Monday, February 25, 2008

Rimas Dissolutas

I'm always looking for new challenges, new forms, new topics for new poems. And while I don't consider myself a formalist, every once in a while I really enjoy tackling a form poem. Recently, I was introduced to rimas dissolutas. New to me, but not to the world, it's a French form. The poem may consist of any number of stanzas. Stanzas may consist of any number of lines, but the number of lines must be consistent in all stanzas. If you have three lines in the first stanza, then every stanza thereafter must have three lines. The rhyme pattern is not within stanzas, but between them. For example, in a four-line stanza, you might have the end sounds as a-b-c-d. Then in the next stanza, the first line must end with the a rhyme, the second the b rhyme, and so on. And that pattern must prevail throughout the poem. The result is a lovely subtlety to the rhymes. They dissolve, but they're there.

Although the form is defined as "syllabic verse," meaning that each line should have the same number of syllables, the examples I've seen disregard that rule. Also, the examples I've seen play freely with near rhymes. The following poem by Sylvia Plath is a good example of the form.

Black Rook in Rainy Weather

On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident

To see the sight on fire
In my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or portent.

Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can't honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Lean incandescent

Out of kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then—
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent

By bestowing largesse, honor,
One might say love. At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); skeptical,
Yet politic; ignorant

Of whatever angel may choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content

Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait's begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent.


I used this form and poem as a prompt at a recent poetry retreat for women. The six women poets took to it enthusiastically. One, Barbara Crooker, has just had her rimas dissolutas, "Angels," published in Mezzo Cammin: An Online Journal of Formal Poetry by Women, edited by Kim Bridgford. I asked everyone to choose something else from nature as the subject for their poems and to follow Plath's example by using the subject as a springboard into something else. Like Plath's poem, Crooker's has a meditative quality to it. I'm still polishing mine about a centipede.

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