I spent an inordinate amount of time filling out forms this week. From Submittable, to tax stuff, to federal student loan forgiveness to--get this--form poetry. Form poetry is anything but plug and chug, but hear me out...
This week in preparation for the ISPS poetry contest, I wrote a tricube (three, three-line stanzas, three syllables in each line) and a traditional 5-7-5 haiku. I mainly write free verse, so these short, restrictive formats were a real struggle for me. But then I had an epiphany. Try starting with words, then find the meaning.
This is not the way I write. I generally have specific idea or emotion, and then try to find the right words to express that idea. Pretty straight-forward stuff. But this time, I let the words take me. I plugged in words that fit syllable counts. I eliminated the superfluous. Deleted, tried new words. I worked it, worked it, and worked it again, but it still had no real substance. So I left it, with the intention of going back a few days later with clear eyes and no expectations.
I did and it was still garbage. But I did notice something. Each time I went back to it, I saw a new dimension, a new road I could follow to make something out of nothing. The constraint made me focus on the words I liked, and those words helped me wander through my ideas and feelings about them. It made me distill them down to their barest, simplest essence. In the end, I wound up with a piece that was as much the poem as it was the form. A message I wouldn't have been able to convey as powerfully in any other way.
All forms carry with them a fingers-crossed hope of some kind of approval. You have been accepted to XYZ University. Here's some money to pay for school. You're hired! You can buy that house you've been eying. We would like to publish your work. A poet's hope, among many other things, is for understanding, connection and (maybe not overtly for some writers) a reader's or publisher's approval of their work. Those desires are what drive many writers to share their work. Can my work make someone feel something in three lines? Three syllables?
Hemingway did it for me with his six word story, For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.