Invented Poetry Forms – The Sonnette

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Like the monosyllabic sonnet which we recently discussed, today I will talk about another invented poetry form inspired by the traditional sonnet – the sonnette. Invented by the American poet, children’s author, museum curator, magician, and Boy Scout executive G. Sherman Ripley sometime in the early 1900s, the sonnette is basically a miniature or half sonnet consisting of seven lines (exactly half of the sonnet’s usual fourteen). It has two stanzas: a quatrain (4 lines) followed by a tercet (3 lines) with the quatrain having a rhyme scheme of abba. while the tercet has one of cbc. And just like its inspiration, the lines are metered, usually written in iambic pentameter.

As you can see, meter is definitely not my strong suit, but here is my own feeble attempt at a sonnette (for you to use as an example if you would like to try writing one yourself):

Ode to a Wannabe Baby Boomer Rocker

Once he dreamed of being the next Springsteen,
but he settled for a working man’s wage
and a once-a-week gig on a bar stage.
What seems like a dream is life in between

the hours he gets to strum guitar and sing
(he’s a remnant of the Rock and Roll age
in a time where Hip Hop and Rap’s now king).

Invented Poetry Forms – The Monosyllabic Sonnet

P1010048.JPGInterestingly, you will find many invented poetry forms tend not to be created brand new from whole cloth, but rather are either a variation on an existing traditional form or a mash-up of two different ones. The former is certainly true about a form I recently discovered while perusing Miller Williams’ excellent book “Patterns of Poetry: An Encyclopedia of Forms”. Created by the British scholar, publisher, and light verse poet Frank Sidgwick in the early 20th century, the monosyllabic sonnet (also known as a word sonnet) follows most of the rules of a traditional sonnet with one exception (as its name indicates). It has 14 lines and usually uses either the rhyme scheme of an Italian or English sonnet, but each line consists of just one syllable instead of the 10 syllables of iambic pentameter. You may notice I said, “usually uses either the rhyme scheme of an Italian or English sonnet.” That is because Sidgwick’s original monosyllabic sonnet “An Aeronaut to His Lady” actually combines the two, beginning with the rhyme scheme of the opening octet of the Italian (abbaabba) and ending with the closing quatrain and couplet of the English (cdcd ee). I think you will agree when you read it below, it would be near impossible to write a more elegant and perfect monosyllabic sonnet than this:

An Aeronaut to His Lady

I
Through
Blue
Sky
Fly
To
You.
Why?

Sweet
Love,
Feet
Move
So
Slow.

–Frank Sidgwick

As you see, it is indeed a tricky form to write well, but that didn’t stop me from giving it a couple of tries. My first uses the rhyme scheme of an Italian sonnet (abbaabbacdecde):

To My Little Boy
(Who Doesn’t Want to Go Home Quite Yet)

Why
Do
You
Cry,
My
True
Blue
Guy?

Be
Still.
Hey,
We
Will
Stay…

The second is my take on a monosyllabic sonnet utilizing the English sonnet rhyme scheme of ababcdcdefefgg:

Elegy For an Aspiring Surfer/Gravedigger Who Drowned

For
Bob,
Poor
Slob,
You
Tried
To
Ride
Big
Waves,
Dig
Graves –
Boo
Hoo!

If you do decide to take up the challenge of trying to write your own monosyllabic sonnets (and I hope you do), my advice is to do what I recommended with previously discussed poetry forms with minimal words (such as the rothko, the two-by-four, and the Lewis Carroll square poem) and come up with appropriate titles to provide exposition and set up the premise of your poems. Monosyllabic sonnets are a bit difficult to write, so don’t get discouraged! Just keep playing with the form until you come up with something that you feel works for you. And please don’t be shy about sharing your efforts. I’d love to see them!

Invented Poetry Forms – The ‘Lewis Carroll’ Square Poem

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In my many years of researching poetic forms, I have found that two or more forms will often share the same name, which can become pretty confusing. This definitely is the case with the square poem. One version often referred to as the ‘classic’ square poem is simply a poem in which the number of syllables per line is equal to the number of lines (my invented form the streetbeatina which has eight lines of eight syllables would certainly qualify as one).

