PRIZMAT, A NEW POETIC FORM
1. A few overall words about writing poetry
My primary issue is simple: we poets are creating at a time when very few can tell versified prose apart from prose poetry. Some believe that both are poetry, others view both as prose.
In view of the rapid development of literature in the course of the last two centuries, many poets, and especially literary theoreticians1 wonder what is left of the concept of poetry. The answer is simple – we are left with a great theoretically founded mess wherein literary theory obfuscated itself to such an extent that it now finds itself in an unsurpassable crisis and simultaneously enthroned itself on Mount Parnassus alongside poetry.
It is interesting that literary theoreticians express themselves in sophisticated language, their positions are deeply deliberated and correspondingly complex: they systematically tie into each other and have in fact created an enviably strong literary sub-system. It is even more interesting, or truly and deeply meaningful that theoretic interpretations of poetry have always profoundly differed from one another and continue to do so: the differences between individual poems and their numerous explanations are eternal. In order to at least partially bridge these differences, literary theoreticians would need to become poets themselves.
»… Were they to get their hands on Taufer’s carnevalized poem ‘Raising’, observing it ‘by itself’ would hardly lead us to view it as a sonnet. Since it is included in the book titled Sonnets, its fifteen metrically non-homogenized verse, which are not even divided into stanzas, we can recognize it as an example of derisive idiosyncratic take on the ‘regular sonnet form’, i.e. tailed sonnet.
Christ does not go
from death be rising,
It is a fact that the above-mentioned author is currently valued as a significant Slovenian poet in part also due to such ingenuities by eminent literary critics.
If we would try to determine reasons or triggers for the creation of these ingenuities we would, among other things, probably come across political, ideological, institutional and related circumstances which serve not only as the basis for the reception of the poet with his creations, but also that of the theoretician discussing them. Within the so-called social context they both bow to the spirit of the times and authorities, which are the source of social imperatives and the basis for the argumentation behind their work, and also succumb to their own inability to deny their sweet ignorance and social vulnerability. To be clear: in terms of expertise, the theoretician’s ignorance in fact merits all due respect, it is honed almost to perfection, richly diversified, and broadly discussed, learned and verbose, but unfortunately distracting from the simplest truths, which it overlooks due to overabundant erudition and its pragmatic integration in the relevant literary sub-system. Meanwhile the poet rides the waves of time with perforated sails, far from poetry: by counting versified prose or prose poetry as sonnets he did not degrade the genius of this poetic form but rather – himself.
It appears to me that I have not sought the most drastic example of poetic (and fitting literary-theoretical) misconception for the introduction to illustrating my poetic idea; perhaps the renowned Shalamun’s attempt at transforming soccer match commentary into so-called verse, along with the obligatory accompanying acclamation on the part of the theoreticians and the audience following them, would be more poignant.3 While political and literary-social systems richly reward and promote these types of poetic achievement, I would very poetically state that here »poetry« has little to do with poetry, it has plummeted into the abyss of the achievements brought by the famous French Revolution and thence hatched from its cosmic egg into a new era. We bear witness to the introduction to poetry, which – like art in general – finds itself in a new evolutionary phase: at the close of its destruction it became accessible to a larger circle of creators than previous intellectual and in our case literary elites. The widened circle of poets is of course not yet proficient in in traditional poetic skills, but it is well on the way of learning them in the coming times. In essence, literary destructionists unwittingly thrust these skills out of poetry to eventually enable the writing of poetry each everyman.
And this is exactly what is taking place. At the point where, in keeping with the times, poetry ended, it has only just begun to arise in its full extent. Now multitudes have access to knowledge that was, before the mentioned revolution, reserved exclusively for a select few, and apparently they will gain it with great speed. As a poet I see that in a mere century or two poetry will have evolved from a matter of individual creation into a mode of mass communication. It will be stripped of economic motivation, which currently continues to dictate the so-called outstanding poets to close ranks into closed circles; this will be followed by a newly created space for skilled and freely flowing poetic speech.
