Saturday was our penultimate workshop with Mimi Khalvati before the summer-autumn break. (By the way I realise the title of this post could be read as a pun -‘ on form’, geddit?? Um, sorry…)
This month, several of us got pulled up for the chosen form of our poems. Classic Mimi comments often sound like rhetorical questions. “What am I supposed to do with a short line on its own like that?” “Why would you write something that’s a classic ballad in free verse?” “Couldn’t you make this more interesting?” She looks at you with an expression of such disappointment you can’t really think of an answer, other than “I don’t know! I’ve let you down again and I’m really sorry!”
Anyway, either we’re all class A masochists or we do need this kind of talking-to in order to improve. So here are a few of Mimi’s comments that I jotted down. As always, please excuse the brevity. Hope they make sense, divorced as they are from the poems under discussion.
- Be careful of words or images that work too hard and break the fabric of the poem. The reader wants her attention drawn to the poem, not the poet.
- Many lyric poems (for example about a bird, or about digging or fishing) act as metaphors for something else, so be careful of referencing that thing explicitly if it’s already implied.
- When writing in free verse you still need a rationale for your chosen stanza breaks or line length, otherwise the effect can just be ‘paragraphy’. And be open to the possibility of form – it may be that free verse isn’t doing the poem justice.
- If you have one line of a different length to the others then it will attract attention. You need a good reason to throw in a odd-length line. It needs to stand up to close inspection.
- Beware potentially archaic words – Mimi has a bee in her bonnet about beneath – apparently we never say or write it except in poetry. (Is this true, do you think?) Ditto within and for (when used to mean ‘because’.) And being IAMBs naturally both beneath and within are even more likely to lead us into temptation. O woe, thrice woe for our disappearing tongue!