Invented Poetry Forms – The Rothko

rothko colors

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 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).

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.

Invented Poetry Forms – The Lux

Captain Kirk Sepia

I created the lux poetry form earlier this year to pay tribute to one of my favorite poets of all time, Thomas Lux, who passed away in February of 2017. The form itself was inspired by and closely patterned on his delightful short poem “A Little Tooth” (please check it out; you will be glad you did). The lux is a nine line poem consisting of three tercets (stanzas of three lines a piece) with a rhyme scheme of abc cba abc. The lines can be of any length.

Due to the rather subtleness of the rhyme scheme. I feel the lux is a very versatile form suited for a diverse range of subject matter and tone which I hope is demonstrated by the four I wrote posted below. You might note that the last one does double duty, not only as a lux, but as an example of a catalog or list poem (a poem that is simply an inventory of people, places, things, ideas, etc.) as well:


O Captain! My Captain (My Cat)!

The cat’s exploring in the wardrobe
while, in bed, we cuddle, we spoon,
listening to French songs from 1934.

Bored, the cat claws on the wooden floor,
as we sing out loud (and out of tune).
From the night stand, he knocks over a glass globe.

Then he licks your eyelids, and my earlobe,
as he leaps on the bed, running out of things to ruin,
settling instead for chin scratches and a lil “amour” .


You Too

If you feel the need to defend
yourself, you’re probably at fault.
You’re simply guilty, there’s no denial.

Your once “clean” jokes are considered vile,
what was romance to you is now assault.
Don’t speak your mind if it will offend.

Your time of being right is at an end.
Go lock your morality in a vault.
Perhaps one day, it will come back in style.


Aging as a Failed Card Trick

My life now is like that parlor trick
where you attempt to memorize
a deck which you riffle with your thumb.

A continuous stream of faces will come
and go, flickering before my eyes.
Yet as much as I’ll try, my brain’s not quick

enough. The names of five or six might stick
in my head, but the rest just flies
by like my days, recalling only some.


50 Shades of Beige

Khaki, putty, buff, sand, desert dune, camel, taupe,
fawn, muslin, unbleached silk, burlap, chicken feed,
egg shell, hummus, pablum, oatmeal, flan, sugar cane,

sisal, jute, paper sack, cardboard, driftwood, dirty rain,
soup bone, bisque, biscuit, cookie dough, honey mead,
ginger ale, beer, wheat, baguette, waffle cone, castile soap,

manila, trench coat, ram’s horn, graveyard dust, hangman’s rope,
smoke, smog, straw, ecru, penuche fudge, cumin seed,
dried manure, sewer sludge, cat vomit, and aged pee stain.

Of Box Fans & Kings, and Other Things (Solutions to My Haiku Riddles)

monarch-in-stone-harvard a (2)

At the end of my last post, I promised to provide solutions to the haiku riddles I have written, but I decided it might be an even better idea to go beyond that and give long-winded extensive explanations for each one, pointing out each clue or pun so you might glimpse the process that went into conceiving and writing them.


So square, daddy-o,
but, man, if you get turned on,
it can be so cool!

I thought this might have been too obvious: it is either a box fan or an air conditioner. When I was trying to come up with a few new examples of haiku riddles, I looked around the room for something to write about, and immediately spied a recently purchased box fan. The first step was to make a list of some of the object’s qualities in my head: it is square shaped, it’s electric, you turn it on, it cools you down, etc. The words  “square” and “cool” made me think of 1950’s beatnik slang, and then basically everything else fell in place, leaving me to just convert my concept into the 5-7-5 syllable format.


End of the line,
yet start of eternity?
Answer this with ease.

Okay, I admit this is not original at all, it is based on an old chestnut I first heard in grade school. The subject of this haiku riddle is the letter e which appears at the end of the word “line” and at the beginning of “eternity”. The last line is simply an atrocious pun on the word “ease” (e’s, get it?).


It’s the single thing
that sounds just like victory,
but what can it be?

The answer is “one”, a single thing that is pronounced the same as the word “won” (and if someone has “won”, they have achieved a victory). Interestingly, I tried testing all my haiku riddles on my girlfriend, and this is the only one that she guessed correctly.


A royal figure
you’ll find (at present) at end
of certain actions.

The royal figure is a “king” which appears in the present tense at the end of certain actions such as “walking”, “talking” , ” joking”, “smoking”, “licking”, and “kicking”.


Five columns bowing
becomes one boulder flying
again and again.

Of all the haiku riddles I posted, this is the one that is truly the most poetic, the whole thing primarily an extended metaphor for a fist that is either knocking at a door, or (for those who prefer violence) slugging someone. The five columns bowing describe the appearance of the five fingers of the human hand curling into a fist (which is somewhat in the shape of a boulder), while the flying again and again represents the repeated actions of either knocking or punching. This was one of the very first haiku riddles I ever created (unfortunately, I have forgotten all the others I wrote at the same time) when I first conceived of the concept to use with children in poetry presentations at local elementary schools.

So I hope these explanations may prove to be a helpful guide for you, if you do wish to try writing a haiku riddle yourself. I admit the haiku riddle might not be for everyone. I, myself, really had a blast creating them, but then again, I’ve always been fascinated with riddles and brain teasers of all sorts since I was a wee tyke. I like to leave you with one more haiku riddle based on a brain teaser I devised years ago that was inspired by those analogies one would find as a student in the verbal portion of the S.A.T.s and other such tests (don’t worry! I won’t waste your time by writing another whole new post on its solution, I’ll just leave the answer in the comments in a couple of days):

Alabama’s to
where as Minnesota is
to New Mexico?


Invented Forms – The Haiku Riddle


Perhaps one of the easiest ways to create a new poetic form is simply to combine or mash up two pre-existing ones. For example, one could write an acrostic sestina, or take certain aspects of the limerick and the clerihew (which already share many similarities), and come up with the limericlerihew. Back when I was doing presentations on poetry at local elementary schools, I conceived of the haiku riddle, figuring most kids adore riddles, and it might be a good way to introduce them to the haiku format of three lines consisting of 17 syllables which we are all familiar with. Technically, most haiku riddles wouldn’t actually qualify as haikus, since the seasonal or nature element is not required to write one. But like the haiku, it is written in 3 lines or phrases with 5 syllables in the first, 7 in the second, and 5 once again in the last. Because the poem is also meant to serve as a riddle, its subject matter (which can be all most anything), is purposely enigmatic and  intentionally concealed, leaving the reader to decipher what it is all about from clues and puns woven through out the lines.

Here are 5 haiku riddles that I wrote for you to contemplate. Like haikus, haiku riddles don’t usually have titles, so instead (for identification purposes) I have numbered them:


So square, daddy-o,
but, man, if you get turned on,
it can be so cool!


End of the line,
yet start of eternity?
Answer this with ease.


It’s the single thing
that sounds just like victory,
but what can it be?


A royal figure
you’ll find (at present) at end
of certain actions.


Five columns bowing
becomes one boulder flying
again and again.

So what do you think of the form? And were you able to solve all my haiku riddles? I will reveal their solutions in my next post, but until then, feel free to leave what you believe are the answers or even your very own haiku riddles to stump me in a comment. Thanks so much for reading!