Writing Poetry Using Invented Forms | John Davis Jr. | Skillshare

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Writing Poetry Using Invented Forms

teacher avatar John Davis Jr., Florida Poet and Educator

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Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

5 Lessons (31m)
    • 1. Introductory Trailer

    • 2. What is Invented Form?

    • 3. Invented Form Poetry 1

    • 4. Invented Form Poetry 2

    • 5. Invented Forms - Final

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About This Class

In this class, we'll learn how to invent forms of our own for poetry. This will allow us to experience the creative liberty of writing while abiding by rules and structures we have decided upon as individuals. 

Meet Your Teacher

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John Davis Jr.

Florida Poet and Educator


Hi! I'm a seventh-generation Floridian with deep roots here in the Sunshine State. I write poetry predominantly, and I've received quite a few awards over the years. My four books are Middle Class American Proverb (Negative Capability Press, 2014), Hard Inheritance (Five Oaks Press, 2016), The Boys of Men (chapbook by Kelsay Books, 2014), and Growing Moon, Growing Soil: Poems of my Native Land (self-published). I currently teach English, Creative Writing, and Literature at the university level, but I teach what I most love here on SkillShare: Poetry! I hope you join me on this journey. 

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1. Introductory Trailer: Hello again, students. I'm John Davis Jr and I'll be your guide to writing poetry with invented forms. Now, perhaps you've heard about other forms of poetry likes on its villain, L. Sistine as even Pan tunes. But writing poetry in invented forms gives you the permission as the author to have a little creative say so over how your poetry will be broadcast to the world. You'll see how that becomes true through the next few videos, and I hope you'll join me for that path as we encounter it together. I look forward to having a good time with you, and I look forward to seeing your finished product when you complete writing poetry with invented forms. 2. What is Invented Form?: as we begin thinking about creating poems with invented forms or open forms, One of the things that we might want to focus on is the creative process that goes into this. Now, if you've been to other videos of mine, excuse me, you will notice that I have intended for learners to gain access to an entire poetic process that is somewhat prescriptive but also just autonomous enough for people to make their own. This is similar to that in that when you are creating poems with invented forms, there is a kind of structured autonomy here that could be very helpful. Taking a look at the beginning of this, you'll notice on the slide that we have in front of us. There are several benefits to using invented or open forms. The first of these that you see there under Bullet Point number one is that invented forms allow you to really be creative within a self imposed structure. The benefit of this is that you don't want to your poetry to go too wild or too crazy. You want it to have margins. You want it to have boundaries and borders, and if that is indeed the intent of the poem itself. Certainly there are times when you want to be wild and crazy, and you just kind of want the words to go all over the page. But open forms allow you to create a bit of a container for your thoughts, and that is often very hopeful to poets. Toe have some rules in place were to have some kind of boundaries that they can think about and work within. Open forms also give you the opportunity to really get dynamic with language. You are allowed within your own invented form to do all kinds of interesting and wild and crazy things. But that interesting and wild and crazy stuff is still contained. It is still kept within certain margins, and we'll talk more about that a little later on open forums. Finally help you connect with those poets who have come before us, those poets that we admire and who have been canonized or who may be contemporary voices that are truly admirable. And I'm sure that if you're watching this instructional video, you probably have some poets of your own that are really near and dear to your heart and that you admire deeply using an open form can often help us emulate our heroes. And that way. So here, just a few ways you might want to consider inventing full. Let me begin with this caveat. You never want to invent rules for your poem before attempting to write the poll. What do I mean by that? You don't want to sit down at your writing desk and say to yourself, Today I will write a poem that will only have I am Victor Transmitter or today I will write a poem that will only have five lines, and each of those five lines will contain X number of Cem syllables or X number of images or anything of that nature invented form happens organically invented form is one of those things that occurs