Formalism and “Assimilation”

In the spirit of the formalist poets of the twentieth century, I sought out to attempt to make form a valuable trait in the poem I wrote for this week’s blog post. The formalists argued that by moving entirely away from form, so much so that most of the top poets of the era were hardly even able to write within formalist structures, there was something in poetry that had been lost. Maybe it was the inventive ways to use the English language, capitalizing on its generative qualities, it’s aural potential, or it’s alliterative powers. Maybe it was the ways that form could enable narrative or could lend itself to reader engagement/comprehension (from the rhythm of sounds, beats per line, the meter, or whatever). Or maybe it was simply the loss of traditional modes that the Formalists felt so urgently lost. They argued that, by so fully abandoning form, the other poetics of the era essentially became the orthodoxy in poetry, an irony that seemed lost on those most ardent opponents of formalist poetry. Whatever the reasons, the Formalists certainly felt something was missing in poetry, and their conclusion was the use of form. I tend to agree with some of their reasoning, and in reading some of their positions on formal poetry, I gained a deeper appreciation for what they were attempting to do. Gioia thought the world needed innovation (both in form and in free and blank verse), that good poetry was good poetry regardless of its structure, which makes perfect sense to me. Sure, sometimes rhyme schemes can sound a bit nursery rhyme-ish, but when done well, there is something to be said about the expectations a reader enjoys when recognizing a pattern in meter and rhyme scheme that can be used in interesting ways, something that is largely nonexistent in some of the other works of the era.

Anyway, I am on board with these Formalists. I thought, in the spirit of the Formalists, perhaps my best contribution to the blog would be an endeavor in formal poetry. The resulting poem is called “Assimilation.” Taking the theme of losing valued tradition, I began with the concept of my family’s journey from Italy to America (coincidentally, around the time a bunch of these formalists poets were beginning to produce poems… or being born).  Then, as a way I thought might be clever to represent the change in culture, I decided I would begin the poem with the Italian quatrain rhyme scheme (abba) and then shift to the English quatrain scheme (abab) whenever I brought the family to America. I also thought it would be best to write this poem in iambic pentameter. Ultimately, I decided the poem should be a bit constrained (even futher), so I didn’t fully realize the shift in rhyme scheme that I had in mind at the outset, but it still seemed to fit. Finally, in order to add that additional constraint, I decided to create an acrostic poem, which is where I get the title. It may be cheesy, but there it is. I wanted to try to use form in an interesting way, but I am certainly not an expert in form, nor do ever claim to be a poet. So, forgive me if I’ve gotten everything wrong here.




A long time ago, my family left

Sun-soaked southern Italian shores, with hope

Swelling within them, an immigrant trope

Indeed. They sailed across the sea bereft,


Mourning those left behind, their homes, their lives,

Insisting better futures lie ahead.

Landed—tired, poor, huddled, nearly dead—

At Ellis Island, thankful they’d survived.


That was long ago. Much has now been lost.

Initially, our name was changed, then went

Our language, then Pop-pop. We all feel lost.

Now I sit with my computers, absent.


2 Responses to Formalism and “Assimilation”

  1. Kathleen C October 5, 2022 at 9:54 pm #


    I really enjoyed this post! I think what you did with form here was so clever, with the Italian quatrain rhyme scheme shift to the English quatrain rhyme scheme. That’s a great example, I think, of taking a traditional form and then tweaking it a bit to make it work for you. I think Alvarez touches on this briefly in her discussion on sonnets, but Sonia Sanchez puts it really well when she says “you can use form and you can make it do what you want” (197). I think you statement “felt something was missing in poetry, and their conclusion was the use of form” is interesting. Again referencing Sanchez, I think this fits in with her philosophy on teaching form to her students as a way to bolster their own free verse writing in that free verse also has form and by adding in these formal constraints, the free verse writing becomes stronger as well.

  2. williamss11 October 5, 2022 at 10:10 pm #

    This poem is really clever! It feels innovative in the spirit of the new formalists. I kind of wish it were longer, detailing more of the journey or the changes seen once in America. You do a good job of integrating the theme with the acrostic form and your use of rhyme scheme to represent change and loss in tradition. You are able to present a narrative that feels so personal. I do agree though that good poetry is good regardless of structure.

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