I’ve used “ephemera,” the fancy word for pieces of trash, for years to dash off a note, line, or poem. What I did not know was that it wasn’t my clever idea. Or my generation’s…or the generation’s before them. I write on napkins and receipts when in a hurry. Emily Dickinson appears to have used envelopes and scraps from notes. Imagine though…Emily Dickinson, the queen, the reason I use the dash—and she writes like me. *dramatic sigh*
Now, this matters because of shape and form. Dickinson’s “Letter Poems” as scholars call them, must have been thought out beforehand and/or the shape must have influenced the brevity and form of the verse. Below, is the picture of “In this short life.” It is a triangular shape that seems to be the flap of an envelope. So—if you do not have a bill from which you can spare the envelope flap—I will provide a form that you can fit in your poem.
J1287 – In this short Life
In this short Life
That only lasts an hour
How much — how little — is
Within our power
Now, what does this form cause? It brings a funnel effect and for a killer poem, the poem must end with a killer word. Think of the most pressing image or question on your mind. Mine is trying to fit everything in a day—sunrise to sunset—how do I do it? That right there will not fit the space. And let’s not even count if I get all “poetic.”
So, take your first thoughts, write them down, and then cut unnecessary words. This is an excellent lesson in revision in one of the most visual ways possible. When your poem/question fits, what word does it land on? Is it vibrant and echoing? That is precisely what you want. One long line funneling into a powerful word.
The Second Example is “One note from one Bird.”
One note from
Is better than
a Million Word –
holds need has –
Another triangle, but at a different angle. What does this version hold for form? It seems in Dickinson’s there is still a very powerful end word and one that resounds with history. This shape allows for a longer line almost directly in the middle. Arguably, this is the turn, so it was most likely partially planned. For our purposes, let’s devise our longest line first and our last word and build backward.
What word did you end on and what was your middle line? Was it a turn in the poem, flipping back what came before? The comments are burning for you to type in!