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This review is taken from PN Review 237, Volume 44 Number 1, September - October 2017.

Cover of The Meaning of Form in Contemporary Innovative Poetry
Hilary DaviesWhat is the Wind Doing? Robert Sheppard, The Meaning of Form in Contemporary Innovative Poetry (Palgrave Macmillan), £66.99

What is poetry? What is a poem? Is this a poem?

Well, it could be. It has both form and content. It uses a variety of tried and tested poetic devices. It scans. It asks questions, which some might consider profound, about how we use language to produce an effect in and on the listener; in latter centuries and amongst the literate, the reader also.

But we needn’t stop there. You could, if you wanted, set it to music, sing it, project it onto a wall or some other flat surface, mould it in papier mâché or another medium of your choice, cast it in metal and even write it in water. You could tweet it, with a hyperlink to PN Review, perhaps. You could re-arrange the questions to highlight the emphases in a different way. You could ask a completely different set of questions. You could replace the word ‘poetry’ throughout with ‘banana’, or with ‘pogge’ or ‘pogonic’. Or none of the above, but just think about having done them, and note how they change your attitude to the original poem. Or set of questions.

Now, these are neither team building away day ideas nor exercises in facetiousness. They, and analogous activities, crop up periodically in Robert Sheppard’s collection of essays The Meaning of Form in Contemporary Innovative Poetry. Here’s an example by Stefan Themerson, a riff on the children’s rhyme ‘Taffy was a Welshman’, which Sheppard helpfully glosses for us as ‘(racist)’ (brackets his):

Taffy was a male ...


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