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by Sherdyl (Charlie) Motz

This issue will focus on:

  • Meter
  • Rhyme Scheme
  • Sonnets
  • Sonnet Resources
  • Few Helpful Hints
  • Joining a Poetry/Writing Workshoppe
  • Poet's Spotlight

We'll start with rhymed, metered poetry. Note: you don't have to use rhyme schemes to make it a poem. Its good, however, to start with rhymed, metered verse to get the feel of it and then, if you like, move on to free verse. And remember that rhyme schemes and meter, if badly done, can make for very stilted, forced and boring verse.

METER

The most common meter for the English language is iambic pentameter. An "iamb" is an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable. The pentameter meant metered line of five chunks, in this case 'iamsb". For example, note the following line:

I am * a man * who knows * the world * of verse

Each two words above have an unaccented syllable or word-word first and then an accented one after it or "iambs" and there is five of them strung together. This line, then, is in a meter of iambic pentameter. You will find a lot of English language poetry written in this rhyme scheme, because it naturally flows in our language. You may that a lot of your verse flows in this pattern, even if you don't know what an "iamb" is.

Note the iambic pentameter in this poem by the famous Irish poet William Buter Yeats:

"The Song of Wandering Aengus"

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name.
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossoms in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

If you want to do rhymed metered verse in iambic pentameter, go to the early masters, such as the big four from the romantic period of poetry-Shelly, Keats, Lord Byron and Yeats. Also check out the Dead Poets Circle (Thomas Sterns Eliot is featured where metered verse from the past is detailed).

Other meters are, in brief:

trochee - (accented syllable followed by unaccented syllable), as in the words:

deadline after effort

Anapest - (two unaccented syllables followed by one accented syllable) as in the word or phrase:

intertwine and the moon

Spondee - (double accented word or syllable) as in the word or phrase:

billboard crap shoot

Dactyl - (Accented syllable followed by two unaccented syllables), as in the words:

government multiply

The last four meters are not used near as much as the first, but in the course of using the riches in our language, you will find occasion to use them.

RHYME SCHEMES

Note that in the referenced poem by Yeats, some of the lines rhyme: i.e. lines 2 and 4 end with "head" and "thread"; lines 6 and 8 end with "out" and "Trout". etc. But also note that some of them don't rhyme. He didn't want to force the poem out of its magical feel by forcing a rhyme. There's lots of different kinds of rhyme schemes. You can rhyme the first and second lines, then a different rhyme for the next two, etc. Another fairly common rhyme scheme is to alternate: i.e. the same rhyme words for lines one and three with a different rhyme for two and four, etc. If you are going to do a lot of rhymed poetry, by all means get a rhyming dictionary. In paperback, they are just a few bucks and should be easy to find at a local bookstore.

SONNETS

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Lets combine rhyme and meter in a popular "form" poetry called the sonnet, which is usually in iambic pentameter. The Shakespearean sonnet consists of three stanzas of four lines each, followed by a couplet to end it. They usually rhyme in alternating lines: i.e.- rhyme words ending lines 1 and 3, 2 and 4, 5 and 7, 6 and 8, 9 and 11, 10 and 12, and the ending couplet, lines 13 and 14, rhyming. Lets look at one after its naming founder, William Shakespeare:

"Sonnet No. 30"

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long-since-cancell'd woes
And moan the expense of many a vanisht sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored, and sorrows end.

Notice the iambic pentameter and the rhyme scheme. The language is somewhat archaic, but you get the idea. Here's a sonnet by a modern author, Marilyn Hacker from her book of verse, Love, Death and the Changing of the Seasons.

"Noces"

First, I want to make you come in my hand
while I watch you and kiss you, and if you cry,
I'll drink your tears while, with my whole hand, I
hold your drenched loveliness contracting. And
after a breath, I want to make you full
again, and wet. I want to make you come
in my mouth like a storm. No tears now. The sum
of your parts is my whole most beautiful
chart of the constellations-your left breast
in my mouth again. You know you'll have to be
your age. As I lie beside you, cover me
like a gold cloud, hands everywhere, at last
inside me where I trust you, then your tongue
where I need you. I want you to make me come.

