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  • Dr.Pragya Suman

Constraint Poetry is a Cage or Liberator?

Experimental Poetic constraint is not a novel thing when we look back. Rhymes, meter, foot, and stanza have been part of poetry. It survived thousands of years. Free verse got accelerated in the early 20th century. Its name originated from the French word Vers Libre. Walt Whitman wrote in free verse mode and some of his poems are in hybrid form, poetry percolating through the prose prism, that is Prose poems. Contemporary constraint poetry began to gain acceptance after the Oulipo movement in 1960. The Oulipo movement explored many experimental fibers, like Lipograms, anagrams, Palindromes, mathematical poetry, concrete poetry, etc. If poetry is a manifestation of deep emotive responses, then the question is “could an emotional response be constrained?” If the answer is pure no, then free verse takes the upper hand. And if yes, then why is constraint poetry prevalent since ancient times? Like fashion, science, and philosophy, which we call newer ventures/experimental ones, come in circles through the ages, again and again. When it comes after a long gap, then we call it experimental. For example, the pattern poems are written in ancient Greek, where verses were designed to form a specific shape, around 300 BC.

We found that reality is great poetry has been conveyed successfully in both constraint and free verse poetry. So it is more wise and practical to accept poetry as an interactive response, instead of pure emotive eddies. For example see, what happens after a thunderbolt/lightning? It is considered safe to crouch down in a ball-like position with head tucked and hands over ears, to be in a down position with minimal contact with the ground. Copper rods are capable of transmission of lightning effect, due to enhanced conductive capacity. Poetic tools, patterns, layout, and arrangements do the same, and they transmit the poetic energy and enhance their effect.

An American Author David Thane Cornell has written a beautiful, witty, and sleek poem, Writing a poem is like picking flowers, and, advocating inner constraint, the irony is that it is composed in free verse.

Writing a poem

is like picking flowers

in a minefield.

Lay down your life


so that the grass,

sharp as syllables,

won’t cut you.

Let your fingers

test the soil.

Don’t tug at the roots.

Seize adjectives

for hostages,

negotiable at the border

between war and peace,

leading you

all the way back

to silence.

Constraint poetry is still prevalent, in different forms, apart from the traditional constraint poetry. The Oulipo movement has metamorphosed its fabric, not it's core.

I wrote this anagram poetry, Kafka Kisses, it was published at first in an Irish JournaL Beir Bua,

It is based upon a letter Franz Kafka wrote to Milena, He writes “KISSES DRUNK BY GHOST” F

Anagrammatic poetry is poetry with extreme constraint form, where letters are rearranged in a specific way to coin a newer form and effect.

Dr Pragya Suman

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