Examples of Invented Forms – Easy to Replicate!


In Toward the Hanging Tree, Mercy’s poems contain questions directed at her by some of the other girls or young women, and Mercy’s responses to these questions.  Call and response? That’s one way to think of these poems, although a more traditional way of thinking about Call and Response poems is when one poem instigates others to write poems “in response” to it.

“Mercy Is Afflicted” takes place when Mercy falls gravely ill after a person she accused of witchcraft, Mary Esty, is allowed to go free. Mary Esty’s status as a witch seems doubtful. Even the girls accusing her expressed a bit of doubt (addressed in the poem following it), but Mercy continued to insist that Goody Esty was guilty of witchcraft.

The form I invented for this poem is a two-line question followed by a one-line response from Mercy, with five three-line stanzas or tercets making up the complete poem. The responses consist of very brief phrases. The end word of the question rhymes with the end word of the response. Since Mercy is fevered and somewhat “out of her head” during this time, the responses suggest this—as if spit out with great emotion but not so much sense.

Look at the first stanza for reference:

Mercy, oh Mercy, your teeth do chatter so—
are you cold?
Cold, cold. Should never have told.

An earlier Mercy Lewis poem “Mercy Lewis Sees the Signs” also uses the technique of questions and responses, but the form is a little different.  In this part of the narrative, Mercy presents herself as a sort of expert on the signs of witchcraft, and some of the other girls question her anxiously.

In “Mercy Lewis Sees the Signs” I use separate stanzas for the questions and answers, the questions filing two lines and the responses from Mercy taking up three lines.  Within each three-line response stanza, the end words rhyme.  I also tried to make sure that at least one person’s name was included in each response.  Each of the two-line question stanzas contain Mercy’s name, to emphasize that they are addressed to her. You can see how this works in the first two stanzas:

Mercy, what say you about witches?
What has the talk been, and what do you know? 

Last week Jeremiah Bray’s cow jumped four feet in the air.
Anne Russell near fell into the fire; pushed by an enchanted chair.
A broom was lodged high in the Parris’s apple tree. Who put it there?

To differentiate the speakers in these poems, I use italics for Mercy’s voice.  I do like the use of repetition and rhyme for a subject matter that might be associated with chants and incantations, but this format could be used for a variety of topics.

To try one of these invented forms, think of two people, characters, or groups that might interact. Make one person or group of people question the other. Then try one of the patterns described above, or invent your own form.