I just completed December’s 30/30 Project for Tupelo Press, along with nine other poets. On previous occasions when I’ve participated in this event, I’ve worked from a theme, thinking that some structure, however fluid, would help me to generate new work. This time, I didn’t do that. I roamed the multiple and varied subjects that crossed my brain. As I look back on my work for this month, I realize that free-range has been a better option, at least this time.
I retired about a year and a half ago to write full-time. When I was writing while holding down a full-time job, structure helped me stay on track. Now that I write every day for longer periods of time, I’m moving away from early structure and finding my generative self growing more creative in a free-ranging way. While some of the pieces I wrote for the project will likely not develop further, I’ll definitely develop and revise some of this work to send out to publishers for consideration.
At some point, structure becomes important, but, for me, that’s further down the line, after a longer period of exploration. That said, this year, I submitted a sonnet, certainly “structured,” to the Kelsay Books Metrical Poetry Contest and won second place, but I don’t think that would have happened if I’d not had a longer generative period before fitting the work into a sonnet form.
This has led me to wonder about the roles of free-form thinking and imposed structure. How do I work with each poem to find the right balance between the two?
Many years ago, when I taught high school, working particularly with students who faced multiple challenges at home and in life, I found that the more rules there were to a poem, the more amazing were the students’ results. I taught forms like the cinquain. See https://mickhispoetry.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/modern-traditional-cinquains/ for the rules and some examples. See https://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/list-of-50-poetic-forms-for-poets for a list of many poetic forms, some of which are very complex. If I didn’t provide structure, the students were lost and had trouble writing anything at all.
So where’s the sweet spot? The place where you’ve free-ranged enough and it’s time to explore a structure, whether it’s a formal structure or a form that emerges organically from the work itself. I may look for that sweet spot for the rest of my writing days, but this month has led me to a closer understanding of both approaches and the importance of finding the right moment to move from one to the other and back again.