The Poetical Meta-Form: A Form About Form

As I’ve been thinking about Form a lot recently for my post-grad studies, I thought I’d ‘outsource inspiration’ to see where it could take my writing.

So I’ve created The Poetical Meta-Form: A Form About Form. (I know: I’m so postmodern I can barely move. I think.)

In just ten questions, you can send off for a poem written to your formal specifications. Is it your work, or my work? Is it found poetry, or very form-al poetry?

I’ve no idea. And I’ve no idea if this will work: it’s an experiment. And we like those.

Once you’ve filled in the form, submit it and – if you want to receive your poem – provide your email. That’s it.

Thank you and, err, good luck…

The Way Something Is or Happens

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This morning, I walked to Dundas Aqueduct and noticed – as I walked down and under the structure – that many of the stone blocks used are covered in what look like ‘hieroglyphs’: stonemason  marks you can only see when you get up close to it. There are some that are like arrows with two directional parts, some like TV aerials, ships’ masts. I can only describe them in terms of simile, because stonemasonry is not a ‘language’ I speak, a form in which I’m conversant. And what could be more solid a form than stone?

If you look up ‘Form’ on Wikipedia, its broader definition is given as, ‘the way something is or happens’. Dundas Aqueduct only took on the form of its classical, canal-bearing splendour, because a (doubtless) huge group of stonemasons and navvies all spoke in this particular language: form begets form. An abstract language led to something that couldn’t be more tangible.  But is a poem, or a novel, or a film, less tangible to we language-based beings than this bridge? That Wikipedia page might well say ‘the way anything is or happens’. That really is an expansive idea…

Speaking of expansive…In Buddhism, the idea of Emptiness, Energy and Form – the three kayas of Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya – is central (I think across all different branches of practice, although I’m no expert). We perceive these as separate, whereas they are actually the same thing. Emptiness – the blank page – is filled with the Energy of writing, which takes on the form of the written (whatever that form might be). Then you can screw it up and start again. Or redraft it into a different form. But there would be no poem without the empty page, or the act of writing. They’re indivisible. The alphabet is a form; without shared understanding – like the stonemasons – these symbols in which I’m writing mean nothing. Our social system(s) have form, our homes and lives and ideas. The way anything is or happens.

In poetry ­­- the form in which I most often write (well, texting is probable the form in which I most often write) – one might think of it as the structure the work takes on, or is given. Poetry, to me, should feel like a climbing frame. One may write in ‘free verse’ (although what’s it free from?) or set out to write a sublime Sonnet, or mucky limerick. Indeed: why does one so often seem to be considered ‘sublime’ and the other so often ‘mucky’? (And I’ve got the Penguin book of limericks; it rarely returns anything too profound, but it’s a great form for wit and humour.)

Perhaps there’s a tension between these two: if you set out to write in a given form, it will affect the way an idea or emotion emerges; but if you set out just to write, then the idea or emotion therein might take on quite a different quality. Sometimes, it’s better to contain it; others, just to let it contain itself. But to write ‘without form’ surely we need – paradoxically – to be aware of form too, or it would just come out as, sort of, noise…And maybe that’s what our emotions are without language: noise. (Sometimes they’re still noise with language.)

This is one area where, for me, the spiritual, philosophical, practical and creative all intertwine. There is nothing without form: even the blank page, with its potential for creation, even the social situation in which creative writing takes place.

A quick search for ‘Form’ shows just how much it crops up in language. One of the most intriguing examples for me was that a hare’s ‘nest’ is called a ‘Form’. So inspired by a book I’m reading at the moment (Uncreative Writing, by Kenneth Goldsmith), I’m starting a sequence of poems called Searching for Form, wherein I’m going to take some of the myriad entries for ‘Form’ on Wikipedia and other sites, and simply tinker with the content on some of the entries, to shift their form (form-shift, like shapeshift?) into a poem. The first one here is a reworking of the text from a wildlife website, wherein a hare’s ‘form’ (the name for its nest) is described. I’ve edited the sentences down, changed some syntax,  and shifted the address to a direct one (to the hare? to the reader?). I’ve included the original text beneath my reworked version. Is this ‘writing poetry’, or ‘managing language’? Is there really any difference…?