In the other variation, which we will be discussing today, the line length is counted not in syllables but in words (isoverbal prosody), the amount of words in each line being the same as the number of lines. What makes this form attributed to the popular writer and poet Lewis Carroll really unique is its almost magical quality of being able to be read the same vertically (from top to bottom) as well as the conventional way from left to right. If you want to see an example of this form perfectly executed, you cannot do better than reading the original poem consisting of six lines of six words apiece thought to be written by Carroll:

A Square Poem

I often wondered when I cursed,
Often feared where I would be—
Wondered where she’d yield her love,
When I yield, so will she.
I would her will be pitied!
Cursed be love! She pitied me …

Not nearly as eloquent or clever, but here is my take on the 6×6 square poem:

Past Confessions

What I did not admit then,
I do not remember that well.
Did not you once say “please
not remember”? Once you would not
admit that. Say, would you believe?
Then, well, please not believe me.

Theoretically, one could write a ‘Lewis Carroll’ square poem of almost any length, but I personally would not recommend writing one longer than a 6×6. Even at the length,  I found it difficult to maintain both the meaning and grammar of the poem without it becoming convoluted and strained. I feel shorter ones are much easier to do, and even a 2×2, the shortest possible with a mere four words, can be effective if you choose an appropriate title to provide exposition and set up the poem’s premise like I tried to do in the following examples:

My Doppelganger

He’s not
not me…

The Stuttering Clock

Says “tick
tick tock.”

These are a couple of my attempts at  writing 3x3s:

Dachshund Depressed About Being Fed a Daily Diet of Frankfurters

Forced to eat,
to endure “dog
eat dog” blues.

What Do I See When I Gaze Upward?

Indigo sky? Not
sky blue? Maybe
not. Maybe turquoise…

Of all the variations I tried, my favorites would undeniably be the 4x4s:

Personal Evaluation

I am not perfect.
Am I absolutely sure?
Not absolutely. Are you
perfect? Sure, you are!

Instructions on Grieving

Don’t mourn the dead.
Mourn the love lost,
the love left unclaimed,
dead – lost, unclaimed possibilities.

Declaration

I love all poetry,
love these wonderful poets,
all wonderful wordsmiths reimagining
poetry, poets reimagining themselves.

So what do you think of the ‘Lewis Carroll’ square poem? Like many of the forms I previously introduced on this blog, I think it is obviously more suited for the fanciful than the serious. It is also a bit tricky to write, but its puzzle-like aspect maybe its greatest appeal. Creating a successful one feels like pulling off a feat of verbal legerdemain.

If you do try your hand at writing one (and I hope you do), bear in mind each word will be repeated in the poem with the exception of the first word in the first line, the second word in the second line, the third word in the third line, and so on. My advice to make sure your square poem will read the same both across and down is to compose it in a grid. For example, if you are writing a 4×4, sketch a square and divide it into 16 equal smaller squares, and pencil in your first four words across the top row, and then repeat them down the first column. Just keep plugging words into the appropriate squares, and checking that it seems to make some kind of sense and it reads both ways. If it doesn’t, just try new words. I must confess I had a terrible time when I started writing my first L. C. square poem until I stumbled upon this technique, and I hope it will work for you too.

Invented Poetry Forms – The Two-by-Four

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The two-by-four is a rather quirky eight-word poetic form invented by the American poet and book publisher Lee Ann Brown, which I originally discovered on pages 100 and 101 of her first book of poetry “Polyverse” published in 1999. As its name indicates, the form consists of four lines of two words apiece, and may or may not rhyme (only one of Brown’s eleven two-by-fours in her book does). There is no restriction on subject matter, and the form itself can be very versatile, but the poem’s main emphasis should be on whimsical, creative, and often experimental usage of language and wordplay. Although the original poems by Lee Ann did not have individual titles, I prefer to title my own two-by-fours to help identify and set up each poem’s premise (otherwise, I am afraid readers would be scratching their heads trying to figure out what they are all about). Like many of the other weird and offbeat poetry forms I have written about in the past, I find the two-by-four to be quite delightful and amusing to play and tinker with, and hope my following examples might inspire you to try writing some of your own:

