Art & Culture

Making sense of shape and form

Sridala Swami
Sridala SwamiDec 05, 2015 | 14:14

Making sense of shape and form

This month I'm thinking of shapes and how they affect our perception of the world around us. The verticality of the big metropolis, the (deceptive) placidity of a slowly-winding river, the intricate accommodation of all kinds of shapes in machinery, the abstract logic of the motherboard, the curves and angles of a musical instrument - all these shapes and designs are markers of lives and how they are lived.


If something appears to be formless the human instinct is to give it shape. The night sky, scattered and overwhelming as it can be (when it is visible in our light-polluted times), is given shape and narrative through constellations. Shape and form associate themselves with meaning, with making the world discrete, comprehensible and not to be feared.

In effect, we all walk around with a metaphoric empty frame within which we attempt to fit what we know and can make sense of.

As with the world, so with art: whether it is painting or sculpture or poetry, line and form are essential in a quite literal sense; figuratively also, language can't seem to do without the idea of shape. Whether it's shaping the mind or predicting the shape of things to come, it appears that shape is the very skeleton of our being (oh wait - that's not even metaphoric!)

This month, I'd like you to think of shape. Think of concrete poems, certainly, and form and how it looks on the page. But also think of what shape means to you. What kind of shape? Do you mean size when you say shape? What object do you think of when you think of just shape and what comes to mind when you think of a particular kind of shape?


Think, also, of things that you don't usually associate with shapes: emotions, seasons, sensations - do you unconsciously give them a shape? Do you anthropomorphise them? How does that work?

Make the idea, the concept, of shape central to your poem, in whatever way your imagination allows. You could describe an abstraction but give the poem concrete shape on the page. You could attempt a form you never have before. You could describe a shape unfamiliar to you, or assume unfamiliarity in your reader and attempt to relate it in terms that would be comprehensible to them - describing the alphabet to a child learning to read, for instance.

Your poem can be playful, abstract, philosophical, curious - anything at all, so long as it has a purposeful shape. Figuratively speaking.

Here are a couple of concrete poems to give shape to your ideas: "Easter Wings" by George Herbert and "Sea Poppy 2" by Ian Hamilton Finlay.

Keep your poems under 20 lines, title it and send it as a Word attachment to thesidewaysdoor@gmail.com by December 20.

Last updated: December 05, 2015 | 14:16
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