Happy Blog Birthday to This Little Ditty, this week’s host for Poetry Friday! Today I want to address formatting a poem. When I write prose, fiction or nonfiction, I usually don’t care about what my words look like on the page. But when I write a poem, I really, really care about how it looks on the page. Shapes of stanzas matter. Left justification of a word vs. centering vs. right justification — each time formatting decision is a conscious choice. Punctuation matters; a comma has a different meaning from a semi-colon or a hyphen or an em-dash. Line breaks matter. Where I choose to break a line will change the context and content of the entire poem, even if I don’t change the words.
Earlier this week Mary Robinette Kowal featured my guest post about my picture book Summoning the Phoenix on My Favorite Bit, and in my article, I describe how my poem “Magical Melody” changed format to fit the gorgeous and stunning artwork by April Chu.
Reposting my poem “Magical Melody” in its original format. It’s a list poem, where the format is key, to evoke the shape of a bird’s wing:
I had worked several revisions for this poem (adding and taking away punctuation, adding and modifying descriptive clauses, different stanza groupings) before paring it down to this list and this shape.
Again, April’s artwork is stunning, and I analyze her art in detail on My Favorite Bit. In the end, there wasn’t enough space in her art to preserve the original format of my poem.
Function should dictate
form, yet sometimes form’s beauty
makes function follow.
Ultimately, I decided that it was better to change the shape of my poem to fit April’s amazing art. Here’s how the poem changed:
I’m delighted to share that Summoning the Phoenix is now available for purchase online!