Structures and Form

Rules, limits, order. Running form, swimming form, poetic form. Containers, boundaries, rooms. Directions, a compass. Time’s tight ticks.

The Need for Structure

from Excessive and Monstrous Directions

In a feminist classroom, students encounter new ideas that challenge their ways of knowing. And they are encouraged to not passively receive the answer from the Teacher, but actively explore how and why knowledge is produced. This is unsettling and troubling, even as it is often exciting and transformative. Students can benefit from structure to direct these new ways of learning, thinking and teaching.

Without structure, students can become overwhelmed and lose their way. So can teachers. Left unchecked, without some sort of structure to guide me or rein me in, my thinking and teaching becomes too much…for students, friends, family members and, at a certain point, me.

The Safe Space of Form

the safe space created by form. If you choose to write in form, the form gives you a kind of safe space; you can reach out from behind the form and say something really hot and then pull back. I have a long poem about the lynching of Emmett Till, which is written in a very tight form. I don’t think I could’ve written about this subject if I hadn’t written about it in a form that offered me a kind of protection (Marilyn Nelson).


On Rules from Rules are Tools

I have a complicated relationship with rules. As a troublemaker who is undisciplined, I don’t like to unquestioningly obey rules. Rules can be too restrictive. Set a tone of distrust. Foster an environment of hostility. Be extremely unjust in their implementation. Rely too heavily on outdated traditions. But, rules can provide structure. Order. A common ground. Comfort and reliability. These are things that I need, even if just in small amounts, especially when I’m experimenting and trying to make and stay in trouble.

I need rules/ august 26, 2019 on RUN!

Played chicken with a woman running up by the lake street bridge. I was running to the right, furthest from zooming bikes that might be coming up the hill behind me, she was to the left, also hugging the rail. She wouldn’t move, probably because she was oblivious. I wouldn’t move either because I’m stubborn and need rules, like always stay to the right, because my eyes don’t always work and I can’t see if someone is coming. I was prepared to run into her if she didn’t move, which I recognize is somewhat ridiculous but I get really angry when people don’t pay attention in these simple ways. As someone who can’t always see, other people’s refusal to care can be dangerous.

Rules I Need
  • Stay to the right, pass to the left
  • Don’t be an asshole

The Original Instructions

These are not “instructions” like commandments, though, or rules; rather, they are like a compass: they provide an orientation but not a map. The work of living is creating that map for yourself.

Braiding Sweetgrass/ Robin Wall Kimmerer

Stravinsky on the Value of Obstacles

my freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint, diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit (Stravinsky, 65). Source

Narrowing my field of vision

For over two decades, when I’m riding in the front of the car, I always put the visor down. It doesn’t matter if it’s at night or it’s overcast. I never understood why before. Now I know: I need to block out the extra bits/the static/the images I can’t quite process. Otherwise it’s all too much. My brain wears out attempting to make sense of those objects in my upper central vision—the part of my central vision that is the most scrambled. Recently, I have also started wearing baseball caps more, using the brim to narrow my field of vision. Sometimes, when it’s really bad and I don’t have a hat on, I’ll cup my hands around my eyes like blinders.

A need to be consoled by order

Form is the literary expression of our need to be consoled by some kind of order. This is why funerals have rituals and procedures, so we can keep it at least a little bit together in times of great grief and disruption” (Why Poetry/ Matthew Zapruder).

A need to conserve energy

In an interview with Krista Tippet, Michael Longley recalled something that the poet Stanley Kunitz wrote in the preface to one of this collections about form and conserving energy: “form was a way of conserving energy. Isn’t that wonderful? He said the energy soon leaks out of an ill-made work of art.”

Mary Oliver on Form

Form is certainty. All nature knows this, and we have no greater adviser. Clouds have forms, porous and shape-shifting, bumptious, fleecy. They are what clouds need to be, to be clouds. See a flock of them come, on the sled of the wind, all kneeling above the blue sea….Each form sets a tone, enables a destiny, strikes a note in the universe unlike any other. How can we ever stop looking? How can we ever turn away (Upstream/ Mary Oliver).

My need for recognizable forms

As my central vision declines, everything is becoming fuzzier, less sharp, difficult to recognize. I need simple, clear forms that I can understood without sharp, defined edges, that I don’t need to see clearly, that even I can glance at quickly and know it’s a tree or a rock or a river.

The Importance of good running form in the aging body

Forms I Love

  • tanka
  • haibun
  • acrostic
  • cinquain (Adelaide Crapsey version)
  • hermit crab lyric essays
  • erasure
  • list
  • cento
  • abecedarian
  • double abecedarian
  • question
  • a bare oak tree
  • a stand of straight, slender trees
  • boulder
  • river
  • curved retaining wall
  • a big bird’s wingspan
  • a vee of geese
  • my shadow
  • freestyle swimming
  • a big, inflated orange buoy
  • the slow flow of the river in the flats
  • the graceful gait of a good runner
  • big, strong shoulders
  • a straight back
  • a ribbon of road
  • a tunnel of trees
  • a shark in the sky (airplanes flying over lake nokomis)
  • water
new forms to remember
  • Allen Ginsburg’s American Sentence: 17 syllables on one line
  • Diane Seuss’ version of the American Sentence: a sonnet with 14 17- syllable lines. Found in Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl
  • the minison
  • Jane Hirshfield’s Assays
  • Jane Hirshfield’s Pebbles
  • Mary Oliver’s Sand Dabs
  • torrin a. greathouse’s Burning Haibun

The Forms of Love/ George Oppen

Parked in the fields
All night
So many years ago,
We saw
A lake beside us
When the moon rose.
I remember

Leaving that ancient car
Together. I remember
Standing in the white grass
Beside it. We groped
Our way together
Downhill in the bright
Incredible light

Beginning to wonder
Whether it could be lake
Or fog
We saw, our heads
Ringing under the stars we walked
To where it would have wet our feet
Had it been water

The clock!

The clock! That twelve-figured moon skull, that white spider belly! How serenely the hands move with their filigree pointers, and how steadily! Twelve hours, and twelve hours, and begin again! Eat, speak, sleep, cross a street, wash a dish! The clock is still ticking. All its vistas are just so broad–are regular. (Notice that word.) Every day, twelve little bins in which to order disorderly life, and even more disorderly though. The town’s clock cries out, and the face on every wrist hums or shines; the world keeps pace with itself. Another day is passing, a regular and ordinary day. (Notice that word also.)

Upstream/ Mary Oliver

Not structured by linear time/the calendar

haven’t been much for setting myself entirely by linear time for a good while now, mostly because so much of my survival since my mid-20s has relied on a series of condensed moments, forcing myself towards simple acknowledgements: do I want to be alive today? If yes (thankfully, it is much more often yes these days,) then how do I want to live? Who, beyond myself, can I live in service of? But time itself has thrown me for a loop during much of my adult life. Everything I love or once loved can feel distant the moment it ends, while everything I fear hovers. I want the good days to be filled with more hours, and more people to share the hours with, and I want the bad days to not leave too much damage on the way out, but I mostly want to break even with whatever time I’ve got. If you are someone who sets yr intentions by the calendar, I’m wishing you well in that pursuit. If you aren’t, I hope there’s something good for you tonight that you can still feel good about tomorrow. Here I am in a favorite spot in a city I still love to be in most days because of its people, who I am endlessly thankful to be held by. Happy future days, happy past memories.

Hanif Abdurraqib on Instagram / post from New Year’s Eve, 2021

Quality and meaning of life not determined by certain dates but these questions: “Do I want to be alive? If yes, then how do I want to live? Who, beyond myself, can I live in service of?”