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Turnabout is Fair Play

There is a poetic device that many people aren’t familiar with. It has several names:

  • Volta,
  • Pivot,
  • Turn of Thought,
  • and other similar names.

Let’s just call it the pivot.

Many experts consider the pivot a requirement for a sonnet. It is a change in direction of the thought at some point in the poem. There are many different types of sonnets, and the pivot may come at various points. For Italian and most other sonnets, the pivot occurs between the octave and the sestet. For English sonnets, it can occur anywhere after the end of the eighth line up to the beginning of the thirteenth.

There are also many forms called sonnets that some experts say aren’t sonnets for one reason or another. There’s the curtal sonnet, which is only ten-and-a-half lines, although it is divided in two parts like the sonnet, and can have the pivot. The Heroic sonnet is eighteen lines and is divided into either three or five parts. A pivot is generally not seen as a requirement for the heroic sonnet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have one. The terza rima (diaspora) sonnet, blues sonnet, and a few others are primarily considered sonnets because they have fourteen lines. They do not generally require a pivot.

But enough about sonnets, the interesting thing is the pivot. There are other forms that require some sort of turn or surprise at the end: Little Willies, left-handed poems, and surely some others. It’s an interesting way to plan a poem.

For a poem with a pivot, the trick is to decide where you want to end the poem first. Then figure out what would be an opposite, or nearly opposite starting point. For instance, say that you want to tell a lover how beautiful her eyes are. You might start from some opposite track, claiming that you won’t be captured by some other glorious feature:

I shall not be captured by your sweet kiss,
although it has me in furious grip,
with dark cherry wine the taste of your lips,
soft and tender and full of promised bliss.
While all the world in this might seem amiss
as time in ecstasy wanders and slips
feeling effects of a mind-numbing trip,
still must I your kissí power dismiss.
For long ago was I captured by eyes,
deep wells of darkness so discontented
with previous beauís dark and nasty lies.
I found in me a heart newly-minted,
and a life suddenly leaden with sighs,
seeking your dark orbs like one demented.

The use of the pivot doesn’t have to be limited to a particular form or set of forms. It can even be used in prose poems, or free verse. So, even if you’re unlikely to ever write a sonnet, you can still use the pivot. So, get out there and swing that thing.

Happy writing!

The Gnostic Poet


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