Invented Poetry Forms – The Biolet

Having received such an enthusiastic response to my last post on the triolet,
I figure it would be fitting to follow it up with one on its obscure and even shorter Portuguese cousin, the biolet. The biolet was invented by the Brazilian poet Filinto de Almeida and first appeared in print in his book Lyrica in 1887. It is a six line poem, and like the triolet, the first two lines are repeated as the last two lines, however in reverse. The rhyme scheme of the biolet thus can be expressed as ABbaBA (with the capital  letters representing the repeated lines). The length of the lines, in my opinion, can vary, and be either metered or unmetered. Most of Almeida’s original biolets in Portuguese (I have only found a handful written in English on the internet) were in iambic tetrameter (8 syllables), but I, myself, have also been playing with iambic pentameter (10 syllables), iambic hexameter (12 syllables), and unmetered lines of random lengths as well.

I feel the key to writing a biolet is coming up with the first two lines, and then reading them in reverse. If they still make sense in the reverse order, creating the two remaining two lines of the poem should be a snap. If they don’t, try altering them until they do, or start fresh with two brand new lines. Writing biolets can be very fun, and quite easy to do. The subject matter can be almost anything, and the tone can be either humorous or serious. I hope my following examples might inspire you to write some biolets of your own:

From the Files of the Love Detective

Solving the case of your broken heart?
It’s going to be harder than I thought.
It seems your heart really loved a lot.
and no clear clue why it broke apart.
It’s going to be harder than I thought
solving the case of your broken heart.

Final Warning 

On an old gravestone, carved in slate,
I read this menacing epitaph
warning of our Creator’s endless wrath
and all humanity ‘s eventual fate.
I read this menacing epitaph
on an old gravestone, carved in slate.

A Biolet for Those Who Cannot Sing

In his unrequited ardor for Fay Wray,
I always empathized with old King Kong.
Since he could not express his love in song,
he had to show his passion in another way.
I always empathized with old King Kong
In his unrequited ardor for Fay Wray.

Biolet for the End of Day

Each night, when darkness descends like a curtain,
I light a single candle and start to pray.
Yes, tomorrow will be another day,
but of only that I can be certain.
I light a single candle and start to pray
each night, when darkness descends like a curtain. 

A Frozen Memory

On a chilly afternoon in late November,
I stood at a kitchen window and watched it snow,
And although that was over fifty years ago,
For some unknown reason I can still remember
I stood at a kitchen window and watched it snow
On a chilly afternoon in late November.

The Streetbeatina Revisited…

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A little more than a year ago, I published a post on the Streetbeatina, a poetry form I originally created to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Street Beat, an amazing open poetry reading series  that was ran and hosted by Anne Marie Lucci, a talented local poet, in my hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts for many years. At the time, since three of my streetbeatinas, along with a short history and explanation of the form, was just published in a prestigious online literary journal called Radius: Poetry From the Center to the Edge, I decided it probably wasn’t proper etiquette to republish those 3 poems or go into much details on how to write the form on this blog and instead just posted a link to the original publication on radiuslit.org. However I feel enough time has now passed to revisit the Streetbeatina and give instructions on how to write one using those 3 original poems as examples:

The streetbeatina is an eight line poem with each line consisting of eight syllables. What makes this form both a challenge to write and uniquely different from other forms is that the first syllable of the first line is repeated as the second syllable in the second line, the third syllable of the third line and so on, the repetition of the sound of the syllable at precise intervals providing the poem with a natural beat and musicality. Although it is completely optional,  the poet can emphasize the repeated syllable by either printing it in italics, bold, or a different color.

Three Streetbeatinas by Paul Szlosek *

Travel Advisory

Go unprepared into the world.
Forgo certainty. Pretend to
be cargo bound for distant ports
(perhaps the Gobi Desert? Mars?)
Travel by pogo stick or dreams,
a blank map: your logo. Treat the
unknown as your amigo. Or
ignore this advice, but go. Go!

A Message to a Married Middle-Aged Man
in Middle-Management in Mid-Life Crisis With Artistic Ambitions 

So few chances to start over,
go solo, cover past mistakes
with gesso, paint a new version
of your life (sophisticated,
worldly, yet also real) like a
truly virtuoso artist
living in a loft in Soho.
to replace one that’s just so-so.

Ghost Story

Local legends say if you go
solo into the deep dark woods
when the lotus blossom first blooms,
and the moon’s low in the night sky,
the girl in yellow will appear,
her lips mouthing “Hello, my love”
while lunar light spills like lotion
on skin translucent as jello.

