The Pendragon Papers (7): Three American Forms

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Allen Ginsberg

America! America! America! A vast mixture of basically everything with deep cultural roots into the little island off Europa call’d Britain. History declar’d it an English speaking sphere, & thus its poets will be speaking in English, although Gaelic poetry was compos’d in the beginning, such as this lovely (translated) lullaby of exile, compos’d around the Cape Fear area of the Carolinas, in the 18th century.

Dean cadalan samhach, a chuilean a ruin
{Go to sleep peacefully, little beloved one}

We are now in America
At the edge of the never-ending forest

All alone in this place where my grief
Cannot be heard;
Wolves & giant beasts howling
In the land of Rebels where we have
Forsaken King George

Ever since Anne Bradstreet’s adorable, ‘A letter to her husband, absent upon publick employment,’ there has been a serious roll call of successful poets from America. On a personal level, The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe is perhaps the greatest poem in the language; Whitman’s Song of Myself is stunning; Longfellow’s ‘Hiawatha’ trochaic tetrameter is hypnotically evocative; the Beat Poets show’d the world the true capabilities of Free Verse, while updating Bohemian living for the modern world; some of the Harlem Renaissance stuff is also very cool, & I like Richard Hugo too, he’s fascinating.

In bardic terms, it the contribution of American poets to the art that is the most important. In this essay I have identified four of these forms, which the rest of the poetry world may codify & then employ; all of which can be distinctly discernible with the eye, & all of which have their own rhythms & rules.


In 2019, Jericho Brown publish’d a Pulitver Prize winning collection entitl’d The Tradition, which contain’d a number of what he call’d Duplex poems. These are a griffinic blend of sonnet & ghazalian couplets, with seven couplets forming a whole. Each couplet then has this fascinating system of repeating words & sentiments, where the first line of each couplet echoes & mirrors completely the last line of the previous. The very last line of the poem then echoes the very first. An example reads;

A poem is a gesture toward home.
It makes dark demands I call my own.

Memory makes demands darker than my own:
My last love drove a burgundy car.

My first love drove a burgundy car.
He was fast and awful, tall as my father.

Steadfast and awful, my tall father
Hit hard as a hailstorm. He’d leave marks.

Light rain hits easy but leaves its own mark
Like the sound of a mother weeping again.

Like the sound of my mother weeping again,
No sound beating ends where it began.

None of the beaten end up how we began.
A poem is a gesture toward home.

The idea is reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s Ulalume, the opening stanza of which reads;

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere—
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year:
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir—
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Jericho’s excellent innovation came from the period just after he’d recover’d from a very serious dose of the flu, a near-death experience which produc’d the following epiphany;

Once I began to get better, I got proof again that I am a poet. I mean that I went about trying to do many of the things I had been planning to do in, through, and with poems. And I gave up a good deal of sleep to do it… which, by the way, is not advisable for getting over the God damned flu. I didn’t run to get in a relationship or to try and finally see the Grand Canyon. I all the more wanted to use the time which now felt more precious to sit my ass down somewhere and write the poems of my life.

Meditating on the {traditional crown of sonnets sequence} as a series of couplets with something murdered between each line led me to think more about what the ghazal manages through the juxtaposition of the two lines that make up each of its couplets.

I hadn’t written a thing and had no idea where to start and was fascinated by the fact that I was in the midst of inventing a form starting with the form itself and not with a single line of poetry. But it felt exhilarating to know I was doing so much of it unconsciously.

The poems became more whole and revisable when I saw in them the need for tonal shifts made possible by the blues lyric. Starting at the fourth line, every other line of the poem aims at “incongruous humor that…becomes ironic laughter mixed with tears.” The blues allowed for a poem that we teachers like to describe as “voice-y,” which is to say that the poems begin to take on more personality in those moments. I think this becomes clear in some of the other duplexes published in that same issue of The American Poetry Review (in which the repetition present in the form lends itself to association and metaphor in some duplexes, and to narrative in others):

I decided to call the form a duplex because something about its repetition and its couplets made me feel like it was a house with two addresses. It is, indeed, a mutt of a form as so many of us in this nation are only now empowered to live fully in all of our identities. I wanted to highlight the trouble of a wall between us who live within a single structure. What happens when that wall is up and what happens when we tear it down? How will we live together? Will we kill each other? Can we be more careful?

Jericho Brown


The stagger’d form of Ginsberg’s ground-breaking, revolutionising ‘Howl’ poem basically looks like this;

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by

          madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn

          looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly

          connection to the starry dynamo in the machine-

          ery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat

           up smoking in the supernatural darkness of

           cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities

           contemplating jazz,

who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and

           saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tene-

           ment roofs illuminated,

who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes

           hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy

           among the scholars of war,

who were expelled from the academies for crazy &

            publishing obscene odes on the windows of the


I mean, I don’t really need to rattle on too much about this form – just take a deep breath of poesis, then exhale, like a jazz musician blowing into his saxophone, unmeter’d, unrhym’d & elongated sentences of the best possible word play, dividing these exhalations into steps of neat aesthetics. Possessing the ability to sail one’s stream of consciousness will probably help, here. To be more Ginsbergian, one could indulge in filling each breath with the three-phased tridiacal mimesi, created by William Carlos Williams as his “solution to the problem of modern verse.”


This form I have named after a poem by the prolific (8 books of poetry & counting) Andrea Brady she call’d ‘Post Festen e.’ It seems to me an evolution of the Howl form, as can be seen at once with the eyes in the opening of the poem given below. The steps are chunkier let’s say, & the contents less jazz, but I sense it is quite a universal form for all poets to have confidence in of creating something quite, well, good.

Post Festen e

thanksgiving seasonal 9i

Trim me down to pad and bone like the

beef I am, I’m wet behind my left ear and

stockpiling myself in bites, here’re carcasses

brought down on bobsleds for our lowland

                feeding frenzy. How the table’s set

                 thus. How one multiples identity,

Sheer stupid luck would have it, I’d end up

one of 282 million Americans, golf, not so crazy

about, not so crazy about Shell, terminator seeds

all that. Found like a basket of nickels

on Maw & Paw’s doorsteps I carried them

                around the exurb all my days.

                I wasd able to think little of food.

Oily fish, granted. B-complex, granted. Too many

units of sugared piss, granted. That old dilemma spit or

swallow. More plates comin’, so cinematic.

Calf and mustard, niceley rotated, pitch in

with your outmost fork & you won’t be

               disappointed when old blue

               devil wanders up from the south

My family ate some, not doubting the strength

of conviction that broke over my hand

like the last chicken bone of my life. In my natural

aggressions against fruitless people, I bought a

New York twin who stalked luscious like that

                display at Dean & Deluca, better

                yet at Wakama, new vintage.


I have only given three forms in this paper, there are countless more to be both compos’d & codified, according to the collective taste after due experimentations. Just as Jericho Brown’s Duplex has roots in the 14 line poems composed at the Court of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, in the Sicilian city of Palermo, perhaps posterity will be able to trace poetry compos’d in the year 3000 to the Howl or the Post Festen forms moulded in the 20th century. Onwards & upwards, deeper & daring, let poetry continue its regal procession.



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