Final thought: I listened to a programme about Bob Cobbing this morning, from Radio 4 a while back. Cobbing really pushed the form of poetry, using concrete poetry techniques, sound poetry, nonsense, visual poetry, performance, recording, ritual, procession, all sorts. But many in the poetry ‘Establishment’ (there’s a form indeed) considered it too ‘way out’, too radical, too ‘un-formed’ perhaps.

But who decides what poetry’s form is? Who can say that managing language, or bringing in other artforms or influences, or patch-working from other texts, ‘isn’t poetry’? Contemporary visual art – ever since Duchamp popped a urinal in a gallery and signed it – has long cottoned on to the idea of placing the ordinary on a plinth, or in a frame, changing its context and, in doing so, its form. By simply calling it art…Such is the power of naming.

So then: ceci n’est pas une poème?

Seeking Form


Rest. Scrape away
the vegetation. Lie down
on bare earth. Where
you have been,
a shallow depression
is made. A bit deeper,
a bit wider. This
is your form.

You will often make it
in the shelter
of a grass tussock
a rock for protection
from these winds.

In this form
you are giving birth.
Now: line it with fur,
plucked from your
own coat. This
is your form.

Original text from
“When a hare rests, it will usually scrape away the vegetation and then lie down on the bare earth. Where a hare has been lying, a shallow depression is made, which is a bit deeper and wider at the back than at the front. This is known as a ‘form’. They are often made in the shelter of a grass tussock or a rock which will give some protection from the wind. Forms which are used to give birth to young may be lined with fur which the mother has plucked from her own fur coat.”

2.28: Big Deal


The Sloth: A Big Deal (for real)

Here’s my news story-based poem (using pretty much just words from the article itself).

The story was from the BBC Science & Environment site and you can read it here and concerns new discoveries about the energy-saving anatomy of sloths.

So I felt any sloth poem demanded to be quite short and minimal. And noticed the scientists had used the phrase ‘Big Deal’ twice. Which, for an animal so energy-conscious – many things must be…


Big Deal


There is not much left

in the tank. 7 to 13 %

is a big deal.


For energy saving experts

anchoring organs

is a big deal.


Their stomach, liver, kidneys

and even bowels:

a big deal.


Nothing they do is normal.

They are ‘off the wall’.

An extremely slow

and low

big deal.

NaPoWriMo 2.12: Hilarity Crash-Lands in Japan

Or become hysterical – but do go to Japan, it’s great.

Yesterday’s word adventure was to think up a concrete noun – a word for a solid, everyday thing – and look it up online.

Then, the idea is to replace that word with an abstract noun – love, fear, sorrow – and see what emerges:  a ‘replacement poem’.

It’s a nice way of forcing an unusual perspective, a form of remote association (which poetry depends on) – wherein one has to draw together two disparate elements and seek what links them. I found the playlist poem exercise did this, too, linking song titles to a Russian constructivist tower (!).

So I got a concrete and abstract noun (from a third party, to make it interesting), looked up the concrete noun and found a news story about it, or a particular type of it…Then created a sort of deletion poem, cutting down and down until it became something else:


Hilarity Crash-Lands in Japan


It burst in

from a pit

that orbited Earth

for eight months.

Very interesting



The ‘extraterrestrial’,

expected in April,

suddenly produced.


Form was unusual:

sent to the ISS

with astronaut

Koichi Wakata,

returned to Earth

eight months later.


“We are amazed

how fast it has grown,”

Masahiro Kajita,

chief priest, said.


Children planted the seeds,

to blossom in 10 tears*,

when children

come of age.



The original – very strange & beautiful – news story can be read here.


* NB this typo was in the original article, but I left it as I liked the image…

NaPoWriMo 29: Excerpts from a Report on the New Poem Aquarium

An empty aquarium – shall we fill it with poems? Shall we?

So yes, it being the end of NaPoWriMo, I’m going quite deranged and using increasing amounts (and oddities) of Found or – in this instance what I’m calling ‘Poached Poetry’. (Poached in the sense of hunted and stolen, or I guess it could be poached in the egg-sense.)

