October 24, 2019

Invented Forms: A Square Poem

Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) in an 1856 self-portrait 

I have lived in the free verse world for most of my time writing poetry, but every once and awhile I like to work in a form. That is also true of the prompts that appear on Poets Online.

Though there are plenty of established forms to choose from, poets still like to invent and modify forms.

When I decided to do my own poem-a-day project for a year I looked at a number of short forms but ended up with my own invented form that I called the "ronka."

Paul Szlosek has a website, Paul's Poetry Playground, that features many unusual forms, established and invented, along with poetry quotes and other topics poetic.

Recently, he wrote about the "Square" poem. Paul says that, as is sometimes the case, two or more poetic forms will share the same name. That is the case with the square poem.

"One version often referred to as the ‘classic’ square poem is simply a poem in which the number of syllables per line is equal to the number of lines. In the other variation, the line length is counted not in syllables but in words (isoverbal prosody), the amount of words in each line being the same as the number of lines."

The square is sometimes attributed to Lewis Carroll of Alice in Wonderland fame.

These poems can be read the same vertically (from top to bottom) as well as the conventional way from left to right. Some are written with 6 words in 6 lines, but it can also be 4 words in 4 lines or any number.

Here is one written by Carroll:

A Square Poem

I often wondered when I cursed,
Often feared where I would be—
Wondered where she’d yield her love,
When I yield, so will she.
I would her will be pitied!
Cursed be love! She pitied me.

Here is Paul's take on the 6×6 square poem.

Past Confessions

What I did not admit then,
I do not remember that well.
Did not you once say “please
not remember”? Once you would not
admit that. Say, would you believe?
Then, well, please not believe me.

The Lewis Carroll square poem could be any length, but Paul recommends maxing out at 6×6. Starting out, you might try a 2x2 or 4x4, as he does here:

Instructions on Grieving

Don’t mourn the dead.
Mourn the love lost,
the love left unclaimed,
dead – lost, unclaimed possibilities.


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