The last two lines of the poem are lines 1 and 3 respectively, making a rhymed couplet.

Dylan Thomas’ poem, “Do not Go Gentle into that Good Night” follows the rules of a Villanelle to a tee. His two repeated lines are “Do not go gentle into that good night” and “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” While Villanelles are usually light and simple, Thomas uses it for the exact opposite reasons. His poem is a cry against death as emphasized by his two repeated lines.

The two repeated lines share a common message, don’t give up. “Rage,” and fight against death or overwhelming odds. Even when the light is “dying” and hope is fading, “do not go gentle into” defeat. Keep fighting.

Stanza 1 sets up Thomas’ topic, the fight against death and overwhelming odds. Stanzas 2-5 are examples of “wild,” “good,” and “grave” men taking that advice and fighting against death. Finally, Thomas’s last stanza is a plea to the speaker’s father to fight against death like all the great men of past days. It makes me wonder if this situation has cropped up in Thomas’ life since he writes about it so passionately

Reading of the Poem

"To Autumn" by John Keats - Ode

Keat’s To Autumn doesn’t seem to have any deeper meaning. It is merely a vivid description of autumn. The images Keat presents are beautiful but tangible and concrete. An Ode is hard to describe since there’s no formal definition and there are many types. Usually, Odes contains a strophe an antistrophe and an epode.

Keat’s first stanza describes the fertility of autumn, an odd attribute for the season. Overflowing flowers, “plump” hazel nuts, swelling grouds and ripe apples create a sense of bountifulness and excess. In the next stanza, the furious activity and ripening of the fruit slows down. Autumn becomes a reaper. The movement of this stanza is also considerably slower. The fields are “half-reap’d” and the “last oozings” are coming from the apple cider. Stanza three introduces spring and like the appearance of summer in stanza one helps signify the movement of the time from beginning to end. Keats, in a way, divides Autumn into three parts.