*(Originally published by Radius: Poetry From the Center to the Edge )

The Fourth in a Series of Beau Présents Written for My Favorite Poets

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This fourth in a series of beau présents written for my favorite poets is meant as a tribute to probably my ultimate fave – the one and only Thomas Lux (in case you haven’t read my previous posts on the form, the beau présent is an usually brief poem composed to honor a person that consists of only words formed from the letters in their name):

A Beau Présent For Thomas Norman Lux

Thomas Lux’s a natural author,
a most moral man (not a trashman
nor a smut mouth, not rash nor lax,
not sour nor ho-hum), a smooth
orator, an ultrasmart annotator,
a solo astronaut, a tutor to lost tarantulas.

Thomas Lux has an autonomous soul,
uses humor to summon truth
& rout out rumor, shouts out
marathon rants to taunt & harass
amoral morons, louts, & trolls,
or to honor an oath to mutual human trust.
.
Thomas Lux’s as hot as arson,
as sonorous as a sonata on an alto sax.
Lux’s our mantra, our motto, our north,
our south, our moon, our sun, our stars,
our sultan, our tsar, our start, our last
hurrah, our utmost, our total – our all!

“Found” American Sentences

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeing so gratified by the enthusiastic response to my recent post on the American Sentence (with so many readers trying their own hand at writing one as well as linking that post to their own blogs), I decided to write some more on the subject. Doing research on the net, I discovered the delightful practice of people searching for “found” American sentences buried in a variety of literature such as novels and short stories (thanks to an informative post by Sue Walker on the Negative Capability Press website). So I have attempted mining for some poetic treasure of my own in two classic novels by two of my favorite writers. The following are the results of my literary treasure hunt (with some of the original sentences slightly altered and edited to fit the rules of the American Sentence of 17 syllables being written in a single line as a complete grammatical sentence). First, here are three gorgeous “found” American Sentences written by Ray Bradbury, who I feel may be the most exquisite writer of poetic prose of all time, from his novel Dandelion Wine:

His fingers trembled, bright with blood, like the bits of a strange flag now found
— Ray Bradbury

Birds flickered like skipped stones across the vast inverted pond of heaven
— Ray Bradbury

Bees have a smell, their feet are dusted with spice from a million flowers
— Ray Bradbury

And here are three by Raymond Chandler from his first novel The Big Sleep (the last one might just be my favorite American Sentence ever):

Mid-October is the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain
—Raymond Chandler

His heart was a brief, uncertain murmur, his thoughts were as gray as ashes
—Raymond Chandler

The old man nodded, as if his neck was afraid of the weight of his head
—Raymond Chandler

So what do you think, dear readers? Are you now inspired to start searching for possible American Sentences in your own favorite books?  I sure hope you are, and if you find any good ones, that you will share your bounty with us all!

 

Invented Poetry Forms – The American Sentence

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Today’s post is on the American Sentence, a poetry form invented by the American Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in the mid-1980’s as a twist on traditional haiku. Like haiku, American Sentences consist of 17 syllables, but instead of being arranged into three lines, they are written as a single line or sentence. They also may or may not have a title.

As far as the other rules of the form, there seems to be varying opinions. Many seem to feel the poem should be just one complete grammatical sentence, while others have written them as two, three, or four or even just as series of phrases. Paul E. Nelson (the poet most associated with the American Sentence, besides Ginsberg) emphasizes the use of concrete images though ones written by others often deal with abstractions. Ginsberg, himself, stated that the poem, if possible should mention either a time or place (or both) and the use of articles such as “a” and “the” should be avoided. But even he didn’t always follow the last suggestion as seen in these four of the original American Sentences composed by Ginsberg:

Nov 1991 N.Y.

Put my tie on in a taxi, short of breath, rushing to meditate

—Allen Ginsberg

Tompkins Square Lower East Side N.Y.

Four skinheads stand in the streetlight rain chatting under an umbrella

—Allen Ginsberg

On Hearing the Muezzin Cry Allah Akbar While Visiting the Pythian Oracle at Didyma Toward the End of the Second Millennium

At sunset Apollo’s columns echo with the bawl of the One God

—Allen Ginsberg

Approaching Seoul by Bus in Heavy Rain

Get used to your body, forget you were born, suddenly you got to get out!

—Allen Ginsberg

In comparison, here are four American Sentences that I attempted:

Boulevard Diner

The ham slices squeal on the smoking grill like the ghosts of dying pigs

The Sad Truth About Aging

To grow old is to witness your world being dismantled around you

The Gambler’s Mantra

Luck is a middle finger waved in the face of probability

An Urban Stroll a Week After a Winter Storm

Propelled by my feet, chunks of frozen snow skitter down gritty sidewalks

As you can see, some of my American Sentences adhered to some of the rules stated above, while some others didn’t at all. If you decide to try your own hand at writing one (I really hope you do), please feel free to pick and choose which rules you want to follow. The only vital rule that should not be ignored is that the American Sentence be 17 syllables and written in one line.