Of course one should not disregard the significant role played by the poets who have in recent times, in the variously thick shades of the postmodernists, remained stubbornly steadfast and who to this day insist on traditional poetic forms, cultivate rhyming, create the music of words and take on ancient rules, which postmodernism so revolutionarily trampled. I call them: fighters for the equilibrium between content and form. It is good to keep in mind that no poem, no matter how free, arhythmical and uneven its verse, can discard form. Even Taufer’s ‘sonnet’ above has one, although it is far from sonnet form, for »… poetic form with its rules – rhythm, distribution of rhymes, verses, stanzas – creates a distinctive and unique musical composition, which stirs a certain emotional state and poeticises the world in its own individual way, which inimitable and unexplainable through other forms… » 3
If I return for a moment to the above-cited tail of Taufer’s ‘sonnet’, I can maintain that it has the following metrical structure: 4
U – – U
U – U
U – U – U
– U –
The structure seems strange to me and does not even fit Novak’s criteria, being that it is arhythmical and non-melodious. It is, however, certainly imitable, since every poem written in free verse can easily be analysed and its form fixed for all time. If I were to ironically approach also the revolutionary content of the cited tail and simultaneously precisely and with no particular difficulty copy his poetic form, the tail would sound like this:
would come from yonder
but he rows
Christ does not go
from death be rising,
Therefore all this poetic form needs are poets to tackle it and write poems utilising it; unfortunately, so far I was the only one to do so, and so it will probably not catch on like the sonnet did. And so keep in mind: it is no matter, we’ll survive it.
It is no secret that a poem’s inception stems primarily from content, but this is not its only desire. A poem also wants to be beautiful and/or powerful. It wishes to sing, which is why poets must have an ear for music, feel the harmony, melody, and rhythm of words transmitting the content. This is not the easy feat it is in prose. In order to write poetry, a poet must possess a particular skill-set.
I even believe that the very demonstration of poetic skill can gauge the difference between a poet and those better suited to test their wit with prose or versified prose. »… I must particularly emphasise that in researching poetic forms and tackling their difficult rules, I deeply experienced that the poem is the youngest daughter of dance and music, the tenth daughter (by former folk custom the tenth child was to leave the homestead and make their own way - Trans. n.), which in her search for meaning in the universal world often forgets, who her parents are… » 3
True poets are not rare in Slovenia today. On the contrary, many of us take on traditional poetic form with some success, but established literary authors and theoreticians – with rare exceptions such as Milan Jesih and Andrej Capuder – view us as obstructing progress, fixated on the past while they tear down those same rules in the name of progress, innovation, and freedom. This is well and good, boys and girls, but more or less everything is torn down already! What now?
Well, here a tiny idea occurred to me, which is what I am in fact writing about here: progress can also be achieved through constructive modernisation and invention of new poetic forms, not merely through their destruction and abolishment. This idea is in itself actually not new, it has been realized by many before me, though not in the same way. Namely, I made up a simple new form and wrote a few poems utilising it. Most of all, I was pleased in this little endeavour that I entered the developmental process through construction of form and not its destruction. And I think this is how it should be done.
The word prizmat is a new Slovenian word derived from the word prizma (prism, trans. n.). I resolved to use it as the name for my poetic form, which I used in writing poems before, and which I am sure to use again. This poetic form came about spontaneously, appearing to me out of the blue in this form and grew so close to my heart that I resolved to write another in the same form but with different content. And then it transpired (as it does when poetry dictates itself to the poet), that nine poems were created. Since the same rules of form were applied to all of them, all these prizmati are nearly identical in appearance: up to the centre of the poem the verses grow ever shorter and then gradually ever longer again, as though the top of the triangle aimed downward overlaps with the top of the triangle below facing upward. First this image reminded me of an hourglass, but already by the third or fourth prizmat it began to remind me of a prism. Surely this was also tied to content: within this form the meanings broke like rays of light shining through a prism: from select words pure poetry was formed.
