Ars Poetica

by George Amabile


Robert Frost,

I tell you it’s harder to play

tennis with the net

down. You have to

use your whole

mind, you have to love

the soul of the game

more than personal glory.

From Rumours of Paradise / Rumours of War, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1995, page 30. In addition to being a memorable poet, George Amabile was one of my university professors (poetry). To me, writing without rhyme, if done conscientiously, is just as hard as writing with rhyme. Likewise, organic form in poetry is every bit as challenging as following a set metrical pattern, if not more so. Similarly, if one counts syllables in haiku, that is the most superficial of its disciplines, and not its real discipline at all. I also think of Robert Hass, in his essay “One Body: Some Notes on Form,” where he said “Frost was wrong to say that free verse was like playing tennis without a net” (in Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry, New York: Ecco Press, 1984, 69).