As a music student, I was introduced to the concept of musical forms such as the sonata, fugue, or symphony. My teacher felt that a study of form across disciplines plus a study of how to listen would provide a deep education for anyone who pursued that path. I became a better listener of music when I knew more about form.

Fast forward nearly 50 years and I am back in the study of form. This time poetic form. My task this week was to write a poem in a form created by Marilyn Singer called a Reverso. You can read about the form and her poetry here. I have struggled to write such a poem, but I did learn a practice technique that helped me.

First, draft your thoughts.

Next, write words, phrases, or sentences on strips of paper (1 line of poetry per strip).

Then, play with the strips. Change the sequence or tear it in half to make two lines. Discard unnecessary language. Add necessary language or revised language.

Finally, decide on the order that becomes the poem you want to write.


My poem-draft is too rough to share here, but below is a picture of my workspace. This practice technique took away some of the frustration and fear associated with writing a reverso. Maybe it will help you or your students with their poetry!

6 thoughts on “Form

  1. Wow! I doubt my mom has heard of reverso, BUT when she was working on her doctoral program application, she did this similar thing with one of the essays she had to submit. I walked into her office, and she was on the floor with strips of sentences and phrases strewn ALL over the place. I couldn’t believe what she was doing, yet it was so powerful. I told myself I would try it one day, but never did. I love the idea of doing this with poetry – a form I’d love to know more, but am so often afraid of. Thank you for sharing this process!

  2. I love this idea! Now I want to try it with students (and myself!). I love your first paragraph as well–that idea of being able to recognize and understand the form affecting how we can understand and appreciate the whole. It’s making me want to analyze the forms of all sorts of genres now.

  3. Thank you for this piece – something clicked in my mind when I read it. I’ve always been intimidated by poetry, as a reader but especially as a writer. Poem as musical composition makes a ton of sense to me, and the visual of your drafting process gives lie to the myth of “the words just flowing” that I associate with poetry!

  4. This slice shows your committment to learning and writing poetry forms. The strategy you describe and show with the photo show the power of movement to get the lines in just the right length and order. Though you say you struggle, I also sense the playfulness moves made the hard work bareable. Do we get to read the drafted poem?? Maybe tomorrow’s slice! I hope.

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