 

The Third in a Series of Beau Présents Written for My Favorite Poets

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This third in a series of beau présents for my favorite poets was written in tribute to a poet I have adored since childhood, Ogden Nash. Because beau présents are composed only of words made up from the letters contained in the person’s name, I decided to expand the vocabulary I could use by utilizing his full name (did you know his first name was actually Frederic?). They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so I have attempted to copy his familiar style with rhymes and irregular lines. I’m afraid the poem that resulted may just be nonsense, but hopefully, as fun to read as it was to write:

A Beau Présent For Frederic Ogden Nash

Frederic Ogden Nash
carried no foreign cash

(no francs, dinars, or Danish coins in his coffers),
ignoring his French granddad’s condescending offers

of finance,
and offended France.

The Second in a Series of Beau Présents Written for My Favorite Poets

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The following beau présent, a poem written as tribute to a person by using just the letters of their name, is my humble attempt to pay honor to the wonderful Naomi Shahib Nye (in case you are not familiar with her fabulous poetry, lines 12 & 14 are intentional allusions to her poems “Bees Were Better” and “The Traveling Onion” respectively):

A Beau Présent For Naomi Shahib Nye

I am a boobish boy,
she’s a bonnie lass.

I am a baby, a bambino.
She’s a nanny, a mom.

I am a homeless hobo,
she is a shiny mansion.

I am a minion.
She is a boss.

I am an amoeba,
she’s an immense biomass.

I am honey (so messy).
She is a bee.

I am a banana,
she’s an onion.

I’m a noisy hyena.
She’s a mime.

I am no one,
she is somebody.

I’m a nebbish, an inane ninny.
She is my bohemian shaman.

By no means mean,
she eases my shyness,

minimises my mania,
banishes my insomnia.

I am me.
She is Naomi Shahib Nye.

The First in a Series of Beau Présents Written for My Favorite Poets

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Having received such an enthusiastic response to the two poems I wrote as examples of the relatively obscure French invented poetry form known as the beau présent on a recent post, I have been inspired to try writing an entire series dedicated to some of my favorite poets (warning: there are hundreds of poets I really adore so this may turn out to be a very long series). In case you have not read that particular post and have no idea what I’m talking about, the beau présent is a poem written to honor another person using only words made up from the letters contained in that person’s name. This very first one is my attempt at a heartfelt tribute to the brilliant Pulitzer-winning Serbian-American poet, Charles Simic (I hope you will enjoy reading it and be encouraged to try your own about your favorites):

A Beau Présent For Charles Simic

Charles Simic is so chill,
he’s as cool as chili-lime ice cream.
His smile is a classic semicircle,
his ears mimic small cameras.
I recall his earlier careers
as a clerical armchair researcher,
a Maharishi, a macrame messiah.
I cherish his mesmeric charisma,
I relish his harmless sarcasm.
He’s a shameless schemer,
a rare charmer, a seamless liar,
a serial rimer (all his similes are
sheer miracles). He’s a hammer,
a chisel, a seismic missile –
he smashes racism, he erases malaise.
His cashmere lies caress me,
his alchemical mercies shall heal me.
He is a real mishmash (as harsh
as Islam, as rich as Israel). He is America!

Invented Poetry Forms – The Beau Présent

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You might remember a post I wrote at the beginning of this month on the anagrammatic selfie, a poetry form I created (or at least honestly believed I did) almost 20 years ago for a children’s poetry workshop I was leading at a local library? Well, recently, I was surprised to discover another poetic form with which it shares many similarities. The beau présent (aka “present beau”, “beautiful in-law” or “beautiful gift”) is a French form interestingly invented by an American writer, Harry Matthews. It is best described as a short poem written as a gift or a tribute to another person using only the letters available in that person’s name. At first glance, these two forms may appear almost identical, but there are at least two major differences between the two. The first is rather obvious: the anagrammatic selfie is written about one’s self, and the beau présent is about another person. The other difference is the rules concerning the words that can be used to create the poems. With an anagrammatic selfie, a letter can be used in a word only as many times it appears in your name, while this does not apply to the beau présent. For example, I could not use the word pizzazz if I was writing an anagrammatic selfie, because the letter z appears 4 times there but only once in my name Paul Michael Szlosek. However, if someone else was writing a beau présent about me, the word pizzazz would be perfectly acceptable since it doesn’t matter how many times a letter appears in the person’s name. Thus you will have a larger base of words to write with when writing a beau présent than an anagrammatic selfie, which might make the task easier or harder (depending on your point of view).