This has reached new and ridiculous heights (or depths) today: I have just watched a news report about a new Chinese visitor attraction and written bits of it out as a poem, giving the attraction a new title.

To retain the (very tiny amount of) enigma, I will only post the link to the original news report at a later time…

What do you think the report was actually about?

Don’t throw a wobbly trying to figure it out.


A Poached Poem

or, Excerpts from a Report on the New Poem Aquarium


…Psychedelic, otherworldly, primordial:

visitors can now get up-close and personal

with the creatures, albeit from a safe

distance. Even the more dangerous species

are a sight to behold…


…Some have quite long tentacles and,

as a result, they look quite graceful

when swimming…


…More than 3000 are on show,

dozens of species

in eleven tanks

some weigh more than

twenty tonnes…


…The museum says it is not easy

to keep the deep-sea dwellers

in captivity. They’re poor swimmers –

a special circulatory system

is required, just to keep them


NaPoWriMo 27: Tami Is Using Pinterest

All that glitters is not what’s good for the goose.


Feeling experimental today! I have been out running a workshop earlier, so just used the NaPoWriMo prompt to co-write a search-engine poem with my partner.

It is based on the first few words of proverbs and the results they yielded from search engines. We then wrote 5-line stanzas and interlaced them…

Here it is! See if you can guess the two proverbs…


Tami Is Using Pinterest


Tami is using Pinterest

to collect and share

a carefully constructed edifice


in the fourth quarter of last year


Your bespoke daily dose

bankers wedding dresses

a short simple gallery of cakes

sacrosanct motor-

sport rounds up the old body


What is it good for?

Switched at birth might be


at a low price.

Sweetwater and the Satisfaction.


They really believed

giving up the ready-made ghost

a new audience expected

to participate, to take

disco balls and the society

of spectacle.

NaPoWriMo 17: Google Search Suggestions on the Day of Thatcher’s Funeral

Indeed she is not. At least we all have death in common though, eh?

Off-prompt today, but will be writing a Blessing (after Jo Bell’s prompt) and a Welcome Poem (from NaPoWriMo’s prompt) for a thing I’m doing at Hyde Park Picture House next Sunday. Neither seemed quite right today…

For there was a little funeral, as you may have noticed or heard about (I did not want to bless Thatcher’s life or passing, nor welcome the funeral, really – I’m saving those for something else).

So I asked Google to write me a poem about it – taking the list of phrases it suggested after the beginnings of statements I put in, then giving it a title (well, two – like I always do). A kind of found techno-list poem. And the following is what Google wrote (with little or no editing – go do it yourself and check!)…

It’s no secret I’m not a fan of the late-Iron Lady’s politics, but I really didn’t edit this very much – but did ‘curate’ it – so of course I wouldn’t have gone for things that sounded too celebratory. There is little that is ‘neutral’. But I guess the title and search phrases (a bit e e cummings?) were just an experiment in seeing what kind of liturgy the internet would turn up.

Actually, I was pleased it ended on our commonality in death. As a Buddhist teacher friend of mine says about, well, many things: “She who has the most __________ [insert anything here], still dies.”



Google Search Suggestions on the Day of Thatcher’s Funeral

or, How Much / She Brought / What Were / Now / Tomorrow


How much

How much does a funeral cost

How much is my car worth

How much is child benefit


She brought

She brought me food

She brought the house down

She bought it


What were

What were the crusades

What were the jim crow laws

What were the nuremberg laws

What were the symptoms of the black death

What were they like



Now we

Now we are free

Now we know

Now we comply



Tomorrow we

Tomorrow we sail

Tomorrow we ride

Tomorrow we work

Tomorrow we die

NaPoWriMo 9: “I’m the plot, babe, and don’t you forget it”

Smoky big-haired replicant femme-fatale from the future!

Still catching up, so here’s my Noir poem for day 9.

I actually found an IMDB list of the Top 100 Film Noir and then created a poem using only (mostly, give or take a few joining words) their titles – so it’s a found poem which, because of the diction of Noir titles, feels very noir-ish, of course.

AND, as I failed to write a cinquain for day 5 (I went ‘off-piste’ that day), I’ve written it in three cinquain-ish stanzas! Take that, NaPoWriMo: defecit catch-up prompt-fusion!