quite naturally whenever you are writing and you realize and you see that, yes, indeed, this poem seems to be taking on a certain shape where it seems to be taking on a certain mode of expression. So as you're looking over these, hence, bear in mind that these air not starting points, these air merely tools that you can use once you see the poem developing so Let's begin with Saleh Bix. Each line could have a specific syllable count, much like the haiku has five than seven than five. You could if you wanted to determine a certain number of syllables that each line should have. And sometimes this is helpful. Let's say you're writing a poem that has a lot to do with the seventh of a certain month. Okay. Ah, well say December 7th. That's a pretty famous date, and if you don't know why, it might be beneficial to look that up. But December 7th, if you're writing a poem about that, maybe you want each line to have seven syllables as a parallel to the topic itself. That might be one strategy to use. Another way to invent form is through the use of stanza placement, and you see how that has been defined here on the slide. Instead of the poem being left or right or center justified, the poem kind of moves its stanzas around, and sometimes that is done for effect. For instance, if you have a poem about a journey about a quest, maybe you want one stands out to the left and then one in the middle kind of like an island and then one over to the right to indicate progress. There are all kinds of interesting things you can do with stands is I hesitate to say, right shape, poetry or right concrete poetry because so much of that turns out to be just terrible. Poet sometimes think they're very clever, and so they'll write a poem in the shape of a footprint or they'll write a poem in the shape of an apple. And then the shape itself becomes distracting from the content of the poll because your reader looks at that on the page and says, Ah ha an apple or look here This is a footprint. And so they focus more on the visual instead of on the addiction on the scan shin and the porosity. And all of those are the things that we want them to think about. So even though concrete poetry and shape poetry has a place, beware of it turning into a cheap trick. You certainly don't want that to happen. Another tool to use when you are inventing form is that of white space. And you see here on this slide that white space is often used for pauses to give a poem a certain shape or to control the readers pace, and this is really commonly used. Now I've noticed more and more contemporary poets tend to insert great white spaces in their stances, and sometimes that works. And then sometimes here again, it's kind of a cheap trick. It's kind of, ah, gimmick of sorts, so just be aware of that. Finally, another way to invent form is to borrow a known form like a sonnet or assess Tina or any of the other forms that you see listed here. And then you change it slightly. Or maybe you change it a great deal, whatever your need is. So as you're writing this poem and as it occurs to you that you know it seems to be playing by these rules, it seems to be taking on this form. Maybe you want to take a look at some previous forms that have had similar rules in place, and you want to work with those you want to modify those to your own needs. So let's talk about what the poem requires for just a moment when you are writing the invented form, a poem some things that you can begin asking yourself is to start with what line length is best if we're talking about subject matter, that is very abrupt. If we're talking about subject matter that is forceful or even violent, it seems counter intuitive to use long flowing, graceful lines. Certainly you might want to steal a clue from our prose writer friend Raymond Carver and use short bursts of language to indicate the severity of whatever it is you're talking about. That's just good practice. Now, if you want to be ironic and you want to give the other direction with that and kind of be humorous and satirical, that's a whole other discussion to have. But considering line length is something that all good poets do. You might also want to ask yourself if rhyming words just happen to be showing up. My good friend and personal poetry mentor Peter Meinke will often sit down to write a poem , and words that rhyme will just start weaving their way into what it whatever he happens to be writing. And that then is a signal to him. It's kind of a red flag that he should probably take those rhyming words and think about how they might be used in a form poll, even if it's an invented form or an open for do certain words or images keep coming up a little. Later on, I'll show you a poem of mine that was published in Louisiana literature. Thank you, Editor Jack Fidel. And it is entitled Creek waiting with a young son on. When I was writing that poem, the word that kept coming up that was truly irreplaceable in context was the word water. And so each stanza of that poem ends with the word water, and it isn't terribly