"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.

"Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard" By Thomas Gray - Elegy

Elegies are written in honor of the dead and Gray's poem is no different. It follow the elegies elegant, somber mood that praises but laments for those who have passed away. The poem is in four line stanzas with iambic pentameter which means in each line consists of ten syllables and only the even ones are stressed while the odd ones remain unstressed. The lines also rhythm with each other in a ABAB CDCD… fashion. The poem also fits the parameters of an elegiac stanza which apparently only became used after Gray's poem.

The poem expresses the speaker's feelings for death and how special life can be. Life is short and even "glory lead but to the grave." Sometimes, people don't even get a chance to express themselves due to unfortunate circumstances. Their blooming "flow'r" can only "wastes its sweetness on the desert air."

Gray's first few stanzas helps set the scene of the Church-yard. The world goes to sleep and everything quiets down at night. In the church-yard, he describes the "rude forefathers of the hamlet" in deep slumber. It further describes the night by contrasting it against the day. "No more" shall "the breezy call of incense-breathing Morn" wake the rude forefathers because it is night. Morn here is personified, giving significance to the times of day. The next few stanzas go on to describe what these beings miss from the world. They'll never harvest again or see their wives because they are dead. Lines 29-36 compares and contrasts the poor and the rich. However, despite being poor or rich, all people still die. Even the "paths to glory lead but to the grave."

The next few stanzas talk about lost opportunity. The speaker wonders in someone buried in this graveyard could've been a king or was once "pregnant with celestial fire (Ambition, Ideas)." These people are then compared to the gems in an underwater cave or the flowers in a desert. A rare occurrence in a vast landscape of nothingness where no one dwells. These gems and flowers would waste their time and wither and disappear. Gray also brings in some historical characters in his next stanza. Milton (A fellow poet) and Cromwell are both brought up. Cromwell seems to be brought up in kinder terms. Apparently he was no responsible for the bloodshed of the English Civil War.

Gray continues talking about the plight of the poor and how because of their situation, was never given the chance to become great. Instead, they "kept the noiseless tenor of their way." Their lives would remain monotonous and boring as long as they continued. Gray then switches topics by talking about the simple graves that mark the scene and how those individuals must've looked back on their lives with a "ling'ring" sigh.



Link to the Poem
YouTube lipsync video

"The Tyger" by William Blake - Favorite Poems

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

“The Tyger” moves extremely quickly, aided by the rhyming at the end of the lines (aabb ccdd…). This helps develop the image of the Tyger which is Blake’s ultimate intention. Tyger’s are quckly, deadly, hellish, dangerous, evil almost. The structure of the poem, it’s short lines and sentences, rhyming and short stanzas all contribute to its fast beat much like the Tyger.

Words like “hammer”, “chain,” “furnance,” and “anvil” give the Tyger a harsh appearance, as though he was from the depths of firey hell. Blake also comments on god and religion. He claims that both the lamb (good) and the tiger (evil) were created by the same being. “Did he who made the Lamb make thee.” By asking that question, Blake comments on the symmetry between all beings. Where there is good, there is evil. “Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?”

The religious intent comes through when Blake comments that god has created the Tyger. “Immortal” can only be a description of god and is used to symbolize him in Blake’s poem. Only a god could dare to create such a beast. The third stanza is dedicated entirely to the creation of the Tyger and describes it vividly. “Sinews of thy heart,” “dread hand” and “dread feet” all give off an aura of evil.

"The Soldier" by Rubert Brooke - Favorite Poems

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

“The Soldier” is poet, Rubert Brooke’s most famous poem and is part of a set of sonnets called “1914” that are all about war. He wrote these during World War I to express his idealistic visions of war. For a war poem, “The Soldier” is full of pride, propaganda and idealistic notions. This made sense since it was written leading up to the war when spirits were high and emotions wild. People were ready to give their lives for the nation in order to combat a great evil. Brooke’s poem would go on to inspire Britain’s servicemen in the early stages of WWI but most likely, his optimism and enthusiasm wouldn’t have lasted if he had lived past 1915.

The poem is a sonnet, divided into a Octet (ababcded) and a Sestet (efgefg). It’s neat, orderly structure inspires a sense of discipline, much like the army.

“The Soldier” starts out with “If” as to give the poem a dreamlike and surreal experience, full of pride and patriotism. “England” and the English are often referenced giving weight to its patriotic nature. Arguably, this could be a piece of propaganda. The Octet talks mostly about how a soldier’s death would enrich the land and give it to England. It is said that the dust of the English soldiers are superior to those of another country. England is also personified to give it a human and motherly touch. By casting his country as a beautiful motherly figure, he gives his nation a soft and caring touch.

Again, the poem is very idealistic, very optimistic and has a nature of propaganda. It inspires soldiers to fight for their country because of patriotism, honor, love and glory. It glorifies war and makes it seem like something to enjoy, not something to avoid.

