Books: A Toolbox for Poets ; an Innovative New Anthology Explores Poetic Form. Olivier Burckhardt Sorts His Villanelles from His Sestinas

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The Making of a Poem

eds Mark Strand & Eavan Boland

NORTON pounds 19.95

Released to coincide with National Poetry Day on 5 October, The Making of a Poem, an anthology divided into sections, each exploring a particular poetic form, delves into the forge of poetry. It is an accessible and invigorating bid by two established poets to remind readers that the power of poetry relies on the persistent link between form and content. "Verse forms do not define poetic form: they simply express it," write the editors in their introduction; "poetic form is not abstract, but human." These statements express the essential features of the relationship of poetry to form.

The pattern of words, of the syllables and accents, the rhyming of sounds, establish a pattern of meaning. Line after line a poem stimulates and incites us to consider what is meant by a word, an action, an image, and at times challenges our search for meaning by maintaining a series of ambiguous layers of significance.

Repetition is of paramount importance to poetic form because pattern is an essential feature of life itself, be it the cycle of day and night, or that of the seasons, or our own breathing and heartbeat. As the editors point out, poetic forms are not locks, but keys. Following the introduction and two brief expositions on the editors' relation to poetic form (Mark Strand's "On Becoming a Poet" and Eavan Boland's "Poetic Form: A Personal Encounter"), the anthology is divided into four sections. The strength of The Making of a Poem lies predominantly in the first section, on verse forms, which takes up about half the volume and covers the villanelle, sestina, pantoum, sonnet, ballad, blank verse, heroic couplet and the stanza. Each of these is preceded by a brief overview in point form, a history of the form and a short statement on the contemporary context. The poems selected range from classic examples to contemporary poets' employment or renewal of the form. From each selection, a more intimate description of an individual poem (usually by a modern poet) clarifies the salient points of the form. Following a very brief section on metre, the third section of the volume turns to poetic genres and covers the elegy, pastoral and ode. …