Drum beats on the page
About some new age,
After effects some
Echo like synth drums.

Rum dum didley dum
Now wasn’t that fun?
Keeping everything
In time, for a mime.

Isn’t hard, isn’t
Anything, musn’t
Brag about latent
Powers not for rent.

There being a certain
Lack, pull of curtains,
Quick, hide the machines.
They can’t see the steam.

Out of your head, it
Billows and smokes, bit
Like the rum dum dums
From pulled-pig-skin tubs.

Vats of these samples
Flood all the tables
One after the next
Each just like the rest.

On and on, words fit
To systems, repeat
Call it brilliance, great
Poem, hang up the hat.

‘Til too much too late,
Words flitter at a rate
Monotone. Of late,
words you’ve come to hate.


I was having a discussion with a friend today about the virtues of open versus closed form poems. He writes primarily in closed form, I write almost exclusively in open form. By closed verse I refer to when a poem has a specific established pattern; ie. ine length, meter, rhyme, imagery, syntax, or stanzas. Well with that definition, I suppose I live primarily in a region in between closed and open with a heavy inclination towards open.

It is actually harder for me to recognize a closed form poem as good. It is quite easy to tell when an open form poem is not good. Not good is taking a general sentence and inserting white space in between and calling it a poem. That is not a poem. That is just someone who went a bit crazy with the enter key.

Bad open form poems are easily recognized as not poetry. Bad closed form poems on the other hand, are typically still recognized as poem, because, hey, they got the form right. Right?

In the end, I am not entirely sure which is harder to pull off well. I do think it is easier to just make a closed form poem that will be recognized as a legitimate poem. You just need to make sure you fit words into a pattern, a form. You have met the parameters that makes a poem. For open poems, because there is a more fluid structure, it is sometimes difficult to tell if something is a poem, or just prose, or just normal writing strangely spaced upon the page.

I suppose I am biased, however I just do not find closed form poems as interesting. The really good ones, I do like those, but there are (I feel) many closed form poems which really are nothing more than jumble of words in a configuration that works, masquerading as poems. Arrangements of words that… give me nothing really. Nothing of note anyway. I feel that there are more people who write closed form poems who consider themselves poets when their ‘poems’ are empty. Husks, correct in form, but of no further note than that. One of the things that I learned from the first humanities course I took in over a year this semester, is that for every poem, there is a form that the poem wants to be in. And if the form that you first assign it to be in is wrong, then that is the start of the editing process.

I suppose that means that the subjects I choose to write and the poems I write just want to be open moreso than closed.

I do consider myself a poet. I consider myself if not a good poet, a decent poet. I write what I write, in the form that I do, because it feels write. Because it feels like where it (the poem) wishes to go and I but a glorified vesicle for its transfer. *grin* Just kidding, i do feel more ownership than that over my own writing. After all, they had to come from somewhere, right?

Anyway, during the discussion, I realized I really have written extremely few closed, if any of late. I know I wrote more during elementary and middle school when I was first starting to write poems, particularly for school assignments, because at that time I did not truly consider the open-form stuff I wrote to really be poems. With the above as my proof, it is not that I cannot write closed form poems, I just do not consider them terribly interesting. Also, the words the flow into my mind, the poems that want to exist, do not want to be in a closed form. Who am I to force them into such uncomfortable bondage?

As for good poems. I think it is difficult to make a good poem. There are so many things to think about regardless of where on the open to closed spectrum your poem lies. I think that bad attempts at open poetry are more easily recognized as not poems and just all around bad, whereas similarly bad attempts at closed poetry are still grudgingly accepted as poems because they fit the rules of that particularly form. Thus I might be more judgmental of closed form than I am of open form, because in open form poems when I don’t immediately see why the poet chose to write it in the fashion they did, why they chose to have an enjambment before the ‘the’ rather than after, etc, I continue to think about it and wonder if there was something that I missed. For a closed form, if it wasn’t that great the first read-through, it is unlikely my expectations or perceptions will be altered upon a second reading.

Also, this is not always true, but oftentimes I find, among the non-canonized poets of today and days passed, that it is more likely to find a closed poem in which the writer is not invested in the piece. Where it feels more like a piece of mechanization than a work of some depth. Where they were just plugging words into some equation.  Like something written just to get it over with. Whereas even with some open-form attempts that I would not classify as poems, at least they tried to get the thought/feeling/some-oomf across. And maybe it’s just me, but I do think poems and writing in general should create some sort of impact upon the reader. Whether it be thought invigorating or emotionally charged or something else altogether, but it should do something

At the end of the day, I do think that writing good open form poems are harder.  Because you can’t rely on some structure to make your writing be a poem.  You have to be able to hear the internal rhythm, the internal flow of the words and put them on the page in a manner that someone else could also see and hear what you wanted them to.  There is nothing to default to, nothing to refer to as right or not and a seemingly infinite amount of things that could be altered.  A bad open form poem often fails to ever become a poem.  A good open form poem often still leaves people wondering, should that line really have been carried out like that?  Was it supposed to be read this way instead?  But I think that makes it harder to write, harder to read, and all around more interesting.  This does not mean to say that I do not think writing a very good closed form poem is not hard.  Case in point, the longest time I have ever spent on a poem was my first (and currently still last) attempt to write a sestina.  And it is not as if I do not employ some elements of form within my poems.  It makes it easier to rely on some sort of form.  I just like the option of breaking form if I so desire.  But the form is never what makes my poems.  Like the above, I should be able to take this poem and restructure it and if the content is sound, it should still be a poem in an altered form.  Obviously, some forms resonate/work better for a particular poem than others.  But the form is a guide, not the sign that something is a poem or not.

The last poem I wrote for my verse class was a prose poem.  Yes, there are prose that are considered as poems.  I was surprised too.  During the class discussion on prose poems, the main question was whether or not these were just prose or were poems as well.  When we got to mine, I was fairly scared.  This particular work had started out as a short story.  I tend to write with heavy imagery and will at times chop up my sentences in ways that I find to be interesting, but also because it has more impact that way.  It works better.  So was the case with this one, so it was not too difficult to convert to a poem.  Apparently it was clear, clearer than some of my classmates’ works that this was a prose poem.  The point I wanted to make was that this work could have been implemented into a different form, with clearer lines, and it would be more clearly recognized as a poem, but even though it was not clearly lineated and in form looks like a story, it has not lost it’s ‘poem’-ness.  The imagery, the flow of the words, the rhythm of the text, the impact was still there.  Form only gets you so far.

Generally speaking, in the world of poetry, I am just more interested in what people have and are doing with the more open forms. What creativity might flow out of so many minds. What new twists in structure, what new styles people might try. What can be done with using then breaking forms, or mixing them, etc. What can I say? I like the experimentation.


Note: The above poem ‘Rhythm’ is composed with four line stanzas, five beats per line, and the last word of every two line grouping rhymes (or nearly so).


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