Thursday, October 8, 2009


Michael Palmer talks about the difference between the 'laws of form' and the 'rules of form'. The latter being able to be learnt, seemingly fixed and in many cases not particularly exciting. While the former, can never be learnt, but also can never be broken if writing good poetry. I like to think of the 'laws of form' as being completely different for each poem. Where one poem might require couplets and end rhymes, another might want to be a single stanza of variable lines and syncopated enjambments. You can't learn what those might be, in fact I don't think you can even plan it. Until you start writing the poem it will be formless. Until a conversation, a subject or a tone starts to emerge there are no laws. It's a blank page after all and what form do you put on a blank page?

From The Danish Notebook (quoted in Active Boundaries. New Directions, 2008) which he was apparently asked to write as a kind of journal, 'connecting the dots', type thing:
I once thought I should find a form for this little book you have asked for, but now it seems unformed would be better, a book at fault. Displaced. I accepted your invitation because it seemed an impossible thing for me to do, against my nature as a writer. Of course one should never have such a nature. If you discover that you do, you must erase it, as violently as possible. Coup de torchon. Clean slate. One of our cats, the apricot-colored one, is sleeping on the computer as I write this. He doesn't give a shit one way or the other. As long as the computer stays warm.
He goes to say that the book did eventually find its own form "beyond conscious intent or design" that exposed "hidden memories and patterns." That last little bit about the cat is indeed against Palmer's nature. I've never seen him write anything so mundane and confessional before. It was very exciting. I think I'm going to have to try and track down that book. Hopefully it's not out of print.

I think pattern is good way of looking at it. Where is the pattern in this? And there is no pattern that can be imposed on an unwritten work.

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