Sunday, October 25, 2009

Forms: Nested Meditation

One of the “Sleepless in Alliance" overnight poem contests at Ohio Poetry Day introduced me to a poetic form I hadn't previously heard of, the "nested meditation". The nested meditation was invented by an Ohioan, Kevin Anderson (no, not Kevin J. Anderson the SF writer; Keven Anderson the poet and psychologist working in Toledo), who has 76 of them in his book Divinity in Disguise, 2003. (The title is from a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, "Every human being is a divinity in disguise.)

Since then (thanks, google) it's a form that seems to have been picked up by a number of other poets.

Here's a example from Anderson's book:

Do you have the time?

Do you have the time
of your life?

Do you have the time
of your life
or does someone else perhaps?

Do you have the time
of your life
or does someone else? Perhaps
it's later than you think.

Anderson gives the rules of the form in the appendix to Divinity in Disguise, and there are a number of versions elsewhere on the web. In brief, the rules are:
  • The first stanza is a single line that, by itself, forms a complete sentence

  • Each additional stanza adds repeats the previous one, then adds a single additional line, one which changes the meaning of the piece, so that the stanza, with all the lines read together, still reads as a complete sentence. (Or several complete sentences).

  • Punctuation can be changed in a line from one stanza to the next, but not words or word order*

  • Repeat for as many lines as desired.

Done well, each stanza mutates the sense of the previous sentence, changing or even reversing the meaning.
The examples I find scrolling around on the web are, indeed, mostly spiritual in nature, some religious, some meditations about the natural world, some elegies, but all of them more or less meditations, following the pattern Anderson had originally set. Here's one by Sharon Rollins (from Dangerous Love, 2006):

We Can't

We can’t.

We can’t go on living.

We can’t go on living as if nothing has happened.

We can’t go on living as if nothing has happened. War, hunger, despair must be faced.

We can’t go on living as if nothing has happened. War, hunger, despair must be faced with peace, justice, and love.

But the form seems to be one that would be open to other types of content-- a clever poet could, I think, write a quite nice little narrative poem in the form. (Perhaps we'd need a new word for the form when it's not a meditation: one might call it a "nested progression" instead of a "nested meditation" when such works are not meditations)

So, here's my "nested progression" for you, a special for Hallowe'en:

I am.

I am

I am
for your love.

I am
for your lovely

I am
for your lovely
and you have not barred the door.

Happy Hallowe'en!

*In Anderson's rules, he also says that you shouldn't use homophones to mutate the meaning-- changing "there" to "they're" would be a rule-breaker. But then he admits that he sometimes does it himself. So it may be a flaw, but not a fatal flaw.


Greg said...

cool little form, i've never heard of it before. i like that vampire poem... nice ending.

Theresa Göttl Brightman said...

I was intrigued by this form too!

I have trouble writing short pieces, so an exercise like this helps me to condense my thinking a bit.

I enjoyed it a lot.

Maybe when it's not a meditation, just a "nesting poem"?

Kerowyn Rose said...

Very cool. My mind is racing with the possibilities. :-) Thanks Geoffrey!

John Burroughs said...

I like!

Marie said...

I like yours best, of course. :)

Karen from Mentor said...

Loved this Geoffrey. Will give it a whirl asap.

Thanks for introducing me to this very cool style.

ps...just barred the door...[shudder]

Karen :0)

Poetic Genesis said...

I like this! Definitely gonna try it


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau