Introducing … the Shardling

And now it’s time for the third of our three invented forms, created by my mid-week masochists: the Shardling.

As I mentioned in the post about E Whetu, all my students for this course really seemed to enjoy forms that make use of a line or lines from another poet. My role was to steer them away from existing forms, and to try to help everyone shape their ideas into a set of guidelines to follow. And, increasingly, to make sure that their form didn’t duplicate what the other groups had come up with!

For this one, they wanted a challenge, some rhyme, and a sense of their form being a definite response to the borrowed lines. We started by grabbing a random line from another poet, and staring at it for a few minutes – in the first instance, the line was But oh those of you who are not really me at all – from Julianna Spahr (from “Tradition“, which you can read on the Poetry Foundation website.)

But what were we going to do with it?!

  • Borrow a line – of any length – from another poem.
  • Chop the line up into pieces. The bits can be phrases, or clauses, or single words.
  • The number of pieces determines the number of lines in your shardling.
  • Each piece of borrowed line ends each line of your shardling, in the order which they appear in the original poem.

Shardling on a line from Julianna Spahr

I wanted to break the mirror, but oh
each tiny price reflected those of you
and absent friends who are not
really absent, and not really me at all.

Shardling on a line by Adrienne Rich

In the forest, there’s a place between
you and me, separate as two stands of trees
with just enough light, where the grass
survives, and the bramble grows uphill.

I recognise that the three forms we came up with are all quite similar – take a line, and use bits of it. So they feel to me like first cousins, or possibly even sisters. But then there are lots of forms that share larges chunks of their DNA – think of the tribe of forms that sprang up around the rondeau – rondel, round, rondelay …

The question will be which form (or forms) survive – go on to be seriously used by other poets. Which doesn’t mean they can’t be used for comic poems, but the use of the form itself should be an un–ironic choice, and something done with good will. That‘s what will determine their ultimate worth. Explore their contours. Find out what they can – and can’t – do well.

To which end … did I mention that I’m contemplating putting on a competition?

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