Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Interview with a Short Form: Frank Giampietro and the Spandrel

When I was poetry editor of Hayden's Ferry Review issue #42, one of our contributors used a very interesting short form. I asked Frank Giampietro to answer some questions for the MisFit Blog about the short form he invented, the spandrel.

MB: Frank, you invented a form you named the Spandrel and had several examples published in Hayden's Ferry Review issue #42. Could you describe that form for us?

FG: The word spandrel comes from architecture and describes the left-over part of the structure itself. The space under the stairway is a great example of one.

Spandrels in architecture are pieces of the structure you see but don't often notice. A spandrel is usually not functional, but occasionally one is put to good use. For example, Harry Potter lived in the spandrel made from the stairs in the home of his muggle guardians. So, naturally, when I read about the implications of this thing called a spandrel in architecture, how it is marginal but necessary, often beautiful in its own right but secondary to the beauty of the thing it is in service to, and that it can be useful or useless, I thought about how this structure might manifest itself in poetry.

Here is what I came up with: In order to be a poet one must be constantly having spandrel thoughts, thoughts that are extra to the poems themselves but are often both beautiful and necessary to the making of the poem or at least to the poetic life. By naming these poetic snippets spandrels I give them context and this allows them to exist as poems, all on their own.

MB: What do you find interesting about this form?

FG: The spandrel as poetic form is most interesting to me because it gives me a home for what I would, before discovering the form, have had to discard. I think of the adage about how when editing you have to kill your darlings. Spandrels are those darlings. I don't have to kill them anymore. I can just send them off to the spandrel orphan home where they are being read, cared for, and are very happy now, thanks very much.

MB: What benefits did this form bring to your writing?

FG: It's another way of honoring my thinking on a moment to moment basis. Knowing that there is a form like the spandrel makes me less dismissive of random poetic thoughts or images or voices that enter my head as I drive the kids to school or string the Christmas lights. Anything I can do to nurture myself in this way is good stuff.

MB: What were some of the challenges of the form, in addition, obviously, to the short form.

FG: Since they're not haiku, but they are as short as haiku, people don't always know how to process them even when I provide an explanation.

MB: Have you written any other Spandrels since those poems you placed in HFR?

FG: Yes. I've written quite a few of them and am presently engaged in making a very limited edition art book out of several of them with Denise Bookwalter, a professor and terrific artist who teaches book arts here at FSU (Florida State University). Our idea is to integrate spandrels into a book that is itself a spandrel. We've been working with a lazer cutter. It's fun.

MB: What other short forms have you tried, and of them, which is your favorite and why?

FG: I've always liked haiku and have used it as a teaching tool for years. I think spandrels are different from haiku in that they don't necessarily have a sense of closure like haiku and can rely on voice as much or even more than image.

UPDATE: Frank has posted some examples of his spandrels here!
Frank Giampietro is the author of Begin Anywhere, available from Alice James Books. he is also the editor of two online poetry projects, La Fovea and Poems By Heart.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Short Poems We Like: Ezra Pound

"In a Station of the Metro," has to be one of the shortest poems I've ever enjoyed. It's basically a place and two metaphors.

In the Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Because the poem is only two lines, the title acts as a third line, and also is critical to form the first concrete image that the two lines of the poem use as their base on which to layer meaning and metaphor.

The first line of the poem transforms the image of the metro into one of a sea of ghostly, white or translucent faces, the second line introduces the final conflict, a transformation of the faces into an image of nature that is so divorced from the very modern, industrial underground train station.

In this conflict of image builds the opportunity of great emotional insight: even modern man is natural and beautiful at the height of his technological achievements, in a concrete hermetic bubble that has no room for organic trees and flowers. And yet at the same time, the image is one of transience and fragility, of flower petals that are rain-slicked, and this brings the feeling too at once of freshness and of the petals that are scattered even by a light storm.

Imagist poetry, sometimes pretty bad-ass.

Can you write a three line imagist poem? Take a scene that moved you, describe its literal location. Then the first metaphor, or element of the scene that appeals to you as metaphoric. Finally, think of the opposite emotion, opposite surroundings, opposite scene. Compare them. You have a three line poem full of conflict and most likely, ripe with emotional windfall.

Notes from Pound on the experience of writing the poem.