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



–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)



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

Graves –

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!

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Art by Randall Jarrell


“A poet is a man who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times.”

“Most poets, most good poets even, no longer have the heart to write about what is most terrible in the world of the present: the bombs waiting beside the rockets, the hundreds of millions staring into the temporary shelter of their television sets, the decline of the West that seems less a decline than the fall preceding an explosion.”

“Human life without some form of poetry is not human life but animal existence.”

“Art matters not merely because it is the most magnificent ornament and the most nearly unfailing occupation of our lives, but because it is life itself.”

“Poetry is a bad medium for philosophy. Everything in the philosophical poem has to satisfy irreconcilable requirements: for instance, the last demand that we should make of philosophy (that it be interesting) is the first we make of a poem; the philosophical poet has an elevated and methodical, but forlorn and absurd air as he works away at his flying tank, his sewing-machine that also plays the piano.”

“The safest way to avoid the world is through art; and the safest way to be linked to the world is through art.”

“A poem is, so to speak, a way of making you forget how you wrote it.”

“It is always hard for poets to believe that one says their poems are bad not because one is a fiend but because their poems are bad.”

“I think that one possible definition of our modern culture is that it is one in which nine-tenths of our intellectuals can’t read any poetry.”

“There is in this world no line [of poetry] so bad that someone won’t someday copy it.”

—Randall Jarrell



10 Great Quotes About Poetry, Writing, and Art by Robert Pinsky


“Poetry’s medium is not merely light as air, it is air: vital and deep as ordinary breath.”

“A sentence is like a tune. A memorable sentence gives its emotion a melodic shape. You want to hear it again, say it—in a way, to hum it to yourself. You desire, if only in the sound studio of your imagination, to repeat the physical experience of that sentence. That craving, emotional and intellectual but beginning in the body with a certain gesture of sound, is near the heart of poetry.”

“An underestimated element in poetry, that reading aloud makes clear, is the pause. I mean especially the force of a pause or a couple of pauses close together, contrasted with a longer unit of grammar.”

“Poetry is not easy. Or should I say, real poetry is not easy.”

“I have always been thinking about the sounds and shades and aromas of words – fitting them together or disrupting their customary march – more or less every second of my life, waking and sleeping.”

“‘Write’ is almost the wrong verb for what I do. I think ‘compose’ is more accurate because you’re trying to make the sounds in your mind and in your voice. So I compose while I’m driving or in the shower.

“If a poem is written well, it was written with the poet’s voice and for a voice. Reading a poem silently instead of saying a poem is like the difference between staring at sheet music and actually humming or playing the music on an instrument.”

“If what you want to do is make good art, decide what’s good and try to imitate it.”

“The last thing a young artist should do in poetry or any other field is think about what’s in style, what’s current, what are the trends. Think instead of what you like to read, what do you admire, what you like to listen to in music. What do you like to look at in architecture? Try to make a poem that has some of those qualities.”

“Jazz and poetry both involve a structure that may be familiar and to some extent predictable. And then, you try to create as much surprise and spontaneity and feeling and variation while respecting that structure.”

—Robert Pinsky


10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Ezra Pound


“Poetry is a language pared down to its essentials.”

“The primary pigment of poetry is the Image.”

“The Image is more than an idea. It is a vortex or cluster of fused ideas and is endowed with energy.”

“Use no superfluous word, no adjective, which does not reveal something. Don’t use such an expression as ‘dim land of peace.’ It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer’s not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol. Go in fear of abstraction.”

“And the good writer chooses his words for their ‘meaning’, but that meaning is not a a set, cut-off thing like the move of knight or pawn on a chess-board. It comes up with roots, with associations, with how and where the word is familiarly used, or where it has been used brilliantly or memorably.”

“Rhythm is form cut into time.”

“One discards rhyme, not because one is incapable of rhyming neat, fleet, sweet, meet, treat, eat, feet but because there are certain emotions or energies which are nor represented by the over-familiar devices or patterns.”

“Poetry is a very complex art…. It is an art of pure sound bound in through an art of arbitrary and conventional symbols.”

“Poetry is a sort of inspired mathematics, which gives us equations, not for abstract figures, triangles, squares, and the like, but for the human emotions. If one has a mind which inclines to magic rather than science, one will prefer to speak of these equations as spells or incantations; it sounds more arcane, mysterious, recondite.”

“Poets who are not interested in music are, or become, bad poets.”

—Ezra Pound


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.


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.

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Nikki Giovanni


“Poetry and music are very good friends. Like mommies and daddies and strawberries and cream – they go together.”

“If everybody became a poet the world would be much better. We would all read to each other.”

“Nothing improves your writing, I think, as much as your keeping writing.”

“Poetry is the most mistaught subject in any school because we teach poetry by form and not by content.”

“Poems don’t have to rhyme… Poems are about beauty and emotion; in other words, poems are about feelings.”

“Poetry is the most informative of all of the arts because everything comes down to poetry. No matter what it is we are describing, ultimately we use either a metaphor; or we say “that’s poetry in motion.” You drink a glass of wine and say, “that’s poetry in a bottle.” Everything is poetry, so I think we come down to emotional information. And that’s what poetry conveys.”

“[To become a poet] The most important thing is to pay attention. The next would probably be to read; it’s so important to pay attention. It keeps you from being bored, and I might add it keeps you from being boorish.”

“We write because we believe the human spirit cannot be tamed and should not be trained.”

“The poet can only write the poems; it takes the reader to complete the meaning.”

“You must be unintimidated by your own thoughts because if you write with someone looking over your shoulder, you’ll never write.”

—Nikki Giovanni

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Edward Hirsch


“Poetry connects us to what is deepest in ourselves. It gives us access to our own feelings, which are often shadowy, and engages us in the art of making meaning. It widens the space of our inner lives. It is a magical, mysterious, inexplicable (though not incomprehensible) event in language.”

“And my experience is the best titles, for me, emerge in the process of writing. They don’t usually come at the very beginning and hopefully they don’t come at the very end because then it’s getting late in the day.”

“A poem is a hand, a hook, a prayer. It is a soul in action.”

“The poet wants justice. And the poet wants art. In poetry, we can’t have one without the other.”

“One of the deep fundamentals of poetry is the recurrence of sounds, syllables, words, phrases, lines, and stanzas. Repetition can be one of the most intoxicating features of poetry. It creates expectations, which can be fulfilled or frustrated. It can create a sense of boredom and complacency, but it can also incite enchantment and inspire bliss.”

“The way to become a poet is to read poetry and to imitate what you read and to read passionately and widely and in as involved a way as you can.”

“I think there are different kinds of poetry for different stages of life and there’s the wild, exuberance of youth, there’s the painful agony of midlife experience, there’s the late poetry in the presence of death.”

“Poetry never loses its appeal. Sometimes its audience wanes and sometimes it swells like a wave. But the essential mystery of being human is always going to engage and compel us. We’re involved in a mystery. Poetry uses words to put us in touch with that mystery. We’re always going to need it.”

“There has never been a great poet who wasn’t also a great reader of poetry.”

“Emily Dickinson calls previous poets her kinsmen of the shelf. You can always be consoled by your kinsmen of the shelf and you can participate in poetry by going to them and by trying to make something worthy of them.”

—Edward Hirsch