“Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself, but with its subject.”
“I should write for the mere yearning and fondness I have for the beautiful, even if my night’s labors should be burnt every morning and no eye shine upon them.”
“No sooner had I stepp’d into these pleasures Than I began to think of rhymes and measures: The air that floated by me seem’d to say ‘Write! thou wilt never have a better day.”
“All writing is a form of prayer.”
“I am convinced more and more day by day that fine writing is next to fine doing, the top thing in the world.”
“A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving in a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore; it’s to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out. It is an experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept mystery.”
“The genius of poetry must work out its own salvation in a man; it cannot be matured by law and precept, but by sensation and watchfulness in itself. That which is creative must create itself.”
“Poetry should surprise by a fine excess and not by singularity, it should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.”
“A long poem is a test of invention which I take to be the Polar star of poetry, as fancy is the sails, and imagination the rudder.”
“A poet is the most unpoetical of anything in existence; because he has no identity he is continually informing and filling some other body.”
“The secret wish of poetry is to stop time.”
“We name one thing and then another. That’s how time enters poetry. Space, on the other hand, comes into being through the attention we pay to each word. The more intense our attention, the more space, and there’s a lot of space inside words.”
“Here in the United States, we speak with reverence of authentic experience. We write poems about our daddies taking us fishing and breaking our hearts by making us throw the little fish back into the river. We even tell the reader the kind of car we were driving, the year and the model, to give the impression that it’s all true. It’s because we think of ourselves as journalists of a kind. Like them, we’ll go anywhere for a story. Don’t believe a word of it. As any poet can tell you, one often sees better with eyes closed than with eyes wide open.”
“One writes because one has been touched by the yearning for and the despair of ever touching the Other.”
“Words make love on the page like flies in the summer heat and the poet is only the bemused spectator.”
“Poetry is an orphan of silence. The words never quite equal the experience behind them.”
A poem is an invitation to a voyage. As in life, we travel to see fresh sights.”
“The religion of the short poem, in every age and in every literature, has a single commandment: Less is always more. The short poem rejects preamble and summary. It’s about all and everything, the metaphysics of a few words surrounded by much silence. …The short poem is a match flaring up in a dark universe.”
“I’m not a stickler for truth. To me, lying in poetry is much more fun. I’m against lying in life, in principle, in any other activity except poetry.”
“I do believe that a poem needs to remind the reader of his or her own humanity, of what they are, of what they’re capable of. Awaken them, in a sense, to the fact that there’s a world in front of their eyes, that they have a body, they’re going to die, the sky is beautiful, it’s fun to be in a grassy field when the sun is shining—those kinds of things.”
In today’s post, I have decided to tackle one of the very first poetry forms that I ever learned to write. Sometime in grade school, I was taught about the clerihew (along with the limerick and the haiku) and thus started my lifelong obsession with poetic forms.
Edmund Clerihew Bentley, the British humorist and novelist best known for (besides the poetry form which bears his middle name) his two detective novels “Trent’s Last Case” and ” Trent’s Own Case”, invented the clerihew when he was only sixteen. According to my calculations, since Bentley was born in 1875, the first clerihew was written in 1891.
The clerihew is a four line biographical poem that is usually comical, and has a rhyme scheme of aabb. The first line normally contains the name of a famous person (although you can use a fictional character or nonfamous person as an alternative). The length of the lines tend to be inconsistent, and the meter irregular. Like haiku, clerihews seldom have titles.
I am not sure if the clerihew is still being taught in schools, but I sure hope it is. It is a delightful form to play with, and when I was teaching my poetry workshop for children at a local library, the kids really seemed to enjoy writing them. So why don’t you try penning one today? I am sure you will have a great time like I did when I wrote the following eight:
A Collection of Clerihews
President Richard Milhous Nixon
was always fixin’
to retire early, but instead he resigned
when caught in a scandalous, political bind.
President Donald J. Trump
cured this nation’s economic slump
when he was elected and took over.
Now we are all rolling in clover.
Henry David Thoreau
liked to watch the trees grow.
He certainly wasn’t too fond
of anyone trying to deforest Walden Pond.
Edgar Allen Poe
was a talented but morose fellow
who wrote “The Tell-Tale Heart” & “The Raven”,
and preferred Providence to New Haven.
Captain James Tiberius Kirk
could be an overbearing jerk
suffering from a severe lack of tact.
He’d make long self-righteous speeches and overact.
Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy
never could express any joy,
yelling ” Damn it, Mister Spock,
I am actor, not a Doc!”
Old Walt Whitman
was a hit, man,
with his poetry and flowing beard,
yet still most people considered him quite weird.
Paul Michael Szlosek
suffered an anxiety attack
when he discovered that he left his autobiographical poem
on his desk at home.
“A poet looks at the world the way a man looks at a woman.”
“In poetry, you must love the words, the ideas and the images and rhythms with all your capacity to love anything at all.”
“The poet is the priest of the invisible.”