noticeable at first. When you're reading the poem, you don't really even realize that every stanza ends with that word. But then, of course, on second glance or third glance, as you're looking at it more analytically, it becomes pretty obvious. It becomes pretty apparent. Finally, is there action occurring that could inform your addiction? Another poem that I once wrote had to do with three little blonde girls who were at a community playground and they were on the swings and they were back and forth, of course, as one ISS when they're swinging, Um, but the kind of very stark, obvious poetic contrast was that this park was actually on the site of a former battlefield of a Florida war between Seminole Indians, Native Americans and then American troops. And so the history of that place and kind of the ghosts of that place, in contrast with the freedom of childhood play and all that that encompasses really spoke to me. And so the poem itself actually mimics the action of swinging. Now it doesn't go back and forth across the page, nothing quite that trite. Ah, but the meter and the rhythm of the poem itself certainly could indicate the rhythms and motions of swinging. So that's something else to consider, as you were inventing a form as you are coming up with a form to place your poma into. One thing I want to hit on this slide is the third bullet point first. Actually, as the poem begins to form, you really want to avoid too much self editing because your goal is to keep that creative flow. Your goal is to continue writing in such a way that your processes uninterrupted and undisturbed. Now, as that continues, you can begin to ask yourself these two questions that are at the top Does this poem need more? Does it need less? And, of course, the question we always ask of anything we write is is every word intentional? The reason we do that is because if you have words that are just their words that are fluffy or unnecessary, that's not what poetry is about. Poetry is about power at any time. You have a word that detracts from power than what you have. There is something that is diluting your message, and you don't want that. So next up on our agenda and our next video, I'm going to show you an example of the Enzo, which is an open form and invented form of my own, and you'll begin thinking about how you can make your own open form poems. I am hopeful that by the time we're done with this session that you will have a poem of your own written in an invented form that you yourself have originated. I'm looking forward to that point and let's move on to our next section 3. Invented Form Poetry 1: for this portion of our discussion on writing poems and invented form, I want to take a look at just the first stanza of this poem. The farm poets lament This is a poem of mine. It is written in an invented form or open form. Now the thing about this is it is the longest poem I have ever written. You're only looking at the first stands at the whole poem is about 61 lines, which is not long for some poets. But for me, that's a lot of words. I want to look at just the first stanza because what is happening here happens throughout the poem with the exception of the very last stand. And I'll explain that a little later. We spoke before about how you can use celeb ICS and how you can use stands a length to invent forms. Noticed the first stanza here. Here 1000 spirits no longer know you. Your hands are those of a sleek urban stranger. What good are words to this land? They fertilize nothing water even less They are shabby tributes toe love of the few and the gone. They cannot kill weeds. They cannot resurrect son paled azaleas or hard crippled crops, oranges like knotted fists, shake and hot wind. Will these words increase the sugars and our fruit? How will harvest measure their value and price? What gain will come to the coffin like mailbox? Now, as you listened to that first stanza, you probably heard something that sounded a little bit like iambic pentameter. But not exactly. That's because each line in this stanza has 11 syllables. You will notice also that in this stanza there are 11 lines. That is because the poetic form that I invented for this is the owns. Oh, now, for those of you who speak French, you know that owns is the French word for 11. And in the tradition of other poems, like the villain L. The Suffolk's L, there simply seemed to make sense. And so we have the owns Oh, um, 11 lines of 11 syllables each. So I continued this pattern. I continued this invented form throughout this poem, and it allowed me to frankly think a little bit more about what I wanted to say, and in the way I wanted to say it. Let's take our frame down to our next stanza, and we'll take a look at this one as well. Notice how the owns l form continues. Language must make more meaning than memory. There's also a great deal of a liberation in that line. No versus ever fueled a red tractor. No meter except for the rain gauge matters. Legends and legacies implore Do something So you fritter away these withering hours with weak