by Louise Robertson


The anti-form form (my term): Today, the featured form isn’t a form but those poems that have a form, but they aren’t supposed to be a poetry form or not a proper poetry form anyway. For example I know of one cheeky poet who at age 22 submitted a poem in the form of a outline to one of her MFA workshops. (That was me and it wasn’t as cheeky as you might think, but it did get a little attention.)

If you’re using these notes as prompts, go out there and find a non-poetic form, like a recipe, and write a poem like that. However, there is one rule — don’t use a recipe form. (There, that should make the assignment harder. 🙂 Edit: A great example of the non-poetic form poem is Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’ “In Lieu of His Writing Any New Poetry, The Author Critiques The Four Line Song She Heard Her Boyfriend Spontaneously Created While Drunkenly Walking Up Their Apartment Building’s Stairwell” a.k.a the Sandwich poem.

But we’re also talking here about the form you as the author make up, the one that follows the patterns of what you think it should look like. Think of grand master poet e.e.cummings; but also Gertrude Stein, of whom e.e. cummings was supposed to have been a major fan. Marianne Moore would write the first stanza of her poems and then every stanza after that had to follow the pattern of the first stanza. These poems are as much about using lineation and they are about rendering the poem visually.

Also, so-called Language Poetry uses repetition and patterns to pull apart and communicate without much regard to syntax — in fact much of it tries to undermine syntax as far as I can tell. Tired of confessional poetry? Then look into this Language Poetry thing (born in the 1970s and not dead yet).

Can I use myself as an example again? If you know them, my poems “These Are My Pants” and “She Studies Clock” un-do language and syntax while building the poem itself up — but always in service to the poem not the other way around. (If you like these poems, and I know that some of you do, then you like avante garde poetry — be proud of it! And I swear to you and all the muses out there, that these poems do fine in poetry slam.)

Maybe not all Language Poetry does well on the stage. Susan Howe has done some great work in that vein. Here are images of a couple pages of “Thorow” from Singularities – I remember spending a lot of time thinking about palimpsests when reading this book published in the early 1990s.

But it’s more fun to look for the anti-form form that you make up yourself. So I’ll end with an example from Marianne Moore (1887-1972). The title of the poem is “Poetry” and I hope the indentations come through. Here’s a link in case they don’t.


I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
they are
useful. When they become so derivative as to become
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse
that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician–
nor is it valid
to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make
a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
“literalists of
the imagination”–above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,”
shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry


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