“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.”
– William Wordsworth
Poetry is the expression of thoughts and emotions, feelings and ideas. For me, it is a way to understand my emotions and deal with them. I started writing poems when I was 13 years old, trying to understand what made me happy or sad or angry. I do the same thing today, but with a better understanding of my poetic style. Once I know what I want to say in a poem, I like to play with form and technique: How can I find interesting ways to capture a single event? How can I make the reader feel different things each time they read my work? How can I make the meaning change depending on how my poem is read?
These questions have brought me into the world of experimentation, which is a relatively new and emerging genre. In India, it only emerged after independence, pioneered by poets like Rabindranath Tagore. I am heavily inspired by the poems of Adrienne Rich and Anne Sexton, and more contemporary favourites like Kaveh Akbar, Hussain Haidry, and Pragya Bhagat. They always find a way to write something different and eye-catching. A way to make their poetry unique.
Did you know? Shakespeare invented words when he found the English language too limiting. Today, we use over 1700 words introduced by him: bandit, critic, eyedrop, lacklustre and many more! And sure, we might not be Shakespeare, but there’s definitely no harm in experimenting with our writing.
Poetry is already a fluid and playful form, where you can flout the rules of spelling, grammar, and sometimes, punctuation. But experimental poetry goes beyond that – it plays with the rules of poetry writing or even disregards them completely! During the pandemic, I have been experimenting with the visual aspect of poems: I am interested not only in the meaning of the words of a poem, but how they appear on paper or on a screen.
Here are three ways that I like to experiment with my poems. And something new for you to try out!
As the name suggests, shape poetry is all about the shape your poems create. Imagine a poem about a butterfly that looks like a butterfly! A simple idea, a tricky execution, and your poem about any small thing becomes infinitely more interesting.
This form is also called concrete poetry and is especially popular for children’s poetry today. But it has been practised by prominent poets like Ezra Pound, E. E. Cummings and Lewis Carrol in the past.
Here is an example of a shape poem that deals with a complex issue in a unique way. Imagine if you read the same text in a paragraph format! But the shape of the text immediately creates a sense of intrigue and leaves a lasting first impression.
Found poetry is a perfect example of wealth from waste. It is the rearrangement of words and phrases from books, newspapers, even older writings or poems to create something new. This can be done by copy-pasting words together and creating something new. Or it can mean sitting down with scissors and a glue stick and pasting words on a paper to create a brand-new collage poem. Yes, those exist! Pick a word here, a phrase there, and voila! You have a new poem ready that is visually and literally different and breaks the expectations of flow and inner voice.
Look at Inbox/Spring/2020 for instance. The poet has picked phrases from her inbox to create this wonderful found poem about life during the pandemic. The words are ones we commonly find in our own inboxes. But by putting them together in this particular manner, the poem evokes an anxiety we can all relate to right now.
Also known as Blackout Poetry, this is a specific type of Found Poetry that can be done in three simple steps. Choose an old poem, or story, or essay that you want to recycle. Take a black marker or a whitener and start ‘erasing’ the words that you want to remove. Digitally, you can select the words and colour them white so that they ‘disappear’ from the screen. What you are left with, becomes the poem.
Some people like to keep the paper or document as is to show the gaps in the text. Like in this poem by Jerrod Schwarz, where the white spaces created by the whitener ink add to the impact of this short but powerful poem.
These are just some of the ways that you can experiment with your poetry and broaden your horizons. For an in-depth understanding of how to find your voice and strengthen your craft, apply for Pragya’s Monthlong Poetry Academy 2020.
Aishwarya Javalgekar is a writer, poet and researcher. She has a Masters in English (Public Texts) and a Certificate in Book Publishing. She loves reading genre-bending fiction and poetry. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of ang(st). Sometimes she finds time to colour her hair and update her closet.
Rheea Rodrigues Mukherjee is the author of The Body Myth (Unnamed Press /Penguin India 2019) which was shortlisted for the Tata Literature Live First Book Award. Her work has been published and featured in Scroll.in, Southern Humanities Review, Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Vogue India, Out of Print, TBLM, and Bengal Lights, among others. She co-founded Bangalore Writers Workshop in 2012 and currently co-runs Write Leela Write, a Design and Content Laboratory in Bangalore, India. Rheea has an MFA in creative writing from California College of the Arts.