We are pattern seekers and meaning makers: we cannot escape form. Even a depiction of chaos will be, in some fundamental way, formal. Indeed, chaos is simply the unfiltered and the uncategorized. As soon as I call this bit “this,” and that bit “that,” I have performed an act of creation. We cannot choose to be formal; we can only choose how heavily we lean into it. Seeking patterns and making forms is simply our minds in the work of comprehension. Cognition is a winnowing, a series of choices that constrain. But constraints do not limit us, they free us. We sit down to write a poem: where to start, and where to go from there? Instead of all the cosmos, an endless wordhoard to intimidate and overwhelm us, we merely need something that rhymes with “now”, or three more syllables, or only six words.
I have been attracted to the Hay(na)ku form recently because the constraint (three lines of six words: 1-2-3 or 3-2-1) sits so lightly on the composition process. I may have half-formed ideas, or notes, or single words lying around, and no other place to put them. Thinking of five more words to go with these fugitives, or reworking a phrase to bring it down to the count, is a playful and surprisingly friendly way of working. It’s almost like not working at all. And yet, like all miniaturist forms, it is challenging in a way that long, discursive works are not. As Pascal quipped, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have time.”