Invented Poetry Forms – The Octameter


I wish to thank Linda J. Wolfe for introducing me to the octameter poetry form which she posted as a writing prompt on her online Wolff Poetry Literary Magazine. The octameter, originally invented by Shelley A. Cephas, is a 16 line poem consisting of two stanzas of eight lines each. Because of the name, one might expect the form to be written in octameter (lines of eight metrical feet), but instead, each line consists of 5 syllables apiece. The rhyme scheme is rather complex – xxabxbxb cxacxcbb (x representing non-rhyming lines).

I was so intrigued by the form I tried writing one right away and submitted it to Linda’s magazine for a poetry contest she was running. To my utter amazement, it was selected as the winner! The poem, which was not submitted under my own name but my WordPress account of a photoblog that I also run, was published on Linda’s site. However the version that was originally posted, I later discovered, was altered somehow (either by an electronic glitch or editorial choice) with changes to some of the words and line breaks resulting in a violation of the strict 5 syllables per line rule thus disqualifying it as a true octameter. So here is the original version which follows all the rules and can serve as a model if you do decide to try your hand at writing one:

Seasonal Disorder

Like a schoolyard fad,
Summer always fades,
leaving you to mourn
the loss of its light.
Please try to ignore
now premature night,
dying greenery,
fields shrouded in white.

Your thoughts, dense as lead,
weigh your spirits down.
Your body’s so worn,
it won’t rise from bed.
Old snow forms black scabs.
All songbirds have fled.
Spring, nowhere in sight,
is late (just for spite).


10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Dylan Thomas


“A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape of the universe, helps to extend everyone’s knowledge of himself and the world around him.”

“What I like to do is treat words as a craftsman does his wood or stone or what-have-you, to hew, carve, mold, coil, polish, and plane them into patterns, sequences, sculptures, fugues of sound expressing some lyrical impulse, some spiritual doubt or conviction, some dimly realized truth I must try to reach and realize.”

“The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps… so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash or thunder in.”

“I like to think of poetry as statements made on the way to the grave.”

“If you want a definition of poetry, say: Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing and let it go at that.”

“Poetry is the rhythmic, inevitably narrative, movement from an overclothed blindness to a naked vision that depends in its intensity on the strength of the labour put into the creation of the poetry.”

“Reading one’s own poems aloud is letting the cat out of the bag. You may have always suspected bits of a poem to be overweighted, overviolent, or daft, and then, suddenly, with the poet’s tongue around them, your suspicion is made certain.”

“The best poem is that whose worked-upon unmagical passages come closest, in texture and intensity, to those moments of magical accident.”

“I make one image—though ‘make’ is not the right word; I let, perhaps, an image be ‘made’ emotionally in me and then apply to it what intellectual & critical forces I possess—let it breed another, let that image contradict the first, make, of the third image bred out of the other two together, a fourth contradictory image, and let them all, within my imposed formal limits, conflict.”

“Don’t be too harsh to these poems until they’re typed. I always think typescript lends some sort of certainty: at least, if the things are bad then, they appear to be bad with conviction”

— Dylan Thomas


National Clerihew Day

firework 2s

I am so psyched to discover that today is National Clerihew Day!
To celebrate, here is a brand new clerihew I just wrote to mark the occasion:

Edmund Clerihew Bentley
never suspected evidently
the form he invented would have its own day
celebrated in the (good ol’) U.S. of A.


D.I.Y-ing Machine

I love looking up odd, different and wacky national days. It helps you learn a lot of random information, like the clerihew.

July 10 of each year celebrates National Clerihew Day in the United States.  

  • Edmund Clerihew Bentley created the whimsical, four-line biographical poem.
  • The first line is the name of the poem’s subject, usually a famous person put in an absurd light, or revealing something unknown or spurious about them. The rhyme scheme is AABB, and the rhymes are often forced.

Edmund was a 16-year-old student when he thought up the lines for his first ever clerihew.

Sir Humphry Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odiumOf having discovered sodium


On National Clerihew Day, try writing a clerihew or two of your own! Make sure they follow the rules mentioned above.

Post on social media using #NationalClerihewDay.

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Invented Poetry Forms – The Expanding Definition Poem


No doubt about it, the expanding definition poem is probably one of the most obscure and offbeat poetry forms I have ever come across. The first and only time I ever read about it was in a forgotten issue of The American Poetry Review probably sometime in the late 1990s. There doesn’t seem to be a trace of its origin or even existence now anywhere on the internet. It is extremely simple and fun to write, seeming more like a weird writing exercise than an actual poetry form. What makes it so unique is that this form practically writes itself. To begin, all you have to do is choose a single word, any word at all. Then you look up that word in the dictionary and write down its definition. Selecting certain words from that definition, you replace those words with their own definitions. You just keep doing that, substituting words with definitions (editing as much as you like) until you are satisfied with the results. And that’s it, you have written an expanding definition poem!

