I find starting a poem within a traditional form constricting at times. How about you? This is why I love creating nonce forms. I often craft my own forms after I’ve written free verse drafts. Each poem contains the school that teaches me how to write it, and here are a couple of forms my revisions have taught me. They both effort to create symmetry and a structure throughout the poem, something I am preoccupied with in my work.
Dickinson’s Sashay, or Put on Your Syntax Hat!
This first one is a shout out to my lady, Emily Dickinson—it’s all about the dash. The stanzas alternate between tercets and couplets and each tercet contains a sentence with a non-essential clause demarcated by dashes. The non-essential clause begins after the first word of second line in each tercet, and the non-essential clauses end rhyming with each other. (Slant rhymes work great for this, too.) The dash is the end stop for that same line.
The two couplets contain one end rhyme each for the non-essential clauses as well, which creates an outward reverberation—the first couplet’s first line ends in a rhyme for the non-essential clauses, and the second couplet’s second line rhymes with those same clauses. The ending couplet also rhymes on the same scheme, thus lines 2, 4, 7, 10, 12, 13 should be slant or traditionally rhymed. If you want to create a mood of misgiving, sidestepping, or interjection in your poem, this is an excellent form. Here’s my example:
The bluest feathers lie in my husband’s
eyes—bespeckled gold and green—
furrowing back young yet astigmatic.
His lashes flick as I preen
the gray at his temples.
What wisdom he has to grow old
now—for his aging to be seen—
like my grandfather who combed snow
at thirty, skipped dinners
to hum the microchip into being.
My husband opens each
lid—these, carrots now steamed—
aware of each meal and its meaning.
The Haunted Metronome, or It Won’t Go Away!
This second symmetrical form requires a poem drafted in two movements, with words that can be “borrowed” from one movement for the next. Sonnets or fractured sonnet forms work very well. Like a sonnet, this form works best if the poem takes on two different moods/voices in the two movements, which will ensure the repetition does not become overplayed. (A combination that works well is the speaker first observing and then acting, etc.)
When crafting your first movement, you will want to create many options for words that can be repeated later. The first movement of my sample poem below contains a bunch of rhyming words (though yours need not rhyme): “wind,” “behind,” “mine,” “brine,” “vine,” “time,” and “line.” Then, the second movement repeats only three of these: “time,” “vine,” “behind.” This also functions as a sort of inverse palindrome in that “behind” is mentioned in stanzas 1 and 6, “vine” in stanzas 2 and 5, and “time” in stanzas 3 and 4. You could also repeat this strategy to create a much longer poem, or even a sonnet-like crown. Here is my example:
Spiders wind behind limestone
at heights twice mine.
A black beach brines
the vine-choked wall,
times my dizzied pull
at the horizon line.
I tell you this time I am not afraid.
I click the teeth of seven gods,
catch vines in my throat
and spit them to the sea.
I tell you I spark into fire
the grass behind my strides.
Sandra Marchetti is the author of Confluence, a debut full-length poetry collection forthcoming from Sundress Publications, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing-Poetry from George Mason University. Eating Dog Press also published an illustrated edition of her essays and poetry, A Detail in the Landscape, and her first volume, The Canopy, won Midwest Writing Center’s Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest. Her work appears in The Journal, Subtropics, The Hollins Critic, Sugar House Review, Mid-American Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, Green Mountains Review, South Dakota Review, Phoebe, and elsewhere. She currently works as a writing teacher and freelance creative manuscript editor in her hometown of Chicago.