This is a much more modern sonnet. Note the use of enjambment. That is to say, you don't have to have a finished line or phrase end the rhyme, but let the line end with the rhyming word, even though the thought is completed on the next line. Also, she doesn't rhyme every line.

There is another type of sonnet - The Petrarchian. It has two stanzas of four lines each, followed by two stanzas of three lines each. Here is an example of a Petrarchian sonnet by the Nobel Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda from his book of verse, 100 Love Sonnets.

"Sonnet No. 12"

Full woman, flesh-apples, hot moon
thick smell of seaweed, mud and light in masquerade,
What secret clarity opens through your columns?
What ancient night does a man touch with his senses?
Oh, love is a journey with water and stars,
with drowning air and storms of flour;
love is a clash of lightnings,
two bodies subdued by one honey.
Kiss by kiss I travel your little infinity,
your borders, your rivers, your tiny villages;
and a genital fire - transformed, delicious -
slips through the narrow roadways of blood
till it pours itself, quick, like a night carnation, till it is:
and is nothing, in shadow, and a glimmer of light.

The sonnet is an easy way to get into form poetry, rhymed metered verse. Its long enough to say a lot, yet short enough to force you to be terse with your verse. Try a few. You'll enjoy doing sonnets.

SONNET RESOURCES

A few of the great sonnet writers are William Shakespeare (especially his love sonnets),
Edna St. Vincent Milay, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Pablo Neruda (especially his 100 Love Sonnets). For more modern sonnet writers, try Marilyn Hatcher and Kim Adonizio.

A FEW HELPFUL HINTS

I want to end with some helpful hints. If you just want to schlep down some random thoughts and get your emotions out there, that's cool!. But if you would like to become a better poet and write better poetry, try a few of these guidelines.

Write, Write, Write!!

The more you write, the better you will get as using poetic words and verse and rhythm in our complex and beautiful language. Buy yourself a small journal and carry it everywhere and write in it when you get the chance. Write down a scene on the bus or describe an interesting person in a coffee shop.

Read, Read, Read!!

Buy, beg, borrow or steal some good poetry from friends, bookstores and your local library. If you don't know where to start, try the sonnet authors I gave you above and next month I'll give you more about who is great and good models for your poetry. And buy poetry from poets when you get the chance. They are starving artists, too. Write a little more tersely. Let less be more. Yes, you can write lots of wordy stuff and its OK (its called narrative poetry), but the very best poets are sparing and terse with their verse and its more powerful for its brevity. And you don't have to say everything. Leave hints of what you are writing about and let the readers imagination fill in the rest.

Find a class or writing group. If you live in a large town with a university or junior college, chances are high that there's a poetry class available. Put your verse out there for critique. Learn to revise your verse. Put an ad in a local paper for a poetry writing group or form one with your friends.

Find an internet site that has a forum for critiquing. The Empire of Critique is a good place to begin.

Attend local poetry readings and poetry festivals. Get up your courage and read at local readings. Its a very powerful experience. I almost peed in my pants the first time a friend goaded me to read, but afterwards I felt full of pride when several poets came over and thanked me for the poem I read and asked me questions about it.

JOIN A POETRY/WRITING WORKSHOPPE

A great place to try is a poetry/writing workshop. One very good example is Spyder's Poetry/Writing Workshoppe. Criteria is set by the "COORDINATOR" every two weeks. Poetry/writing is submitted to the board - that is voted on by the members of the workshoppe and a new COORDINATOR is selected for the following two weeks and so on. 

POET'S SPOTLIGHT

I'll end my columns with a spotlight on a poem from a poet I love and I want to end my first column with a poem from my favorite poet on the planet, Anna Akhmatova. She was a Russian woman poet who wrote in the first half of this century and is nearly deified in Russia. One thing I loved about her is that Joseph Stalin hated her. During the last half of her life she had to commit most of her poetry to memory because Stalin's secret police were constantly searching her place for subversive verse. She wrote this lovely little love poem at the tender age of 17.

"Love"

Now, like a little snake, it curls into a ball,
bewitching your heart,
Then for days it will coo like a dove
on the little white windowsill.
Or it will flash as a bright frost
drowse like a gillyflower………
But surely and stealthily it will lead you away
from joy and tranquility.
It knows how to sob so sweetly
in the prayer of a yearning violin,
and how fearfully to divine it
in a still unfamiliar smile.

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