Collective Optimism

Everybody believes
The world
Will not
End tomorrow

Scuttling the Scuttlebutt

You say
They say
I hear
Just hearsay

Consultation With My Chiropractor

She says
“too tense”-
I picture
Simultaneous wigwams

Going Dutch

Salty licorice
Candy sandwiches
Three kisses
Wooden shoes

On the Midway at the 1979 Iowa State Fair

Sellers of
Ginzu knives
Deftly wielding
Singsong spiels

Fashion Tip No. 9
(According to My Girlfriend)

Matching socks
Are required
Only for
Fancy places

Stalking the Wild Poem

Elusive thoughts
And emotions
Caught in
Verbal cages

Telegraphic Choreography

Morris (code)
Dancing – polka
Dots and
Conga lines

Playing a Hunch(back)

Spinal intuition
Tells me
Notre Dame
Will win

In Celebration of Mr. Presley’s Controversial
Appearance on the Milton Berle Television Show
(June 5th, 1956)

Flagrant undulations
Rocking p(Elvis)
Rolling Hip
Hip hurray!!!

Invented Poetry Forms – The Rothko

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Having received such a seemingly enthusiastic response to my last post on the pollock, I decided to follow it up with yet another poetic form inspired by an abstract expressionist visual artist – the rothko. Created by poet Bob Holman who named the form after the painter Mark Rothko, it is a three-line poem with each line consisting of three words. Emulating Rothko (who was notorious for his bold use of color), the poem must contain the names of three different hues. These colors have to appear in the poem in either a horizontal, vertical or diagonal line (much like in tic-tac-toe). Another one of Holman’s rules for writing a rothko is that it can only be written while standing in front of an actual Rothko painting. Because of the difficulty for most poets to follow this, I think it is definitely permissible to ignore that particular rule. Instead, I found images of Rothko’s masterpieces online, and used them as my inspiration for the following examples:

Chasing Spring

Frisky black spaniels
Pursue grey squirrels
Through green grass

The Leaf Peepers

Everywhere they seek
Heralds of autumn –
Red, Orange, Yellow

Our Daily Quarrel

Verbal purple explosions
Puncturing white hush
Of amber afternoons

Tragedy on the First Day of School

Blue skies above,
Yellow bus runs
Red stop sign

Endless Mourning

Beige bones buried
Under umber earth –
Grief      so      black

Invented Poetry Forms – The Pollock

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The Pollock is a rather obscure and fairly eccentric poetry form invented by poet and art critic John Yau to pay tribute to the American abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock. It is a fourteen-line poem with the rather unusual requirement that the first line must be a quotation by the artist. The remaining thirteen lines consist strictly of words from Pollock’s quote, the idea being to splatter words repeatedly on the page like he famously did with paint on his canvases. Although the form might sound restrictive and totally wacko, I actually found it a real blast to write. Interestingly, another one of the rules of writing a pollock is to break the rules any time you feel like it (much like Pollock did with his painting). So it is more than permissible to substitute one of your favorite quotes by someone else for the Pollock quotation (perhaps even a clever quip by a poet that was previously posted on this blog). However, in my attempt which you will find below, I decided to stay a purist, and utilize Pollock’s response during an interview when asked “How do you know when you’re finished painting?” He simply replied, “How do you know when you’re finished making love?”:

Making Love (a Pollock)

How do you know when you’re finished making love?
When you’re making love, you know.
You know when you’re making love,
you know how you’re making love.
You know when you’re finished.
You love making love,
you know you do.
When making love, you know love.
you know you.
You love love,
you love you,
love making you you.
How do you do, Love,
how do you do?

So what do you think of the pollock? Is it a form you would like to try or wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole? Ironically, for a poetry form inspired by a visual artist, I personally feel (that because of the repetition of words and its resulting musicality) pollocks sound much better read out loud than they look written on the page. Keep that in mind if you do decide to write one (perhaps you can read yours at a local poetry open mic, something I honestly believe that every poet should do every once in a while).

Invented Poetry Forms – The Octameter

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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).