An ardent bird does fly above the skyline
when clouds of grey conceal the heavens
and pours out through the billow
like God’s own flowing blood flow
from the sky on high it falls and leavens
all rivers blue, that flow back down the timeline
When I was younger I did not like poetry. No matter how clever its interpretation, I saw it as impoverishing the poem in question; particularly in school, where for example Kosovel’s poems were purposefully presented as predominately demonstrating some ideological fervour, which I myself never saw, perceiving the poems in a completely different way. As I grew more mature, I also began to find poetic analysis exceedingly interesting; in essence it is a particular sort of translation from poetry to prose, and I have come across quite a few masters who executed this task excellently. Still, I understand the direct communication of the poems themselves better; and above all I enjoy analysing the form in which said communication is immortalized. Musicians understand this well: poetic form is similar to written music, which always and inalterably defines metre, rhythm, harmony and all other characteristics of the music, which are to be realized through performance. Every serious musical piece (I exclude free jazz or postmodernist experimentation, which – as I believe due to my conservative and largely constructive mind set – on the most part have a destructive effect) has a predetermined number of bars, its rhythm is defined down to the last syncope, the weave of melodies follows precisely defined progressions etc. I in no way wish to degrade the sense of freedom attainable through improvisation; it however quickly falls into oblivion if it is not very precisely documented or noted down, which would define its form for a very long time. An improvised musical theme is akin to free verse, once it is committed to writing it receives a form it can no longer escape. But, does this fetter free verse and rob it of its freedom? - I say no. It is the nature of all artistic content that it can be tied down by no form. This means that in poetry even sonnet structure – or even more complex forms – does not hinder artistic content. The difference between free verse and sonnet structure is only in their inception: the former’s was spontaneous almost accidental, while the latter’s was pre-selected and carefully fashioned. Perhaps they can be compared with either a cut or uncut diamond, in the former the diamond plays with light while in the latter the light plays by itself.
From pure emotion to the light delivered
Resplendent in the striking daylight
upon the cheek in leisure
in stillness danced a measure
embraced by rays of brilliant bright-white
it dried while turning into stone and withered
And now for the rules of the »prizmat« poetic form. As is immediately evident it comprises seven verses; the first, central and last verse rhyme. Once these three rhymes are identified, the rest are easy to find. A closer look reveals the number and combination of stressed ( – ) and unstressed ( U ) syllables in individual verses. This defines the structure of the form, the schematic plan of the prizmat, which looks exactly like this:
verse 1: U – U – U – U
– U – U (rhymes with verses 4 and 7)
verse 2: U – U – U – U – U (rhymes with verse 6)
verse 3: U – U – U – U (rhymes with verse 5)
verse 4: – U – U (rhymes with verses 1 and 7)
verse 5: U – U – U – U (rhymes with verse 3)
verse 6: U – U – U – U – U (rhymes with verse 2)
verse 7: U – U – U – U – U – U (rhymes with verses 1 and 4)
Content is and must remain free, it must not be limited by the rules of form.
Poetry of course much rather focuses on content than form. A few centuries ago and particularly in the third millennium, education and artistic creativity grew so widely accessible that almost anyone can write versified prose or prose in verse (so self-reflecting and thereby introducing the dimension of spiritual creativity into their lives and the consciousness of the era). With this the world plunged into an apocalyptical deluge of free verse. However this is only just the beginning of a new era when people, if we don’t destroy ourselves first, will communicate through art.
This was my reasoning when I first started writing prizmati and this vision got me so animated that I weaved them into short wreaths – just as the poets before me did with sonnets, ruba’is etc. – and one day I may perhaps weave them into a comprehensive wreath. I was, of course, driven throughout by a need to express myself or communicate something. Looking back, I can ascertain that up until now my motivation to create prizmati was twofold: first to express content and then to polish it to such a degree that it will fit into a precisely defined form. And let me tell you, for me there is almost no greater pleasure.
One fine day the letters will all scatter
And they will finally surrender
beneath the lines now showing
hearts of matter
like magic flowers growing
so strong, with roots unseen surrender
my poems’ sense to me with not a letter
and when they’ve gone at most they will have left me
in joyful quiet contemplation
that they have ever spoken
allayed my spirit broken
caressed with loving consolation
since my heart sensed them in vacuous empty
Perhaps due to all this it may appear to you that I was spewing nonsense before when I wrote the children of a new age will communicate with each other through art (and therefore also through poetry) and no longer create for social prestige or even money. But it is a fact that poets have long used poetry to communicate. For example, just look at how many sonnets have been written: Was Presheren not communicating through his sonnets with Petrarca, Dante, Byron…? And please do not try to quell my train of thought by saying these great artists with talent and poetic knowledge will never be matched by the masses! My vision is different: We are witnessing the dawn of an era when ever more people are becoming aware of the absurdity of mankind’s out-dated political, economic, geostrategic and related errors. The ability to acquire the creative skills of art is becoming accessible to an increasing number of people, and even the present day can attests that these skills are relatively successful in assuaging human primal instincts. The communication between living artists is already taking place and it may well be that this process will include prizmati. As a matter of fact also this has already begun:
Breda Konjar – Koni: Cold (prizmat 6)
Blown through, the wind has set my cheeks afire
too soon this May the cold commences
In spirals smoke is reeling
mists up higher
from time to time concealing
the gloominess behind the fences
from whence spreads out into the world cold wire
behind the banks the anguish’s overflowing
now simmering in detestation
the thickness flows inanely
ugliness caught plainly
within meandering narration
down the long and muddy roads slow-going.