Reading: http://www.truveo.com/Rupert-Brooke-The-Soldier-WW1-Poem-Animation-Movie/id/123651345

Evening News" by David Ferry - External Form

In Ferry's poem, we naturally jump from line to line like descending a staircase. The poem is done in an almost Q&A type form. A statement and a response, though some of the lines in the middle aren't case in that mold. It seems odd the sentences end on the right column except for the first sentence and sentences begin on the left column except for the second sentence.

I believe the author is making a criticism of the news and how in beautiful silence, some deaths are not covered and only from the distance is a village destroyed covered. However it is those sights that instruct our eyes and teach us about the world around us.

"beware : do not read this poem" by Ishmael Reed - External Form

I chose beware : do not read this poem because of its interesting title. It’s merely reverse psychology. Don’t read it? Ok I will. Anyways, the poem is very free form and the poet, Ishmael Reed, has done some interesting things with internal form, mainly with the use of white space and punctuation.(Like Cummings)

Externally, the stanzas are split into three parts. The first 3 stanzas are based around the story of a witch in her haunted house of mirrors. The next two stanzas are about poetry and how they compare to animals and mirrors. Finally the last stanza gives a statistic.

The first three stanzas don’t really make sense other than setting up the mirrors comparison. From my research, Thriller was a show back in the 60s and this particular narrative was one of the episodes they ran. Why any of this happened is not certain and the poet never explains but mainly, this section is to set up the concept of mirrors and their devouring nature.

The next section is once again a look at the power of words and poetry and how they devour people, even the reader who is devoured to the waist. The poem doesn’t ask people to devour, it just does. The poet tells us to go with the flow and not resist. Poems are compared to mirrors which we know to be devouring and lonely because of the way they draw people in.

The statistic is an interesting feature. It seems to suggest that poetry has such a strong effect on people that it causes people to disappear.

The entire poem is very odd. The odd punctuation, capitalization are used mainly to create unease and distress. The white space serves more purpose, to show loss and disappearance. “a space in the lives of their friends” is an especially useful line for showing Reed’s intention because of the space between the word space and in.

"Joy Sonnet in a Random Universe" by Helen Chasin - External Structure

Joy Sonnet in a Random Universe is considered a sonnet but fails to abide by any of a sonnet’s rules. (Other than the 14 line rule) Chasin of course was just poking fun at the strict nature of sonnets by applying its rules to a block of unrecognizable and unrelated phrases.

Since sonnets rely on rhyme and sound. She purposefully used nonsensical words that only have meaning when spoken. After analyzing Shakespearian sonnets and identifying iambic pentameter, it’s nice to read a poem like Chasin’s.

Chasin also starts her poem off normally with the phrase, “Sometimes I’m happy” before going off on a tangent trying to express her joy. It’s also interesting to note the periods at the end of the 4th, 6th and 14th line which suggests some semblance of order. The poem’s block structure also suggests order and rigidity. Most likely, Chasin stuck in some sort of order through her use of periods and structure only to destroy that through her use of words. It’s just another example of how Chasin parodies a sonnet’s rigidity.

"Nuns Fret Not" by Willam Wordsworth - External Structure

Nuns Fret Not is a fairly traditional Italian Sonnet with subtle differences. It follows an atypical rhyme scheme, abbaabba cddced which is slightly different from the commonly used abbaabba cdecde. It can also be said that the traditional 8-6 form is more of an 8.5-5.5 or 7-7 structure.

The sonnet and its rigid structure fits well with the meaning of Wordsworth’s poem: It’s better to have one’s choices constrained. The first five lines talk about various people and things who value constraint. A nun celebrates the confining nature of her work as a student celebrates his “pensive citadels” or a hermit values his “cell.” Since they make these choices voluntarily, they value the constraint their choices bring.

Their choices bring “blithe and happy” times and allow for people to soar as “High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells.” At the same time, Wordsworth is also making a statement about sonnets. Due to a sonnet’s confining nature, people feel that it can limit creativity and imagination. Wordsworth disagrees and instead believes that a Sonnet’s “scanty plot of ground” gives him solace from “too much liberty.” This concept is relatively new in a world where consumers are given as much choice as possible. In fact, a recent book was published on the very subject. The Paradox of Choice explores how too many choices can overload the human mind and cause the brain to freeze up in such situations. In some cases, more isn’t better.

It seems Wordsworth understood this concept before we did. By arguing his case through a sonnet’s restrictive nature, he walks the talk. The prison which we doom ourselves to is not actually a prison but a place of solace.

-Update, the 8-6 split lends to two different sections talking about two different subjects. In this case, the first ~8 lines talk about real life while the last 6 talks about sonnets. Both are related in that they both contain confinement.

A Reading of the Poem
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