Because it was originally meant to be written in honor of a person, I feel it is probably best (though it may be tempting) not to use the beau présent as a rant or tirade against people you dislike (like perhaps certain politicians or coworkers) since its tone should not be insulting or even critical, but affectionate and respectful (though also definitely whimsical and playful). Of course, you could write one about anyone you wish, but I highly recommend to write yours about people you genuinely like, love, and/or respect such as friends, family, or even favorite writers, poets, and artists. For example, I wrote the following beau présent was written for my cousin Dwayne:

A Beau Présent For Dwayne Szlosek
(My Cousin and Childhood Companion)

On lazy weekends, we’d snooze,
Awake woozy and dazed,
And swallow anise and seaweed soda,
We’d walk dense snowy woodlands,
Sneak down dank dead-end alleyways.
We’d saddle a seesaw, lasso a donkey,
Slay a dozen deadly snakes and eels.
We doodled and drew yellow yaks,
Woolly weasels, and walleyed koalas.
We yelled, yodeled and kazooed as
Annoyed newlywed ladies looked on.

Nowadays, we allow no nonsense,
No looneyness. We analyze essays
and lessons, know only a swollen
sense of loss, a deadness,
needless sadness and woe.

O Dwayne, we need a new deal –
Say we skedaddle, sail away
on a slow wooden yawl on
an endless odyssey and seek
new lands and zany old ways?
Yes? Okay? Okey dokey! Yay!
We’ll do so on Wednesday!

And here is another one about one of my favorite poets of all time, Robert Frost
(please note I included his middle name Lee so I would have access to words with the letter L):

A Beau Présent For Robert Lee Frost

O Br’er Robert, Frere Frost,
Let’s be footloose, be free.

Let’s rebel! Let’s loot stores-
Rob sellers of stereos or

Boost bottles of root beer.
Let’s flee streets bereft of trees

To stroll soft forest floors,
Offer steel toe boots to footsore settlers.

Let’s be referees for slobs, feeble fools,
Restore teeter totters, obsolete robots.

Let’s be better – be sober,
Be effortless, be Robert Lee Frost.

Like always, I hope you enjoyed and found this post useful, perhaps even be inspired to try writing a beau présent about your own favorite poet or writer. If you do, I’d love to see it so please don’t be afraid to share. Thanks so much for reading!

Invented Poetry Forms – The Anagrammatic Selfie

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Like the similarly-named acrostic selfie poem which I wrote about on this blog last April, the anagrammatic selfie is a short, usually whimsical self-portrait in verse. But unlike the acrostic version where the first letter of each line spells out the poet’s name, the anagrammatic selfie consists solely of words formed from only the letters contained in your name. So logically, the first step when writing one is to choose which variation of your name you want to use (this will also be the title of your poem). For example, if I just used my first and last names, Paul Szlosek, I could create a list of 333 different words to write my poem with, but if I add my middle name Michael, I would then have an even larger choice of 2724 (if you are one of those people that lack a middle name, you could substitute a maiden name, or a title like “Doctor”, “Mister”, or “Miss”). After deciding which version of your name you are using, you just start puzzling out all the words you can create with its letters. Just keep in mind a letter can be used in a word only as many times it appears in your name. In my case, I could not use the word pizzazz because in that word the letter z appears 4 times, but only once in my name Paul Michael Szlosek (however I could use the word pass since the letter s appears twice in Szlosek). To save time and effort, you may want to consider using an online word finder tool to create your word list (the one I would recommend most would be https://www.wordmaker.info). Once you have a list of at least a hundred words, start studying it to see if any words on it might suggest a certain pattern or theme to you. For instance, on my list, the words schlimazel, schlemiel, cellulose, calluses, and shoelaces caught my attention and inspired me to write the following:

Paul Michael Szlosek

Is a schlimazel, a schlemiel,
Has cellulose, calluses,
Smells like sheep’s pee,
Loses his shoelaces,
Lacks all social skills,
Is as musical as a homesick camel,
Helpless as Achilles’ heel.

So, please, POEM,
Please call Paul home.
Help him cope,
Heal his soul.
Help him hope.

Here is another one of my attempts at an anagrammatic selfie which I hope might serve as a model if you decide to try one for yourself:

Paul Michael Szlosek

He is so much like
A small, pale mouse.
He leaps up, escapes his maze.
Police mice chase him home.

So what do you think of this form, my friends? What I really love about this form myself is that the repetition of the sounds of the same limited set of letters gives your poem a natural sense of rhythm and resonance without you even trying. I really hope that you will try the anagrammatic selfie yourself. If you do, I am pretty sure you will be pleased with the results.