legged theories and sounds of spoken breath until the greatest concert in consequence arrives. Oh, laureate, what produce have you produced? Where is the trailer loaded with goods You've done semi trucks pass on the road outside, but none of them carries your relevance. Minor scribe. So again, we have 11 lines have 11 syllables each and it is a continuation of the theme that was begun in the first stanza that IHS, what good is poetry that question And then, of course, that answer as well, when you consider farming and when you consider agriculture and you consider the notion that those produced things that people can consume and that are necessary for life. Then you look at an activity like writing a poem, and you begin to wonder what is really going to be beneficial about this activity. Let's see if the poem ever answers that question. We'll go ahead and we'll, uh, move down to our next portion here and that will allow us to take a look at some, um, some furthering of this idea. Give me just a moment here and we'll move on down to our next stanza, if at all possible. Here we go. All right. So our next stanza that you see here reads You cannot don the elders hat or garments thinned by riel works friction Too much and too rough Keep scribbling, you lost and shiftless creator No shade, no comfort, no luxury purchased by ancestors passages over and through these long middles and noonday labor. So you Oh, petty and pitiful poet could then document their sin Use and sweat with your sloth. Be not arrogant, you dark academic, for your learning is pathetic amid this demanding farmland drought ID by your letters. So the speaker is holding himself or others like him accountable for, um kind of not necessarily living up to the standards or the legacy of those who have come before. And as you see here in this brain, I had to do a bit of ah, break in this stanza. But it is still in 11 line stanza, and each line in it has 11 syllables will take a look at it and see where the poem is taking us here. It it mourns for one whose hands no till and welcome the blister of ache and of making your precious literature is not commerce. It is not fortunate Syllables won't raise leaves or limbs and silent green hallelujahs. So why shed these markings like old score corn snake skin? They await small breezes of traveling feet to blow away. They're brighter. The excuse may to blow away. Their brittle, crisp scales returned their empty expense to failed soil, adding some foreign and needless element that arrives too little, too late anyway. Eso the accountability continues. The holding accountable of the person doing the writing continues. Now we have a little bit of a shift. We have some seasonal things that have been included here and some meteorological things to add some diversity to the poem. Rain is coming, even it works. Falling fills the groove with renewal while you imitate its rhythm into words, but everyone knows it sound. You search for the new in the common, Lay down your pin. Oh, fiddler and go secure the barn. Make ready the fisher filled homestead for the good pounding you could never provide. Ah, house spider spends its silk in the corner, dry as your head and paper. In this shelter, thunder unrolls like cursive through heavy clouds. Hand you straighten lightning into proper print again, 11 syllables on each line and 11 lines total. Now notice how this last stanza breaks from the pattern and how it does so Intentionally. Dying trees rattle and wag damp finger bones and brittle points of blame and shame accusing as you scratch and plot to your finite wondering eyes. The rain still foals. The land goes on without you. Every serif bears a tiny sharp tooth severing heritage, so noticed that this last stanza is not 11 lines long. More over. The last line of this stanza is not 11 syllables, and it has done that way intentionally. This has to do with the severing of heritage, and because of that, you'll notice there is a discontinuation of the pattern that has been established, and it has done that way on purpose to indicate that severance to indicate that separation from the ideas and the notions previously presented. So this is a good example of how you might construct an invented form. You can use a lab ICS you can use stands the length, and you can bring these together to create a form of your own tan to allow yourself a little bit of creative flexibility in the writing of your poetry. So hopefully you got something out of this will take a look at another example of an invented form here very soon, and you can model that conservative model for your own work as well. 4. Invented Form Poetry 2: for our next to last video in the syriza about invented or open forms. I wanted to point you to a problem of mine from Louisiana literature again. Thank you, Editor. Jack Fidel for including this one in issue. Uh, well, Volume 36 issue issue one. I suppose that it's this is Creek waiting with a young son on. I'm gonna go ahead and will zoom in here just a little bit so that you can see this poem on DSI, the invented