Introducing … E Whetu

Time to dangle another invented form in front of you.

For reasons that made sense when I started, and felt like an advanced degree in self-flagellation as the weeks wore on, I ran three separate groups for my Rhyme & Reasons class. The Belissima was the product of cheese before bedtime my Saturday group, and my first foray into the world of collaborative form-creation.

In all three cases, we started by discussing what they had particularly enjoyed over the five weeks, and why.

Somewhat to my surprise, all three groups really enjoyed the forms that had us using someone else’s lines in some way – the sense of making connections with poems you love by other people was the most commonly cited reason. So you will notice that theme playing out as I reveal these forms to you. They largely left it up to what remains of my poor brain to warn them if they were too close to an existing form, but did seem to really enjoy the process of playing with restraints and suggesting tweaks as we went along.

The form that was born from the fever-dreams of my Sunday group is … E Whetu. Whetu means star in Te Reo Maori, with the E being an intensifier (or so I was told – my Reo is pretty rudimentary), but also sounds very like whitu, which means seven. So this form works with a guest star – the borrowed line – and is cued on seven. Seven lines, in fact.

  • Seven lines long, in any meter.
  • A borrowed line forms the title.
  • The borrowed line is broken into three parts (phrases, words, or whatever takes your fancy).
  • Each of the three parts must appear each of the first six pairs of lines – one in each couplet – in reverse order. (Not in the final line.)
  • There is a cross-rhyme requirement, with the end of each line rhyming into the middle of each subsequent line.

The Mind was Built for Flight

For flight of sparks, making fire leap
from a heap of sawdust –
or clay, or lost flesh – it was built
unthinking. Guilt is unbounded,
voiceless, wounded. Crafted.
The mind is grafting into a burning
brand. We are earning our light.

The title here was borrowed from Rhina P Espaillat’s Ovillejo, which I came across in Lewis Turco’s The Book of Forms (University Press of New England, 2012). We split the line into the obvious components – the mind / was built / for flight – and had some fairly energetic discussions about options for our cross rhyme requirement.

Again – and I know I’m biased, but – it strikes me as a pretty decent little form. The example poem was drafted in about half an hour, with all of us weighing in with what we thought worked and what didn’t, and tweaking the guidelines we started with into rules. So there’s an amount of word-salad to it – it sounds decent, but if I put my editing pants on it gets a bit wobbly. But on the other hand, this is a newborn. It was conceived, gestated, and delivered in a ridiculously short amount of time. As with the belissima, I reckon this form could actually work beyond the confines of a Sunday morning during lockdown.

Time will tell. (Or keep its mouth shut. You never know with time.)

2 Replies to “Introducing … E Whetu”

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