EDITOR'S NOTES: Gardening in Form

Gardeners rarely attempt to create wilderness. We take lessons from patterns in nature, the way the dark green of heather curves against a sea of feathery lupine. But a garden, unlike a forest or wilderness, should yield partially to our attempts to find pattern.  Gardening is a kind of overlay of concept onto a nature that defies comprehension.

For poets, the mere act of translating our inchoate impressions into words is already a pruning and ordering of perception. From there, how do we cultivate what we have planted?

We have a lot of decisions to make – especially where to place our work along a spectrum from “natural” to “formal”. Almost anywhere along this spectrum has its beauty – from an unmowed lawn sown with wildflowers to the raked artifice of a Japanese stone garden. Form may rule and constrain, but it also can simplify, and dignify the simple. Form is a trellis along which we train a poem, so it will be both compact and fruitful.

But then what happens to your formal garden when a leaf falls? Some advocates of form would have you remove every single improvisation– and then your garden will not achieve its own beauty. With a poem too, we can fall into a sterile obedience– diluting meaning for the sake of a rhyme, infilling words simply to follow the required meter.

A tension between form and reality, between the concept of the garden, and this year’s unruly flowers, informs poetry as it does gardening.  While we strive toward form as a way to understanding, we must also yield to the flowering of impulse and imperfection. We trim our words. We leave a few twigs fallen.

Roberta P. Feins, Issue Editor

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