As an example, here is a poem I wrote expanded from the single word “laundry” when I was asked to give a poetry reading at a local art gallery as part of the opening of a photography exhibit on the colorful clotheslines of Venice, Italy:

(An Expanding Definition Poem)

A particular spot in space,
A place, a building where
Garments, wearing apparel,
Or bedclothes, i.e. sheets,
Blankets, pillowcases, etc.
Are freed from any filthy
Substance such as mud,
Dust, excrement by compounds
Of fat or oil with an alkali
And a transparent, tasteless liquid;
The essence of rain, rivers, lakes
And so on, then liberated from
All moisture or wetness,
Dampness dispersed
By the process of evaporation
Before being made smooth
With pressure applied by
A heated instrument or utensil
Usually composed of the most
Abundant and useful
Of the metallic substances
That cannot be chemically
Interconverted or broken down
Into a simpler particular kind
Of real physical matter
With uniform properties
And possessing a tangible,
Solid presence.

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Robert Graves


“There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting.”

“There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money, either.”

“Every English poet should master the rules of grammar before he attempts to bend or break them.”

“The poet’s first rule must be never to bore his readers; and his best way of keeping this rule is never to bore himself-which, of course, means to write only when he has something urgent to say.”

“Fact is not truth, but a poet who wilfully defies fact cannot achieve truth.”

“To be a poet is a condition rather than a profession.”

“No poem is worth anything unless it starts from a poetic trance, out of which you can be wakened by interruption as from a dream. In fact, it is the same thing.”

“If I thought that any poem of mine could have been written by anyone else, either a contemporary or a forerunner, I should suppress it with a blush; and I should do the same if I ever found I were imitating myself. Every poem should be new, unexpected, inimitable, and incapable of being parodied.”

“I don’t really feel my poems are mine at all. I didn’t create them out of nothing. I owe them to my relations with other people.”

“A perfect poem is impossible. Once it had been written, the world would end.”

— Robert Graves

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Muriel Rukeyser

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“No one wants to read poetry. You have to make it impossible for them to put the poem down–impossible for them to stop reading it, word after word. You have to keep them from closing the book”.

“All the poems of our lives are not yet made.”

“Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry.”

“I remember mother saying : Inventors are like poets, a trashy lot.”

“The process of writing a poem represents work done on the self of the poet, in order to make form.”

“The truth of a poem is its form and its content, its music and its meaning are the same.”

“The ‘idea’ for the poem, which may come as an image thrown against memory, as a sound of words that sets off a traveling of sound and meaning, as a curve of emotion (a form) plotted by certain crises of events or image or sound, or as a title which evokes a sense of inner relations; this is the first ‘surfacing’ of the poem. Then a period of stillness may follow.”

“If there were no poetry on any day in the world, poetry would be invented that day. For there would be an intolerable hunger.”

“The universe of poetry is the universe of emotional truth. Our material is in the way we feel and the way we remember.”

“Slowly I would get to pen and paper, make my poems for others unseen and unborn. In the day I would be reminded of those men and women, brave, setting up signals across vast distances, considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.”

— Muriel Rukeyser


10 Great Quotes About Poetry and Writing by Maya Angelou


“Poetry puts starch in your backbone so you can stand, so you can compose your life.”

“I’ve had people explain to me what one of my poems meant, and I’ve been surprised that it means that to them. If a person can use a poem of mine to interpret her life or his life, good. I can’t control that. Nor would I want to.”

“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat,’…. And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.”

“Making a decision to write was a lot like deciding to jump into a frozen lake.”

“Like a pianist runs her fingers over the keys, I’ll search my mind for what to say. Now, the poem may want you to write it. And then sometimes you see a situation and think, ‘I’d like to write about that.’ Those are two different ways of being approached by a poem, or approaching a poem.”

“Poetry is music written for the human voice.”

“I make writing as much a part of my life as I do eating or listening to music.”

“The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.

“When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we’re capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness into darkness. I’m trying for that. But I’m also trying for the language. I’m trying to see how it can really sound.”

“We write for the same reason that we walk, talk, climb mountains or swim the oceans — because we can. We have some impulse within us that makes us want to explain ourselves to other human beings. That’s why we paint, that’s why we dare to love someone- because we have the impulse to explain who we are. Not just how tall we are, or thin… but who we are internally… perhaps even spiritually. There’s something, which impels us to show our inner-souls. The more courageous we are, the more we succeed in explaining what we know.”

— Maya Angelou