I have utilized stanzas before in my poetry. I never wondered why or how I used them. After reading Mark Strand and Evan Boland’s The Making of a Poem, my connection to the stanza has been fortified. The direct translation of the word stanza, as brought to my attention by Strand and Boland, literally means, “room” (137) in Italian. As a poet, the metaphorical correspondences between the word’s translation and its purpose adorn my schema of this particular poetic component. Strand and Boland explain further, “In a simple and practical way, the stanza in poetry has that figurative purpose. It is as self-contained as any chamber or room. And yet to be in it is to have the consciousness at all times that it also leads somewhere” (137). They describe the two faces of stanza: separation and connection. Strand and Boland briefly list an assortment of stanza usage in their list, “Stanzas at a Glance” (136). I noted that I have made use of all three types listed: isometric, heterometric, quasi-stanzaic. I had no notion of what their names are. I did, however, make use of the stanza as one does a room, somehow breaking lines apart with intuition, whim, connotation or emphasis. I appropriated stanza use somewhat correctly. Finch and Varnes exhibit the concept of stanza as a poetic device with particular and meticulous patterns.
In Annie Ridley Crane Finch and Kathrine Lore Varnes’ An Exaltation of Forms, specific stanza forms are listed, described and displayed. In their collection of stanza-oriented essays, a variety of stanza tradition is defined, such as the heroic couplet, the terza rima, the quatrain etc. I appreciate each form’s contributions, but I also recognized which ones seemed to confine. For example, the Spenserian stanza form appeared as overly ornate. The essayist, Gwynn, zooms in on this view:
Since the Spenserian has most often been employed in long narratives, the poet is quickly going to run up against the limits of our notoriously rhyme-poor language. The results are easy enough to foresee: syntax is badly wrenched to accommodate the pattern, the use of unfamiliar words or even archaisms and neologisms to expand the list of possible rhymes…he or she cannot accommodate all of the formal demands and thus must write a second stanza to accommodate all the excess baggage, then a third, a fourth, and so on ad infinitum. (148)
Gwynn does not describe an easy process or a pretty product. In fact, he articulates some of the particulars of form that interfere with my poetic procedures. While I found it offbeat for Gwynn to overtly present the difficulties of the Spenserian stanza, I appreciate the remarks. In a sense, this validates the few frustrations I have with traditional form.
I found Moran’s discussion of the décima exciting and daring. The regard for a form which stems from Spanish in a book like this surprises and pleases me. While I see the potential for problems discoursed by Gwynn in this stanza form, I also see the import of acknowledging another culture’s deeply rooted poetry tradition. Particularly, one that transcended most blockades of poetry. Moran explains, “…the décima traveled not only geographically but also across the borders of class as evident in the words of participants who refer to the form as mirroring the soul of the people, as emerging from small communities” (157-158). Also, the device of “verbal weaving” remains relevant and thought-provoking: “It was the structure, the challenge of verbal weaving and the possibilities for resonance that intrigued me rather than the rhyme scheme” (159). Indeed, Spanish offers as much as Latin, Greek or English.
I will criticize Strand and Boland’s example choices in their text. In this simple and general exhibition of stanza usage, I would have expected more variety, particularly, poems that show quasi-stanzaic form. Especially, since it is a stanza type mentioned in the initial glance at stanzas. It seems that this stanza category was slighted. Strand and Boland could have plucked at least one avant-garde use of stanza from the vast and complex assortment of contemporary and experimental poetry. However, I am refreshed by exclusively reading on stanzas. I see them differently now, spotlighted.
Focusing on one portion of an academic writing assignment in the classroom can bring otherwise imperceptible purpose and context to light. For example, seperating the process of writing the Introduction and Conclusion from the body of an essay can enable creative thinking, higher energy/effort levels and thematic writing.