Join us for an exciting writing workshop, “Form in Fiction: How to Use Form to Your Advantage,” which focuses on the ways we can use form to help generate new works of fiction with our own Katherine Bell. This workshop will run from 1PM to 4PM on Saturday, September 9th, 2017 at Firefly Farms, the home of the Sundress Academy for the Arts.
In this workshop, participants will look at a variety of formal short stories, including epistolary stories, fragmented or braided stories, and “unusual” point-of-view-driven stories, to see how the authors work within and beyond their chosen forms to craft successful and impactful short stories. Workshop participants will generate their own short stories inspired by the formal work we’ll encounter and share their work in a creative environment. We will use this workshop to create new work and celebrate the joy of creating while under constraint.
Katherine Bell is the current Writer-in-Residence at the Sundress Academy for the Arts in Knoxville, Tennessee. Originally from Frederick, Maryland, she earned her MFA from Eastern Washington University in 2017 and has been published in The Fem, Welter Literary Journal, Connotation Press, and others.
Tickets are $25 or $15 for students, and include instruction, snacks, and drinks.
I find starting a poem within a traditional form constricting at times. How about you? This is why I love creating nonce forms. I often craft my own forms after I’ve written free verse drafts. Each poem contains the school that teaches me how to write it, and here are a couple of forms my revisions have taught me. They both effort to create symmetry and a structure throughout the poem, something I am preoccupied with in my work.
Dickinson’s Sashay, or Put on Your Syntax Hat!
This first one is a shout out to my lady, Emily Dickinson—it’s all about the dash. The stanzas alternate between tercets and couplets and each tercet contains a sentence with a non-essential clause demarcated by dashes. The non-essential clause begins after the first word of second line in each tercet, and the non-essential clauses end rhyming with each other. (Slant rhymes work great for this, too.) The dash is the end stop for that same line.
The two couplets contain one end rhyme each for the non-essential clauses as well, which creates an outward reverberation—the first couplet’s first line ends in a rhyme for the non-essential clauses, and the second couplet’s second line rhymes with those same clauses. The ending couplet also rhymes on the same scheme, thus lines 2, 4, 7, 10, 12, 13 should be slant or traditionally rhymed. If you want to create a mood of misgiving, sidestepping, or interjection in your poem, this is an excellent form. Here’s my example:
The bluest feathers lie in my husband’s
eyes—bespeckled gold and green—
furrowing back young yet astigmatic.
His lashes flick as I preen
the gray at his temples.
What wisdom he has to grow old
now—for his aging to be seen—
like my grandfather who combed snow
at thirty, skipped dinners
to hum the microchip into being.
My husband opens each
lid—these, carrots now steamed—
aware of each meal and its meaning.
The Haunted Metronome, or It Won’t Go Away!
This second symmetrical form requires a poem drafted in two movements, with words that can be “borrowed” from one movement for the next. Sonnets or fractured sonnet forms work very well. Like a sonnet, this form works best if the poem takes on two different moods/voices in the two movements, which will ensure the repetition does not become overplayed. (A combination that works well is the speaker first observing and then acting, etc.)
When crafting your first movement, you will want to create many options for words that can be repeated later. The first movement of my sample poem below contains a bunch of rhyming words (though yours need not rhyme): “wind,” “behind,” “mine,” “brine,” “vine,” “time,” and “line.” Then, the second movement repeats only three of these: “time,” “vine,” “behind.” This also functions as a sort of inverse palindrome in that “behind” is mentioned in stanzas 1 and 6, “vine” in stanzas 2 and 5, and “time” in stanzas 3 and 4. You could also repeat this strategy to create a much longer poem, or even a sonnet-like crown. Here is my example:
Spiders wind behind limestone
at heights twice mine.
A black beach brines
the vine-choked wall,
times my dizzied pull
at the horizon line.
I tell you this time I am not afraid.
I click the teeth of seven gods,
catch vines in my throat
and spit them to the sea.
I tell you I spark into fire
the grass behind my strides.
Sandra Marchetti is the author of Confluence, a debut full-length poetry collection forthcoming from Sundress Publications, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing-Poetry from George Mason University. Eating Dog Press also published an illustrated edition of her essays and poetry, A Detail in the Landscape, and her first volume, The Canopy, won Midwest Writing Center’s Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest. Her work appears in The Journal, Subtropics, The Hollins Critic, Sugar House Review, Mid-American Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, Green Mountains Review, South Dakota Review, Phoebe, and elsewhere. She currently works as a writing teacher and freelance creative manuscript editor in her hometown of Chicago.
This essay was adapted from a presentation given at the 4th Annual Midyear Conference for Fulbright Students and Scholars in Southeast Asia; March 2012 in Hanoi, Vietnam.
