Master of the marriage of form to content, Tyehimba Jess began his journey into dynamic formal structures (see his book Olio) by trying to write a contrapuntal poem. His work is also deeply invested in the events and unspoken corners of history. Write a contrapuntal poem — two columns of text, printed next to each other, that can be read either down or across — that takes on a piece of history.
Inspired by a mathematical sequence that mimicked the golden ratio, Marilyn Nelson fell in love with the perfect symmetry of the Petrarchan sonnet. Can you translate a mathematical or scientific idea into a poem? If not, start with the Golden mean — you might just fall in love!
Music haunts the work of our featured poet, Kwame Dawes. His poems include dedications to musicians, invoke music, and indeed create music through his skillful handling of the instrument that is language.
Make music your muse, too. Write a poem that is immersed in music from subject to structure to style. Turn up the volume, and sing your necessary song.
Anastacia-Reneé’s work is full of characters from life and art– (s)heroes and villains, fellow writers, the “Becky” of contemporary Black parlance, and rich white women in cafes — and her poems often address or invoke these various others. To whom would you write a prayer/meditation/invocation?
Komunyakaa ends his book Warhorses with the striking poem Autobiography of My Alter Ego, which provides an account of the speaker’s experience in war and its aftermath. One gets the sense that through the intimate persona of the “alter ego” Komunyakaa is able to access truths unavailable to his own speaking voice. What is the nature of your alter ego? What would it write as its autobiography? Give it the pen and find out!
Patricia Smith is known for her work in traditional form, and even more for stretching form to its limit. For example, the poem “Elegy” in Incendiary Art is a triple sestina, and the poems featured in this issue are parts of a triple crown. (That’s 45 sonnets!) How might you innovatively and generatively expand a traditional fixed form?
The first section of Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead imagines at length a heaven for Black boys “who never got to grow up,” “who shot another boy to here,” whose names were replaced here on earth “with a hashtag.” Who would you write a heaven? What would it look like and how would it work?