The Cleave Poetry Webzine [ISSN: 1758-9223]

What is Cleave Poetry?

Cleave poetry

Cleave poetry is who I am. A dichotomy. I am a Vietnamese boat person, a refugee in England. I am a doctor yet I see death everyday. I am a poet and an artist. I believe there is truth beyond what can be scientifically proven. Cleave poetry is a concept, a poetic form, a doorway – a paradigm shift in poetics opening up an unexplored land.

My life is a dichotomy on many levels, there are many areas in need of fusion and synergy: the East and the West, science and art, science and faith, life and death. I was planning a novel in which two different species on another world needed to communicate, one by light and image, the other by sound and word. From this grew the idea of information fusing to form a synergistic new language. The concept was already within me, it was inevitable – a form without a concept is a barren woman; a concept without a form is an orphan.

I needed a form that was a dichotomy that embodied the concept of fusion and was instantly recognisable as a work of art. For me a good poem should be an epiphany. It should be well crafted, with depth and meaning, not mere entertainment, not the random scribbles of a disordered mind. The cleave form was a logical step – two poems fusing to become a third new poem. Each poem can stand alone, a true poem in its own right. In its most basic form the cleave poem is a vertical stanza on the left hand side, a vertical stanza on the right hand side, and a third horizontal poem which is read straight across from left to right, as though there is no gap between the left and right vertical stanzas. The cleave form is a contranym: at once a fusion of two poems to form one, and a splitting apart of one poem to form two. Not surprisingly interpretations and variations of the basic form, by others, have been numerous, and the form has been ‘invented’ a number of times by other poets in the last decade or two.

Cleave poetry is a new way of thinking about poetry. It opens out onto a land where structure paradoxically allows greater exploration of language, context, meaning. I can say more with fewer words, each word having a greater depth. The concept of fusion inherent in the form invites poets to collaborate. The possibilities are as numerous as the combinations of minds.

The doorway is cleave poetry; it leads to a poetic land where form allows freedom from the old structures, where poetry is synergistic on an interpersonal as well as a personal realm. The concept is relevant to our fragmented world, the form is elegant and flexible: the doorway is open.

(Written for the July 2009 edition of The Firmament)


My thoughts on cleave poetics are being focused and will be made more coherent at some point in the near future. For now here are some links.

What is in a name?
Cleave : is a contranym, a word with 2 opposite meanings:
  • verb 1) split or sever along a natural grain or line. 2) divide; split.
  • verb 1) stick fast to. 2) become strongly involved with or emotionally attached to.

— ORIGIN Old English Compact Oxford English Dictionary

In its most basic form it is three poems:
  • two parallel ‘vertical’ poems (left and right)
  • a third ‘horizontal’ poem being the fusion of the vertical poems read together.
This is a simple and elegant concept, but it is a paradigm shift.

It has been interesting to see the development of the cleave form so far. In less than 2 months cleave poets have modified and made it their own, making cleave in their own poetic image by cleaving in at least these ways:

  1. fusion
  2. division
  3. seeding
  4. co-operating
  5. using cleave as a meta-form
It has been incredible to see the versatility of the cleave form. Something I had not expected, indeed it is very exciting.

As a summary, here are 11 points. These are my current thoughts on cleave poetics.  I will expand on each subsequently. They are for discussion. Please comment and dialogue.
  1. a foundation for creativity
  2. gives freedom to explore
  3. a framework for that exploration
  4. art fused with craft
  5. focuses on multiplicity of meanings
  6. allows simultaneous seeing of the whole and its parts
  7. synergistic
  8. exercise in poetics and linguistics
  9. a meta-form
  10. poetic maturity
  11. communication and dialogue
Finally here are some thoughts for the future:

  • Potential for multiple cleave forms and ways of cleaving including multilingual cleaves.
  • The cleave in education as a tool around which language can be taught and skills honed.
  • The cleave in poetry as a new poetic form.
  • The cleave as a way of bringing people and cultures together.
Phuoc-Tan Diep
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    1. What a great idea!!! I love poetry and so I’m very open to all forms of poetic expression. This one is new to me, and I like it. Very clever.
      I too am involved in the evolution of poetic expression. Together with an internet savvy-associate, we launched a new video site focused on poetry: I’m inviting you and our other members to check it out. It is like YouTube in format, but only focused on video poems or visualized poetry – the integration of poetry with music, sounds and visuals – photos, videos, art and graphics. Please let me know what you think of it. And perhaps, you can post Cleave Poems there too.

    2. Thank you for your kind words.
      I am sure cleave poets will enjoy your site.
      There is great possibility for performance cleaves.

    3. […] is a form that is difficult to describe but some view it as a new and experimental form. See the Cleave website for a better […]

    4. Of course, the danger with cleave, as with any poetry in which the whole can subsume its parts, is that the lesser parts might be subjected to lesser scrutiny than is usual by the poet, on the grounds that the whole will make them work somehow. This happens. I’m new to this cleave stuff, but my suggestion would be to examine closely every element in a cleave poem and ask if it would function as a poem by itself… If it would, then move on to asking how well it all works together, but don’t ever be blinded by the interaction of the parts or the form, and these are very easy things to be blinded by. This shouldn’t be a sudoku whereby people are applauded for nifty wordings; it should have the same exacting standards as any other poetry, and every part of every poem should be able to stand by itself, because that’s how it will be read, not just as a whole that is scanned momentarily, but first as an assemblage, and then in detail. Anyway, I may be talking to myself, as I’m certainly trying to remind myself of this. A true cleave poem is a difficult thing to achieve.

      Happy cleaving to all.


    5. […] other night, I jotted down in my journal an idea for a new poetic form — I thought. The form, cleave poetry, already […]

    6. […] was the second poem written for Read Write Poem Prompt #77: Opposites Attract. I chose the cleave form because it allowed me to juxtapose the two ideas against each other while still having them […]

    7. […] info can be found at The Cleave (including samples) and at the “cleave” entry at […]

    8. […] portion cleave read write poem napowrimo day 14: you want me to write what? write a cleave poem. thanks for the intro nicole to this form. also do stop by nicole’s and take this […]

    9. […] This is my response to the Read Write Poem prompt for a “cleave poem“. […]

    10. […]  I was following the NaPoWriMo prompt written by Nicole Nicholson. She suggested that we write a cleave poem. A cleave poem is actually three poems in one: two vertical poems and the poem that results when […]

    11. […] go with my words and poetry today is the stop n go of my life past and present expressed in fantasy cleave poetry form; photo: butterfly wing, zoom images, […]

    12. […] you; you need to know, Ed is really just a man.___________________ I have never been a man. *The cleave form is two poems fusing to become a third new poem. Each poem can stand alone, a true poem in its own […]

    13. […] as another, and together they read as one. for more information on this relatively new form, see: If you write cleave poetry and wish to post it on here […]

    14. […] used tanka [5-7-5-7-7] and a cleave [for those who wanna know] which was one of the prompts for read write poem april 2010 […]

    15. […] could be an interesting theme for a poem about games. From there I came up with the idea of a cleave poem where on the one hand you could capture the thoughts and experience of a young lad who gets up […]

    16. […] Compact Oxford English Dictionary There seems to be a movement to promote the verse form at WordPress.The 3 poems are written with meter, rhyme and number of lines at the poet’s discretion. The […]

    17. “It has been interesting to see the development of the cleave form so far. In less than 2 months cleave poets have modified and made it their own”

      Oh, please!

    18. […] Click here to learn more about this style of poetry, referred to as cleave. […]

    19. […] OctPoWriMo – Breaking Boundaries Form – Cleave/Table Poem […]

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