Court—a droigneach

(The following is taken from a thread on the blog of the poet Cynthia Jobin  https://littleoldladydotnet.wordpress.com/)

According to my favorite Book of Forms (Lewis Turco, 1968)….DROIGNEACH (pronounced dray-ee-nock) is Irish. Syllabic. A loose stanza form. The single line may consist of from nine to thirteen syllables, and it always ends in a tri-syllabic word. There is rhyme between lines one and three, two and four, etc. There are at least two cross-rhymes in each couplet. There is alliteration in each line—usually the final word of the line alliterates with the preceding stressed word, and it always does so in the last line of each stanza. Stanzas may consist of any number of quatrains.
The poem (not the stanza) ends with the same first syllable, word, or line with which it begins.
A possible scheme:

Lines: syllables and rhymes:
1. x x b x x x x xxa
2. x x x x a x x x xxb
3. x x x x x b xxa
4. x x x x a x x xxb
5. x x x x x d x x xxc
6. x x x c x x x x x x xxd
7. x x d x x x x x x xxc
8. x x x x c x xxd
etcetera.

Notes on the Process

I asked someone I know, a translator called Neil Patrick Doherty, who is studied in the Irish language, what droigneach means. He told me it means ‘thorny’. Very fitting. I don’t know if this is because the form is a thorny one, or if it ends up turning the poet thorny?
One of the first things I thought when tackling the droigneach was, what can I get away with? I needed to make room for myself, to maneuver in my function. I have cheated by giving myself the option of hinging rhyming words both on their alliterative as well as assonant potential & of course, its use as a full end/start rhyme. This provides options, which is something desperately needed in a form as formidable as this. In addition, this opens up the form to more interesting acoustics & halts the dulling of the scansion, where the perfect fit of words becomes more a matter of getting the fit, rather ingenuity coming into the process.
My subject too had to be one that wasn’t simply there to be experimented on. I don’t like this idea & wanted the poem to mean something. I chose law, love & divorce; I think the context is clear enough that I don’t need to spell it out. In addition, law & love become metonymy for form & function. The theme of movement, freedom & imbalance applying in my mind both to marriage & poetry.
“In my beginning is my end.” This is problematic as the opening 1st or 2nd beats must rhyme with the final tri-syllabic beat of the 2nd line: xbxxxxxxxxxa / xaxxxxxxb. However, because the opening must be repeated at the end, it must be tri-syllabic too.
I had shot myself in the foot here as I had already devised the ‘eternal / cubicle / nuptial / eternal’ rhyme scheme for the 1st & 4th verse. My remedy for this was ‘movable’, which was assonantal with ‘overcast’ & end rhymed with ‘nuptial’. It further had functional usage, the relation between ‘eternal’ & ‘nuptial’ with ‘movable’ within the context of the subject, should be clear. This solution, also made the opening line flow nicely, establishing the subject & opening up maneuverability. Is this cheating? If it is, I am bloody proud of myself.
Before all this, there was the matter of tri-syllabic end rhymes. This is actually quite a hopeful point about the form, as tri-syllabic words are abundant. I am not ashamed to say I used a rhyming dictionary for this, but only because I had most of my rhymes already & wanted to make sure there weren’t better rhymes & also to finish off my rhyme sets. I don’t even know why I am apologizing, as thesauruses, dictionaries etcetera are all just tools there to be used.  
The cross rhymes I decided to loosen & I acquiesce that some are questionable. The ‘Korea’/ ‘her hair’ might arguably be a more tacitly sonic slant end rhyme, & may be questionable; as is ‘curious’ & ‘odours’, although I personally think this works nicely. I was loath to omit function for form here & no matter how much I tried I just couldn’t fix these. It worked to my advantage on ‘acacias’ & ‘a cue to kiss’ though. The major hurdle really is the cross rhythm. It really is cumbersome. You can easily trip up here & lose in tackling this hurdle, the movement of your function.
I haven’t tried to continue the last line of each verse with the beginning of the next. I have allowed each verse their freedom.
Without my little cheats, I don’t think I’d have enjoyed writing this as much as I did; it is the effort to find the tweaks, which is really pulling apart the mechanism, which makes using difficult forms worthwhile to me.
I think poets have largely abandoned form because they concern themselves so much with function, which has usurped form to become the formal principle. However, it doesn’t have to be the case that function & form cannot coexist in the belly of a formal poem. To avoid the imbalance, it takes immense concentration. I have been working on this all week, sitting at my computer replacing words, maneuvering the scansion, all while paying mind to how the poem’s meaning might be more effective.. Before typing it, I filled 6 heavily scrawled pages in my pocket notebook, then a further 4 in my manuscript sized notebook & I have lost count of the minute iterations on the computer. & while I may not have a perfect poem (when does that ever really happen?) I have something I know has been worked out, it has balance & is in some part unique for being attempted & wrestled into being.
People write feeling toned free verse all the time without criticism, & when we do attempt to criticize it, there is a canon of popular poets who have popularized the form, so we end up without a leg to stand on & the correct backlash is probably to call this snobbery. I am not saying free verse cannot be musical, nor that it isn’t credible, only that there is a reason it has usurped verse forms & while one of them may be that the freedom it offers, makes for better poetry, it has also made it easier to write poetry, in that the shape of the poem becomes organically through the developmental expounding of function. This is attractive. It invites the poet to take full control of their poem from the inception. But I’d argue that, to be better at free verse, would be to understand the mechanics of various forms & have them at your disposal. There is nothing really hindering you then from developing your own shapes as well as borrowing from tradition. That would be truly free.
So I forgive myself for finding solutions to as stubborn a form as this, I hope you will too.
It isn’t perfect, but I’d be very impressed to read a droigneach poem, which manages to balance form & function in the way that a poet might with the sonnet, or even a strict form like the sestina or villanelle. The sonnet allows for immense freedoms compared to the droigneach.
While I recommend any serious poet should attempt this, I don’t know as I’ll be returning to it in a hurry.
Without further ado, here is Court.

