Editor's Note — Constraint


In truth the prison, into which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

—William Wordsworth, from “Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room”


The term “constraint” refers to conditions that have been imposed externally – by literary form, or personal, cultural and historical circumstance. Constraint might be viewed negatively, as limiting, but to the artistic mind a constraint can function as a dare that raises the creative stakes, a spur to the imagination, an invitation to play a more complex game.

To our surprise, this theme provided an encounter with the height and breadth of literary creativity. In some of these pieces, form plays an essential role, enacting a specific technical constraint and exploiting its historical accumulation of meaning to establish new significations. Other pieces engage constraint as a theme.

We were overwhelmed by the ambition and playfulness with which writers responded. Whether it was through traditional literary forms (sonnets, sestinas, ghazals, haikus, centos), personalized word games, constructs borrowed from other fields, or simply outrageous variations on the theme, we received an outpouring of wild human spirit. We feel privileged to share with you the many ways that words can be used to express that which is beyond words, how human experience can be recreated over and over.