Pencil and Ink
During the winter of 2017, I was revising a poetry manuscript and had begun exploring different poetic forms. I wondered if some of my older poems could be spruced up by turning them into sonnets, villanelles, ghazals? My muse, being supportive said, “Sure, give it a go.” I began by using a quatrain from Anne Carson’s “Beauty of the Husband,” I created my first-ever glosa entitled “How Love Settles”, and it was published in the Literary Review of Canada.
Was I hooked from the start? Yes, but it had nothing to do with that initial glosa publication. That one felt more like an illicit affair, an obsessive love-trance with another poet, dead or alive—whom I’ve anonymously admired. For me, each line of a chosen quatrain acts like a door that “my poet friend” opens, but I don’t always appear at their front door. Sometimes they let me in the back way, and I exit the side (translation: you write the fourth stanza first and the second stanza last). I might even stand on the porch, staring at their front door for ten minutes or two days. Once—two months, but that longest of waits turned out to be perfect. When I finally wrote that particular glosa, words magically appeared on the page as if they were conjured. Because I’m the designer of each of my glosa-houses, I must choose the locks (translation: lines) carefully. Occasionally, they don’t work.
Nevertheless, that’s another exciting aspect in writing glosas—choosing the quatrains. Once the glosa is completed, I can feel the sheen of my poet friend’s brilliance, washing over the floors, ceilings, and kitchen of my grateful self and our poetic house. By the time I’m ready to show up at the next poet’s door, I’ve already used ink for each line of the quatrain in a ruled journal, spaced accordingly and leaving plenty of room for the other thirty-six lines to build the glosa. In my world, the majority of a glosa can only be written in pencil.
Four years later, I’m back to writing free verse and prose poems, but every time I think I’ve written my last glosa, another one starts playing a seductive tune in my head. I’ve written close to fifty glosas, though, I would have to admit that some were not that great, nor was the journey free of bumps; in fact, there were some downright crashes. However, what has become a delight, is how easily many of the glosas can be converted into free verse. The form lends itself to internal rhymes. Take away the quatrain—its presence often like jumper cables needed to jolt your car battery to life (translation: confidence, imagination, a start)—and you hear these words afterwards, purring at you from the page: “Yes, that’s exactly the poem I intended to write.”
Carla Hartsfield is a poet, singer-songwriter, piano teacher and visual artist. She has had three poetry collections, the most recent Your Last Day on Earth (Brick Books). A chapbook titled Little Hearts was released by Rubicon Press in 2016. Three glosas from a completed ms. of form poetry have appeared in LRC, Grain (2019) and The Dalhousie Review ( January, 2020). Carla is a recipient of a grant from the Writer’s Trust Woodcock fund. She is also recording a second album of original songs titled Last Chance Dance.
Photos courtesy of Carla Hartsfield.