I want to introduce a type of poem from Thailand’s classical theater, give an example of one in translation, and then encourage the other writers and poets here to see what they can do with it.
First of all, Thai classical theater is, like ballet, a dance-drama; for the most part, performers do not speak (in some forms of such theater, most are even masked), but rather enact myths and courtly romances through an intricate language of mime and gesture. The chui chai or transformation song is a set piece in these dramas, a demanding solo performance in which the actor portrays a character who has just changed his or her physical appearance, either cosmetically—into a superlative form of him or herself—or magically, into another figure altogether. The piece comes in two movements, first slow and then fast, and the accompanying lyrics, sung by a chorus offstage, describe the successful metamorphosis.
My favorite chui chai comes from the Ramakien, the Thai adaptation of the Ramayana, that 2,500-year old bull elephant of South and Southeast Asian literature. In one of the Ramakien‘s most popular episodes, the young Benyakai—her name suggests “of five forms”—is ordered by her uncle, the ten-headed ogre king, to assume the form of Sita, the most beautiful woman in the world. The uncle has abducted Sita from her rightful husband, the hero Rama, who is even then preparing an army to win her return. Benyakai, in the form of Sita, is to be found floating on the river that waters Rama’s camp, apparently dead, and thus fool Rama into quitting the siege.
The translator of a chui chai must solve several problems, not least of all how to start. Each transformation song begins with the words “chui chai,” which mean nothing on their own but serve only to announce that a chui chai is about to take place. Benyakai’s chui chai then goes on to make a declarative statement: “To go into audience with the King, you krid krai” (krid means “to cut” and refers to a graceful movement of the arm in which the hand is flat, fingers bent towards the wrist, and thus seems to “cut” the air. ) I was stumped how to render this until I decided to turn “Chui chai!” into a vocative—Oh, you who have transformed yourself—and the next line into a question. This was not a terrible stretch of my source material, for one of the most interesting features of the chui chai is that it allows the chorus, who otherwise have no part in the action of the drama, to directly address the character onstage, like a Greek chorus. In this way, transformation songs are very conscious of their own artificiality; a performer has assumed a persona that is assuming a third persona, and everyone is in on the illusion.
From there, after allowing myself the use of rhyme and meter to suggest a songlike quality (even though I knew I was transforming a text meant to be performed into one that would be primarily read) and a touch of archaic language to lend the right mood to the piece, the chui chai of Benyakai almost translated itself:
Thus transfigured, where are you going?
To seek the king.—Your each movement flowing,
you have so disguised your body
that you’ve become, for all the world,
like Lady Sita, the great beauty.
If Prince Rama sees you, this form taking,
you will wring his heart into breaking.
Such loveliness is yours, such grace,
whoever sees the beauty of your face
will dream it sleeping, and desire awake
to glimpse it again (his longing to slake!):
keen as an arrowhead against the skin
that grazes without, then pierces within
to make the whole chest ache.
Splendid lady, born of royalty:
how you have transformed your body
into the splendid Lady Sita!
If you the ten-faced king espies
a frenzy in his heart will rise
until he pining for you lies,
oh, splendid lady.
[This and the following stanza are set to a melody called “splendid lady,” and the lyrics thus address her as such or a variation thereof. This is true in all chui chai where the transforming character is female; when the character is male, he is inevitably on his way to court a splendid lady. Notice, too, that the two latter stanzas are shorter-lined than the first; this is also a feature of the Thai.]
Maiden, oh maiden tender,
your waist, your legs, your arms as slender
as an angel’s in their grace.
So lithe of limb within
a figure not your own
to the jeweled palace you pace
and your uncle’s throne.
Unfortunately, this and other chui chai must be accompanied with rather copious contextual notes when introduced to an audience unfamiliar with the characters and stories they originate from. I don’t suppose I’ll ever publish the “Chui Chai of Benyakai” in any medium on its own; it will have to be contained in an essay of some sort.
However, transformation is part and parcel of fabulous tales from around the world; Thailand by no means has monopoly over them. Can you imagine the chui chai of Snow White’s stepmother into an old hag peddling apples? Or of Cinderella as she leaves her sooty fireplace for the ball? (This fairy tale, I’m glad to report, has been adapted into a bawdy, all-male dance-drama by some students at Thailand’s College of Dramatic Arts—complete with glass slippers.) Or of the little mermaid into a human girl who, we recall, not only has her tongue cut out, but feels as if each step she takes is on a knifesblade? Thai chui chai are almost one-dimensional in their praise of beautiful transformations, but there is no reason that an adapted chui chai cannot be dark, even subversive. And how about the chui chai of Daphne into a laurel tree? Transformations into inanimate objects have never before been treated in Thai theater. Or Rosalind into Ganymede? Hera, when she borrows Aphrodite’s girdle to seduce Zeus? Jekyll into Hyde? Frankenstein’s monster out of miscellaneous body parts?
