Can you believe it? We've already been doing this for ten whole weeks! So welcome back to The Gooseberry Garden where once again CC Champagne, along with the brilliant Ava, for your Thursday delectation attempts to unravel the tangled web of poetry forms and, hopefully, provide some inspiration along the way.
You probably know by now that I have a major pet peeve, namely what I call poetry-speak. I have already raved about syllables, tried to dissect a bit of free verse and lauded Ava for, among other things, her easy straight forward explanation of iambic pentameter and haikus, but as I've been skipping around the blogosphere I am almost worried about the fact that I am, slowly, starting to understand poetry-speak and their related poetry forms, and I am also starting to enjoy researching these posts.
Many poetry forms do have foreign sounding names like Ghazal, Sestina or Roundelet (we will surely return to all of these and more in the upcoming weeks) and when you start trying to figure out what they want you to do to write one, the explanation frequently starts something along the lines of 'This is a form written in anapestic pentameter...' Ana-who? Penta-what? Adhering to poetry forms is, unfortunately, not only about learning how to count syllables or finding interesting rhymes, you need to understand a bit of Greek to be able to get familiar with them. Needless to say, I don't speak Greek, and therefore I would like to focus on metrical feet this week. I have found that, for me at least, this is the Greek word part that usually puts me off poetry forms the most.
We all use metrical feet, whether we are aware of it or not, and it doesn't matter if you live in a country that still uses imperial measurements or one who has kept up with evolution and now uses the metric system. Metrical feet are what provides rhythm to the words, how they are stressed when we say them. Ava already brought up one of them in her post on iambic pentameter, where she compared the iambic foot to the beating of a heart. Simple and brilliant! So what these little Greek words are telling us is where the poet intended us to stress the word used in his poetry!
Wikipedia provides a list of some 28 various metric feet (and links to even more in their external links section), but I thought I might settle for a quick run-through of the most common ones, along with some famous examples.
Iamb - Two beats (two syllables) where the stress is on the first syllable (TA-dum), think of your heart beating. A poem that uses this metric foot would be Lewis Carroll in the wonderful poem Jabberwocky (featured earlier in the week at d'Verse Poets Pub):
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Since Carroll used non-sensical language, no one would have known how to read this poem if there hadn't been a cheat-sheet in the form of a metrical foot to go by!
Trochee (or Choree) - Two beats (two syllables) where the stress is on the second syllable (ta-DUM). As an example I get to mention the Master himself, William Shakespeare, and the unforgettable opening scene of Macbeth:
Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble!
Not all of Macbeth is written in trochaic meter though, but I really just love this example!
Spondee - Two beats (two syllables) with equal stress (DUM-DUM or ta-ta). Unless you write a poem about a robot speaking in a monotone, un-stressed voice, it would be silly to expect a whole poem to be in this metric foot and the reason I mention it is that it is a good 'filler-device' that helps mix up the rhythms of other feet (often anapests).
Anapest - Three beats (three syllables) where the stress is on the last syllable (ta-ta-DUM). An example would be the poem which, according to Wikipedia, is 'arguably the best known verses ever written by an American' and has been attributed to both Clement Clarke Moore and Henry Livingstone Jr, namely A Visit from St. Nicholas:
Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house...
Dactyl - Three beats (three syllables) where the stress is on the first syllable (DUM-ta-ta). An example of this metrical form would be the poem Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
This is the forest primeval. The
murmuring pines and the
The last line, the words 'hem locks' are in fact a spondee rather than a dactyl. The rhythm of the dactyl is the same as that of the waltz and the complete opposite of the anapest mentioned above.
There are many, many more of these but, though I don't know about you, I am starting to see Greek words and metrical feet dance like little spots before my eyes now and will therefore call it quits for this brief summary. If you have any comments (or if I have screwed this up), feel free to make a comment and I will answer as best I can.
I am sure that if you look through your poetry you will now be able to recognise some of these in the rhythm of the words you have already written as you may in what you write in the future. The most important thing is that the metrical feet can help you express how you want your poem read by others. A poem you have felt, and written, in one metrical foot (say using anapests) might not flow as well if someone reads it assuming it is in another (for example dactyls). This is your chance to point out how the words sound in your head and I know from personal experience that this doesn't always translate well to paper.
If you feel like sharing some of your poetry, whether you know the metrical foot/feet of it or not, why not join the fabulously creative souls over at the Poetry Picnic where we also say good-bye to the inspirational Shashi this week, or fill up your poetic race car and join in this week's Poetry Rally? Next week Ava will be back with more from the exciting world of poetry forms!