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Poetry inspired by Raqqa II: Relationships between Form and Purpose (Quick Tip)

Poetry inspired by Raqqa II: Relationships between Form and Purpose

By Katherine White, Deputy Director

Frank Stella’s Raqqa II, which belongs to his Protractor Series, captures Stella’s attention to form and its relationship to purpose. While first glance may give the perception of childlike simplicity, his form systematizes the concept of the abstract using geometry and a strict set of procedures. In this case, Stella has methodically drawn on paper and then transferred to canvas a strict system of seven shaped and framed units. These units are explicitly separate, and yet, they are connected as one can see repetition of shape and color across these discrete parts. Ultimately, little is left to chance, and repetition and order prevail as Stella asserts “that only what can be seen there is there” while also exemplifying that discrete parts do and must connect to create a complete and successful whole. 

Poetry Exercise

To celebrate Stella’s Raqqa II and to highlight his focus on the relationship between form and purpose, we are pairing it with the poem “Order” by Randall Mann. Similarly to Raqqa II, “Order” presents ten stanzas, or units, that rely upon repetition and the reordering of lines. Mann also repetitively employs the poetic device of enjambment; thus, Mann’s ten methodically and purposefully repetitive discrete stanzas are separate, but connected just as Stella’s seven discrete units are separate, but connected.

Enjambment is the continuation of a sentence without the pause created by finite punctuation, such as a period or a colon, between lines or stanzas of poetry. Typically, an enjambed line or stanza will not have any punctuation though lines with non-terminating punctuation, such as commas or dashes, may also be considered enjambed:

He loved punched cards,

what thinking has done to landscape —

just a pile of leaves. Sorry to think,

yet not, the pile of leaves

crimson. And it was. Something

orange-brown and dull yellow

had settled, too, undone

1977, that fall, the color


Above, you can see numerous examples of enjambment:

  • The first stanza uses commas and a dash to connect ideas across lines.
  • No punctuation is used between stanzas, continuing a line from one stanza to the next. 
  • The second stanza uses no punctuation at the end of each line and clearly continues into the next stanza.

Ultimately, enjambment intends to create a feeling of continuity and connection across a poem while also aiming to deliver something unexpected to a reader who expects and anticipates concluding punctuation at the end of a line or stanza. Thus, much like the simple lines a viewer may perceive Stella to have created, there is an underlying complexity and a connection between form and Mann’s purpose in “Order.”


Sample Questions for Raqqa II and “Order”

  • What do you see when you look at Raqqa II?
  • How does Stella convey the contrast between the separate and the connected? Think about lines, color, repetition, etc.
  • What main idea or purpose do you believe Stella is trying to convey?
  • What is the primary subject of “Order”?
  • In addition to enjambment, what other poetic devices does Mann use?
  • What does Mann accomplish with each of his poetic devices?
  • Putting together the what and the how of “Order,” what main idea or purpose does Mann convey?
  • What similarities do you see between Raqqa II and “Order”?

Are you interested in expressing your creativity and exploring the relationship between form and purpose? Think about subjects that demonstrate the complexity of being both separate and connected. We invite you to write a poem that uses enjambment across stanzas, creating the same contrast between the separate and connected we see in Raqqa II and “Order.” Share your poems on social media and tag #ncartmuseum.