And there is no reason that, taken out of the Thai language, an English chui chai has to follow Thai metrical conventions, since it won’t be set to music anyway (or will it?). How about a chui chai in free verse? As a sonnet? A villanelle? The possibilities are endless.
For me, the chui chai of Benyakai will remain a favorite, mostly because in her story I find a most compelling metaphor for the act of poetic translation. Benyakai is tasked with turning herself into the mirror image of Sita, whose beauty, like Helen’s, ignited a war. How does one body, one text, rise to reflect the proportions, the contours, and the nuances, of another? How does it stretch, compress, contort itself into another living body? Chui chai! The translator of poetry deserves a transformation song, too.
Noh Anothai was a researcher with the Thailand-United States Education Foundation from 2011-12, during which he hosted cultural events for Thailand’s Ministry of Culture and College of Dramatic Arts. The winner of Lunch Ticket’s inaugural Gabo Prize for Translation and Multilingual Texts in 2014, Noh has work published or forthcoming in Structo, Pilgrimage, RHINO, Unsplendid, and others. He’d love to see your chui chai poems at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every Monday we will be publishing a new crazy form of poetry for you to try. This is for those who find the sestina a breeze and the villanelle a walk in the park. This week’s installment, The Jebjeb, created by Jeb Herrin.
What you’ll need:
Ø 1 random book/magazine/essay/collection of words
Ø 1 quarter
Ø random number generator (between 1 and 12)
Ø Wikipedia access
Ø Open your book to a random page.
Ø Drop your quarter so that it lands on the page.
Ø Whatever phrases are partially covered by the quarter will be used to create the epigraph (I’m a fan of verbal phrases in particular, but I’ll give you some freedoms here)
Ø The major theme of your epigraph will be what you search for on Wikipedia, as well as the basis of your poem. You may find it necessary to add words to create the epigraph. Make as few additions as possible.
Ø Roll for number of stanzas
Ø Roll for number of lines per stanza (roll once per stanza, so you should get a different number for every one)
Ø For each stanza, roll again for rhyme scheme:
o If first roll is odd, no rhyme scheme
o If first roll is even, roll again for end rhyme (odd), or internal rhyme (even)
§ For end rhymes, choose your own rhyme scheme (AABBCC, ABCABC, whatever. It’s cool, I trust you on this one.)
This is where it gets fun. Remember the theme of your epigraph? Pull that bad boy up in Wikipedia. (If you’re unfamiliar with the topic, now is a good time to take a quick read-through. If you want it to be more interesting, don’t familiarize yourself with the topic, and see what comes about.) Now pull your random number generator back out.
Ø Your first roll will be for a paragraph. Roll a five, go to the fifth paragraph, a twelve, the twelfth paragraph. Easy enough.
Ø Your second roll will be for which word will be the basis of this stanza (one main word per stanza). Only count nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs.
Ø Base that stanza on the word, but the word need not be included in the stanza.
Ø Any fictional people placed in your poem will be named after whatever authors’ names sound appealing in the “References”, “Further Reading”, and “External Links” sections at the bottom of your article.
Now that you have all the information, write your awesome poem. Don’t forget to name your bastard child once you’re done.
The following page is a quick example of how the process should look:
Book: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Phrases: brain the lot of you
know my sincerity
raised my club
Epigraph: [To] know my sincerity [to] brain the lot of you, [it] proved unnecessary [to have] raised my club.
This is where the Wikipedia search gets tricky, but first, let’s see what our poem will look like:
Lines/Stanza: 2 Roll again (2 = even = rhyme; 10 = even = internal rhyme)
11 Roll Again 5, no rhyme
3 Roll Again 8, 9 = internal rhyme
7 Roll Again 2, 11 = internal rhyme
6 Roll Again 3, no rhyme
Now, there is nothing particularly fun to search for given our epigraph, so what to do? We can be boring and do searches for things like “club” or “brain” or “sincerity”. Ugh. Or, let’s look for an instance where someone actually brained somebody and it became part of public record. To the Google Machine!
Keeping with the Abraham Lincoln vibe, I came up with “Caning of Charles Sumner,” an incident in which “representative Preston Brooks brutally beat Senator Charles Sumner after Sumner gave an impassioned anti-slavery speech” on May 22, 1856. What fun!
NOW WRITE YOUR JEBJEB!
Have a crazy form you want us to try. Send it to our Managing Editor, Erin Elizabeth Smith, at email@example.com!
Jeb A. Herrin is a senior at the University of Tennessee where he is studying Creative Writing. He was a Medic with the 3rd Infantry Division during Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. In the Spring, he plans to serve as the Community Relations Intern for Sundress Academy for the Arts. When he’s not writing, Jeb enjoys touring military history museums and Civil War battlefields.