Asking two working poets to collectively construct an anthology about poetic form can be a risky proposition. Decisions about which forms to present, which poems most effectively illustrate those forms, and in what context to offer them would be a struggle for even one poet to come to terms with. In this anthology, Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Strand (The Weather of Words, etc.) and Stanford creative writing director Eavan Boland (The Lost Land, etc.) combine their poetic savvy to respond to these issues, resulting in a practical introduction to understanding poetic form. Strand and Boland divide the collection up into sections on metrical, shaping, and open forms. Each section offers outlines of the mechanics associated with each type of poem, a brief history of the form, and a thoughtful collection of poems representative of the form’s evolution through history. Each chapter concludes with a brief “close-up” reading of one of the provided poems, which helps situate it in a historical dialog with its poetic ancestors and descendants. Thus Gwendolyn Brooks’ Harlem Renaissance ballad “Sadie and Maud” is provocatively situated next to an excerpt from Oscar Wilde’s “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” In addition to the ballad, Strand and Boland use this format to introduce and provoke thought about the villanelle, the sestina, the pantoum, the sonnet, blank verse, the heroic couplet, the stanza, the elegy, the pastoral, the ode, and modern open forms.
A practical handbook on poetic form for teachers, students, and poets who are interested both in the structural mechanics and literary heritage of poetic forms.