Sifting through the Noir titles, it strikes you how fearful they sound of the feminine, of male-female romance: so the poem ends up being a little bit about that femme fatale figure.

Although on the other hand, as Margaret Atwood wrote in Unpopular Gals (a first-person story on behalf of ‘wicked women’ in fairy talesfrom the collection Good Bones and Simple Murders: “I’m the plot, babe, and don’t you forget it.”


Killer’s Kiss



on South Street, caught,

now in a lonely place:

the desperate hours are a stray dog,



This gun

(raw deal) for hire:

a nightmare alley is

the narrow margin’s kiss of death,



Your scar-

face: kiss me dead-

ly, boomerang wrong-man.

I, the woman in the window,


NaPoWriMo 4: Breath or, Inspiration / Exhalation

An Iain M. Banks Style Spaceship

A curious task today: make something using the names of spaceships from Iain M. Banks sci-fi books.

It must have been a synchronisity (or was it responsive?) for this to appear on the day that Iain has announced that he’s very ill with cancer and will probably not recover. (His very moving and pragmatic statement is here, too).

So I wrote a piece based on two of his ships’ names (all of which are wonderful fun):  Refreshingly Unconcerned With The Vulgar Exigencies Of Veracity and Just Another Victim Of The Ambient Morality. I’ve taken them as the first word for each line in the poem, to push me into a structure.

And, in keeping with my series of poems inspired by science news stories, I was looking on BBC Science and found this story: about the possible diagnosis of (particularly) stomach cancers, using the breath. Essentially, our breath is – the research suggests – like our fingerprint: unique.

Whenever I’ve got stuck in writing, I looked for a next word from the article (a bit found-poem-y, yes) and also sought some Banks quotes too. So it’s a drawing together of today’s announcement, that story, and Banks’ amazing spaceship titles.

It is something of a sketch, with lots of SPACE in it – as it should be…

I’m copying it in as a JPEG below (which may be a bit small) and a definitely-readable PDF here: Breath or, Inspiration / Exhalation

(WordPress is NOT good at poems with any unusual layout in them and I would not sacrifice it!).

A NaPoWriMo poem based on the spaceship titles of Iain M Banks.

A NaPoWriMo poem based on the spaceship titles of Iain M Banks.


Card-board Word-hoard: Sunday 17th March

Sunday, 2pm at Melbourne Street Studios, Leeds

Sunday, 2pm at Melbourne Street Studios, Leeds.
Bring: glue sticks, scissors, old newspapers and packaging (clean not skanky!).

On Sunday 17th March at 2pm, I’ll be running a workshop at 2pm at Melbourne Street Studios (Melbourne St, Leeds – address here) as part of The Fabulous Recycling and Discourse on the Environment Exhibition (about which, more information here) working with old newspapers and packaging to create found (and concrete) poems.

The exhibition is by artists Donna Bramall and Rachel Hinds – the exhibition aims to show their “individual responses to the realities of how the waste created by society effects the environment we live in”.

Whether you’re an experienced writer or have never written a poem before, it’s a great way of working with form and enjoying words for their sound, as objects and in their arbitrary (but often intriguing and beautiful) collisions with other words. That’s the fun of found poetry of this kind: you choose the words ‘off-the-shelf’, someone has already written them down – you’re collecting, curating and creating with them. And whatever the self reveals, even through ‘randomness’, still reveals the self – the theory goes.

You can lay them out in interesting and peculiar ways, in shapes and with images – along the lines of Concrete Poetry.

Finally, as an example – here is a found-poem I made working with some students (when teaching):

A found-poem, mainly from Metro headlines!

A found poem, mainly from Metro headlines!

And here’s the poem typed out:


Summon The Urban Future…


…naturally adaptive,

the sirens tumble

unsupported patterns.


Now meet the Ultimate

30-month low you’ll treasure,

transforming a perfect A-Lister.


Buy the £440,000 art cakes

inside the new blue red carpet,

as accidental tech-scents


the flawless box triumphs.



(My favourite is the ‘accidental tech-scents’ – I would never had come up with that without Metro’s assistance! It’s not often you can say that about poetry…)


Hope to see you Sunday for some cut-and-stick fun…