Contrapuntal is a poetic form that interweaves two or more poems to create a single poem that can be read in multiple ways, depending on how the poem is designed on the page.

History of Contrapuntal Poetry

Contrapuntal comes from the Italian word contrapunto, which means “pertaining to counterpoint” and also “backstitch.” The poetic form is inspired by contrapuntal, or counterpoint, music, which is defined as the use of multiple independent melodies playing simultaneously with an equal weight where no melody dominates. Examples of contrapuntal music range from Baroque to jazz arrangements.

It is unknown precisely where or who was the first to have the form extend from music to poetry; however, Russian novelist and symbolist poet Andrei Bely is noted for employing the contrapuntal form and devices of music in his long poem Pervoe Svidanie (1921). Contrapuntal as a poetic form re-emerged in the twenty-first century with poets such as Tyehimba Jess, Tarfia Faizullah, Sarah Cooper, and Brian Bilston.

Structure of Contrapuntal Poetry

The theme varies, and there are no structural constraints of meter, which is defined as the measured pattern of rhythmic accents in a line of verse, or rhyme. The key feature of contrapuntal poetry is how the poem appears on the page, thus holding similar visual characteristics of concrete or shape poetry, as well as postmodern aesthetics.