Language as Form

In our series “Language as Form,” we invited poets to write about poetic language as patterned language—how words as sound, voice, sentence, and song become elements of form.

Nica Giromini on “A Kind of Garden”

“A Kind of Garden” was first written, in an early draft, in terza rima, interlocking tercets of ABA BCB CDC and so on. With time, and revisions, the poem drifted out of strict adherence to the form, yet retained enough of its music and skeleton, I think, to remain haunted by it.

I found something productive in the writing and, later, unwriting of the form. Difficult as it is to really efface or erase, the movement of a poem out of form makes for a poem that is always looking backward—in much the same way that a terza rima stanza looks backward on the one that preceded it for its enveloping rhymes. The effect I find alluring in a poem haunted by form and that I was after in this poem is perhaps best explained by analogy: it is that same kind of affecting ghost that one might glimpse in an old field long out of use that, even after it has been repopulated by wild growth, retains traces of intervention.

What drew me to terza rima in particular is the tension, or rather disagreement, manufactured by its braided structure of rhymes. Because each stanza is interconnected with both the following and the former, the borders of the unit of the stanza start to fray. And a productive tension—one parallel to that of the competing units of sense of the line and the sentence—emerges between the units of sense of the stanza and of the poem (across stanzas). Which is to say, the pattern effects an interesting difficulty between “inside” and “outside.”

If stanza is taken in its literal translation, “room,” then the rhymed lines of a stanza in terza rima (1 & 3) might be imagined as forming that room’s walled enclosure while the middle line, barreling ahead into the next stanza, presents in turn something of a door—such that the poem figures a sequence of interconnected rooms, with doors that don’t quite open and don’t quite close.

That etymologic metaphor brings to mind, for me, a garden—which may be, in retrospect, what sparked the poem. Garden, as in, in its oldest sense, an enclosure. And if we let Eden and paradise (or, in the OED’s etymology, a “walled vegetable plot”) start to hover over, garden quickly finds its walls. As Bin Ramke has it, “What makes a garden is a gate”; a stanza the green walls of which delineate an outside only porously.

Writing Prompt

Choose a received form that is incantatory in some way—a pantoum, sestina, villanelle, duplex, and so on—and draft a poem in it. Then, let it rest—for an hour, day, month. Return and rewrite, or unwrite, the poem out of the form, keeping enough of the old music such that it becomes faint.

Nica Giromini

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Nica Giromini

Nica Giromini’s poems and writing have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Bennington Review, Poetry, Colorado Review, Religious Studies Review, and Philosophy and Literature. He is a PhD student in English at the University of California, Berkeley.