As far as I know, thus far only four poets have tackled this form: Bred Konjar was the first to face it and outright conquer it with little in the way of effort.5 Now she uses it to communicate content to us in the manner of high poetry and I am happy to learn that this poetic form is no longer only a part of my life’s monologue. Her sixth prizmat superbly demonstrated that any content can be captured in this form and that in this the nature of prizmat is comparable to the nature of free verse.
Lidija Brezavshchek – Coachman: Now go to Sleep (prizmat 3)
Now go to sleep, oh green horizon’s threshold
the blushing ardent lines are lighting,
obscured forbidding outlines
their motion missed the deadline
they know not your poetic writing
with whiteness fuses all of blue-green sea-fold …
Oh, haul away the shade, light ever dimmer!
Your traces resting in the grotto
illuminate the background,
eclipses darkness inbound
engulfs my all, as earth will swallow,
and ash, the buds’ false gorgeous fragrant shimmer.
Lidija Brezavschek wrote quite a few prizmati, this being her third.5 The website, where she edits and publishes predominately versified and rhythmic poetry hold particular significance: through counselling and instruction about traditional poetic skills she lends meaning to the idea of bringing literary creativity into the realm of a wider circle of creators, especially those who already tried themselves in their ability to coin free verse and are now ready for the next step, to gain one of the skills for centuries shining from Mount Parnassus and perhaps even on higher. It is interesting that Lidija already in the initial stages of her journey into its world initiated development of the prizmat and is uncovering how small changes to the rules of its poetic form affords them a wider contentual scope.6
Evolution of every poetic form is self-evident; for example various types of sonnets have evolved. However, in this direction postmodernism (which I sometimes simply dub destructivism, when one of its exploits angers me a bit too much) has treaded too far over the line, which is something I touched upon already in the first part of this short text.
In short, if I may reiterate, one day art will be a mode of communication between people. It will be interesting to observe from the next world how humanity will gradually evolve to that stage and how the world will be at that point. Artist will no longer have to (or feel the need to) quarrel about money and cause intrigue about mutual awards, fight for prestige and social reputation, as all men will be reputable and provided for existentially, while their mission and calling will be creativity itself. Since time does not pass in the next world, and it particularly doesn’t do so slowly, we won’t even need to wait very long to witness this.
And if you see the above paragraph as an extremely naïve unreasonable jest, know that I am already but a poet. As proof of this, I add one final prizmat and send you my kindest regards.
Some day I’ll shine on you from distant spaces
As though a star of silver lightness
its shape and iridescence
my head traces
though not the same in essence.
Like a bird I’ll nest in brightness
and like a sand-grain which the waste embraces
I, bird, will sing a silent song thereafter
beneath the sound of endless spaces
and love will forth in star-streams
bathe your walls in light-beams
and so you’ll drift in memories’ embraces
with growing affection, contentment and laughter
1 If literary theoreticians can develop their theories based on poetry, discuss them confidently in their language, and so through individual reflection co-influence its perception in time and space, than I as a poet may confidently discuss literary theory and its scope.
2 Marko Juvan, Vezi besedila – LUD Literatura, 2000.
3 Boris A. Novak, Oblike srca – Modrijan, 1997.
4 Potential lay poets should know that »U« denotes an unstressed and »–« the stressed syllable.
5 All this and more goes on at the www.pesem.si website, where poets are now communing with each other for the tenth year in a row.
6 See for example verse 5 in stanza 1 in connection to the first and last (and then second and the one before last), and compare the connection to the scheme of the primary poetic form.
Translated from Slovenian by Jaka Jarc