Following Jobin’s model my poems structure looks as follows: 

xxxbxxxxxxxxa
axxxxxxxxxxxxb
bxxxxxxxxxxxa
axxxxxxxxxxxb

xxxxxxxxxxxxc
cxxxxxxxxxxxxd
dxxxxxxxxxxxxc
cxxxxxxxxxxxxd

(You get the idea. In fact, you might say 'I've stored' is
in sonic relation to the 'd' rhyme scheme: 'curious' & 'odours'. & further,
the 3rd verse beginning 'In felt' is alliterative to 'uniting' & 'us: noting'.)



Court

We make laws movable, then ask, if love’s eternal? 
Etiolate men hand forms out to sign; overcast
weather pastes these grey panelled corridors—cubicles
collect years of error, processed by bureaucrats.
 
I’ve stored this memory: our stroll beneath acacias
—a cue to kiss: a symbol on a door, curious
odours. May-warm, she wore white linen, loose; Korea
her hair & skin, she said the sign was ‘just cultural’.
 
In felt seats, divorcees fidget, whispering,
waiting, while the judge, divided, our annealer,
annuls our coupled tensions, one thing uniting
us: noting the mistake in picking one another.
 
He asks our names, to confirm we want the annulment.
So it went…we closed what opened nuptial
—nodded, then the judge stamped our document.
Not being obedient, we make laws movable?

15 thoughts on “Court—a droigneach

  1. I’d say three cheers Daniel! Well done! Actually, perhaps only two cheers since you acknowledge cheating – just a little, as I did last week. However, you took the right decision to place function before form, so one cheer for that, and wrote a poem with something thoughtful to say (another cheer for that) and achieved a composition that sounds wholly natural and unforced (another cheer again). So altogether five– no, let’s give it six cheers!

    1. Cheers John. I am pleased with it actually. I aimed to write a poem, not an experiment. I think my cheats made it a poem, because it allowed me to infiltrate the form with my own voice, otherwise I think I’d have written something for the sake of it.

  2. You, sir, are a fooking nut! And you should be damned proud of this piece – it’s a hell of a poem, Daniel. Function over form, indeed. Dunno that I’ll try it. My feeble mind would likely combust. Stephanie L. Harper? This seems right up your alley!

    1. Well thank you ever so much. Definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever written.
      I think Stephanie would definitely enjoy trying it. I think mine has combusted so that now I am working on a poem about a man left at the end of the world to burn anything remaining so there is no trace of humanity.

  3. A thought-provoking piece, Daniel. Human laws are curious things, a barrister once told me that natural laws are more difficult to deal with. And the rush to simplified decisions, which sadly happens in the natural world as well. These questions of style, of care or not with certain details, have always been a bit opaque to me: they appear in many many fields apart from poetry, although I’ve noticed that in the Arts, as opposed to the Sciences, there is more fascination with the past.

    1. Insightful comment Steve. I can’t pretend to know anything about law. I was however, in this instance stunned by the brevity. I have always felt the institute of marriage bizarre. Why should law render love more exact, why is it the watermark of commitment when it is so easy to dissolve the law part, but regardless the love part may loiter in some aspect; especially when the reasons are more complicated than just an absence of love. I think the law end up oversimplifying love in this case. I think despite the difficulty in the study of law, perhaps it is oversimplification that enables it to have structure. I really don’t know, I have no understanding at all.
      Laws exist in poetry but there is a choice to follow or not. The law I suppose is a choice, a man murders out of choice, or may do. The man knows it is against the law but still does it. I think casuistry is a use of the past in law. Looking at the mechanics of an old case in regards one being dealt with.
      This is a messy reply, I am all over the place.

      1. Thanks Daniel, and if you’re all over the place, it’s only because I was all over the place to start with.

        I agree, and yes, the law needs to be simple, for juries apart from anything else. I don’t know much, just from contacts, and I’ve done a bit of expert witness work. How much you can pay your team of attorneys seems to be very important. Possibly the legal system (including for divorce) works best when the parties agree. And it’s some sort of deterrent at least.

        Yes, I think the most common Western legal system is based on precedent, but amusingly, Latin Law, that I know about at least, is not. Contradictory decisions can be made and it’s no problemo.

        Anyway with natural (scientific) laws, Gaia is the judge and jury; expensive barristers, lies, and meaningless points of law will not help. And I’m afraid we’ve already lost the case. (Sorry, even more messy.)

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