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.

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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

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

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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).

National Clerihew Day

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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.

HAPPY NATIONAL CLERIHEW DAY, EVERYONE!!!

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

HOW TO OBSERVE

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

definition

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:

Laundry
(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.