“A poem need not have a meaning and like most things in nature often does not have.”
“The reading of a poem should be an experience. Its writing must be all the more so.”
“Poetry is a means of redemption.”
“The poet makes silk dresses out of worms.”
“The purpose of poetry is to make life complete in itself.”
“Poetry is poetry, and one’s objective as a poet is to achieve poetry precisely as one’s objective in music is to achieve music.”
“Most poets who have little or nothing to say are concerned primarily with the way in which they say it … if it is true that the style of a poem and the poem itself are one, … it may be … that the poets who have little or nothing to say are, or will be, the poets that matter.”
In my last post, I introduced the herrickelle, a poetic form I recently invented based on the poem “Upon His Departure Hence” by the 17th Century English poet and priest Robert Herrick. Today I would like to share a few more herrickelles I’ve written. If after reading them, you feel inspired to try your hand at writing one of your own, I recommend going back and reading my original post on the herrickelle, where the rules to writing them are laid out in full.
(One quick note: the herrickelle is not the only invented poetry form to be based on the work of Robert Herrick. There is also the herrick, modeled on what is clearly Herrick’s most notorious poem ”To the Virgins to Make Much of Time”. The herrick is definitely a more sophisticated and complex form than my rather simple herrickelle, involving alternating masculine and feminine rhymes and strict meter. If this intrigues you, you can read more about the herrick here.)
You will discover all four of these herrickelles certainly have a more modern feel to them in terms of theme and language than the one I posted yesterday as an example (that one had a distinct Medieval flavor). I hope you enjoy reading them, and am curious to hear what you think, both about the form and the individual poems:
Gambling at Foxwoods
Perseverance in a Catastrophe
A Letter of Advice (to Vincent From Salvador)
Critique of a Terrible Poet
joy – oh,
Although the form we are discussing in today’s post was recently invented by myself within the last year, in many ways, it has been around for over 500 years. Confused? Well let me explain just how the herrickelle came about.
In terms of classical poetry, the majority of metered verse has probably been most commonly written in either iambic pentameter or tetrameter. On the other hand, examples of poets who were known to have wrote in iambic monometer are quite rare, except for one major exception (okay, here is a quick aside for those who have never learned or totally forgotten all about poetical meter. A foot is a unit of poetical measure made up of usually two, but sometimes three, or even four syllables, where the sound of one or more particular syllables are emphasized. An iamb is a specific type of foot consisting of two syllables with the last of the pair being stressed. Iambic pentameter is a line of five feet, while iambic tetrameter is four, and of course, iambic monometer is just one metered foot, or, put in another way, two syllables. Get it? Neither do I, but let’s go on):
Robert Herrick was an English poet, priest, and (by most accounts) playboy from the 17th century. Best known for his poems ”To the Virgins to Make Much of Time,” “Upon Julia’s Clothes,” and “Corinna’s Going a Maying,” , he is probably the only major poet proven to have had a penchant for writing poetry in iambic monometer. In fact, most poetry text books use his poem “Upon His Departure Hence” as the prime example of monometric verse. After coming across this poem in such an anthology a few months ago, I was inspired to utilize it as a template to create a new poetry form which I have dubbed the herrickelle in honor of Herrick.
Because I realize many modern poets are uncomfortable with meter (I know I am), I decided not to make it mandatory to write a herrickelle in strict iambic monometer, although you certainly can if you wish. Instead I decided to have the form use a syllable count as its measure (much like the haiku or the monotetra, both of which I have discussed in earlier posts). So this is a description of my unofficial rules for writing a herrickelle:
A herrickelle is a poem of one or more tercets (stanzas of three lines) with each line consisting of just two syllables. Each tercet uses a monorhyme (which means all its lines use the same end rhyme and rhyme with each other). Thus the rhyme scheme would be aaa for the first tercet, bbb for the second (if there is one), ccc for the third, and so on.
Herrick’s “Upon His Departure Hence”, which rhyme scheme is aaabbbcccdddeee, technically would not qualify as a herrickelle, since he wrote its fifteen lines without any line breaks. However the poem can be easily converted into one by simply dividing its lines into five tercets. So here is what I retroactively consider the very first herrickelle in existence penned by the master himself:
Upon His Departure Hence
I’ th’ grave:
I find composing a herrickelle to be quite a challenge since one is limited to a vocabulary of just one or two syllable words. Because of this, you find yourself often forced to use a lot of short Anglo-Saxon and archaic words. Normally I strongly disapprove of contemporary poets using words like “Thee”, “Thou”, and “Art”. Yet because of the 17th century origin of the form and its monometric rhythm which feels a bit peculiar and ancient, I think that in the case of the herrickelle, such usage is more than permissible. As an example, here is a herrickelle I wrote with a definite medieval or renaissance flavor –
Why Art Thou So Serious?
I have more herrickelles that I wrote to share with you (all which sound much more contemporary), but since this post has gone rather long, I guess that can wait until my next one. Thanks so much for reading!