form at work here because, as you can see from the page here in front of you, at first it doesn't appear to be in any particular form. It doesn't appear to be a sonnet or a villain l or a Sistine or a pan tomb. And yet there is still a governing dynamic at work here. Let's go ahead and move into this. Arriving by bike, we know to whisper like the woods this streams soft trill and the winds slow Travel through pines drowned the drone of highway lanes beyond the palmetto Franta hands opening toward water predator provider. This anonymous tributary takes and gives alike has are four bare feet. Bring clouds from its white sand bottom swirling, rising residue stir south settles back beneath water. Your passage here disproves ancient philosophy. I am the nameless man who stepped in the same time twice, thanks to your smaller, faster filling tracks. My deeper plunges do not slow this aging water and sunlit pockets along the dark patched course shadow fish, dart like memories. They're gone. But we have neither hooks nor bread today, so black scales brush our foreign ankles underwater. Your sunken twos discover some animals rib and like a tribesman, you lift it, fling it forward. It skips ripples, holes in two distant points before rocking and sinking and new familiar water. So the informing governing dynamic of this poem, as you can see by looking at each stands. It is the fact that each stanza ends with the word water, and in that way the poem itself becomes like a creek. It becomes like of moving body of water, and since this poem is in fact about Creek waiting with a young son, that dynamic creates a certain degree of parallelism. It creates a certain degree of the poem of being like the matter that it is speaking off so This is another thing you can do with invented form. This is another trick you can pull out of your bag of tools for poetry and our final video . What will take a look at his one other example of a poem that employees invented form before I set you loose on your project of creating an invented form or open form poem of your own? Let's move on. 5. Invented Forms - Final: our final example. Oven invented form poem comes from my 2016 book, Hard Inheritance, although the poem I'm about to show You first appeared in a literary magazine called The Longleaf Pine. And they published this bowl, which is entitled River Rescue and again I'll zoom in so that we can have some productive discussion of this piece. As you can see, this piece has an epigraph at the very top, and it's a line that high borrowed out of the Boy Scout handbook. I don't remember which one it was. It was very Old Boy Scout handbook, and this was the line that I lifted To save a troubled swimmer. He must first analyze the situation and used one of four methods in the order below. Now, whenever I was in scouts, they were still teaching this the Reach throw row go method of saving a troubled swimmer. And so you see those words out here to the side, and then each stanza address is one of those words or matches up with one of those words. That's what makes this an invented form. That's what the informing governing dynamic of this piece is. So let's take a look at this. Um will take a look at the page and see how this played out. See how this invented form played out here? River Rescue. To save a troubled swimmer, he must first analyze the situation and use one of four methods in the order below. The boys get handled. Reach are prepared. Influence did not sway radar e the one footed boy in our troupe Leaving his boot shaped prosthetic on the bank. He sidled into the Nanto Kayla through tossed like a stone unloosed, he flailed against current the dark scar tissue nub scrubbing white bottom sand as he tumbled in gurgles and screams toward grey rocks Row peddling and scrambling Three of us battled that fast and rapid laced water to seize his whirling arms. Then futile Ors beating s O s into the churning, turbulent brown Go No, you stay. We told him on shore You can't swim. Stern lectures from pale drained faces. Who left him there heaving lung fulls of evergreen air as he reattached his artificial foot . So this was based on an actual event. There was a boy in the scout troop that I was in as I was becoming an Eagle Scout, and this actually did occur myself. Had a handful of other boys at the time had to pull him out of the net. A Halo River. We weren't quite as mean as these guys in the last stanza. At least I don't remember it that way. Maybe we were. But this incident has You can see this piece of life actually generated a pretty decent invented form poem. What I'd like for you to do now is I would like for you to think back on some of the invented forms that we have looked at. Think about some of the tools and tips and techniques that have been recommended. And I would like for you to try your own hand at creating an invented form pool. And, of course, you can post your finished products here on skill share, as we normally do on feedback will be provided. Good luck. I wish you all the best and thanks for tuning in