Why pursue a plurality of forms? The poets who do it seem to do it relentlessly; even poets exclusively devoted to non-metrical, unrhymed verse seem compelled to break up their lines into couplets, tercets, quatrains, sonnets, what have you. Every poet who does so probably has his or her own reasons. A love of play almost certainly factors into it, especially for poets who persist in using rhyme, meter, or both. These musical elements link poetry to nursery rhymes; form in poetry is self-delighting first of all, I suspect, and delights the (receptive) reader as a bonus. No wonder squibs and the occasional run of doggerel show up even in the slender Collected of a poet as short-lived as Keats. Goethe, Eliot, and Stallings all show a willingness to pursue the art of light verse; Auden edited a whole anthology of it. Formally restless poets seem, as a rule, to be anti-hierarchical in their approach to poetry, perhaps because they try their hand at so many forms. They are less likely to dismiss the pun or clever epigram as antithetical to Serious Poetry.
Nor should we underestimate the drive, on the poet’s part, to avoid boredom. There is a thrill to succeeding with an as-yet-unattempted form to which only those who fail repeatedly can attest. The challenge keeps things interesting.
At its heart, though, I suspect formal restlessness is intrinsic to their poetic expression. The form creates a vacuum where no vacuum was, and not just rhymes and stressed syllables but emotions, images, ideas get sucked into it. The poet discovers new poems with the assistance of these forms; willed patterns fill with unwilled language. Notice how prolific Goethe, the English Romantics, Kipling, and Auden were: constantly seeking out new forms clearly did not hinder or stifle them. In fact, it may have done the reverse, liberating poetic speech from the tyranny of prose rhythms.
This would require us to rethink form itself—whether one chosen form (Ghalib’s ghazal) or a promiscuous panoply (Goethe’s multiplicity)—as something other than “constraint,” “restraint,” “shackles,” “box,” or “stricture.” All the conventional twentieth-century critical metaphors of containment, imprisonment, binding, and restriction will have to be scrapped. A new understanding must rely on new metaphors. Form is the engine, the lottery, the kaleidoscope; the void that gives you what you fill it with, the call you teach yourself to echo; the luck-maker, the goad, the god.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor