A Guide to Poetry: Experimental Intermission

The Story So Far

1. Foot, Metrics, Prosody and Scansion

1.1 General Overview

1.2 Anglophonic metrics

1.3 Romance languages

1.4 Classical languages

2. Verse Forms

2.1 Sestina

2.2 Villanelle

2.3 Pantoum

2.4 English Sonnet

2.5 Rondelet

2.6 Italian Sonnet

2.7 Pushkin Sonnet

Thinking about iambic pentameter led me to thinking about the various forms that chiefly employ it in English language poetry:

Heroic couplets are lines of iambic pentameter that rhyme, famously used by Alexander Pope and John Dryden. An idea might be to add an extra alexandrine, creating a heroic triplet, though this is non-standard.

Blank verse is lines of iambic pentameter that don’t rhyme, like Milton or Shakespeare.

The Spenserian stanza is a fixed verse form invented by Edmund Spenser for his epic poem, The Faerie Queen. Each stanza consists of nine lines in total: eight lines in iambic pentameter followed by a single alexandrine in iambic hexameter. The rhyme scheme is ababbcbcc.

The ottava rima, a possible influence on Spenser, is a rhyming stanza of Italian origin probably invented by Giovanni Boccaccio. In English, it consists of eight lines of (usually) iambic pentameter, following the abababcc pattern. It is usually used for mock heroic works, though Tasso and Ariosto used it for serious epic poetry.

The rhyme royal is another possible influence on Spenser, a traditional medieval form: seven lines of iambic pentameter with an ababbcc rhyme scheme. Another is the ballad stanza (distinct from the ballad metre, which is discussed here. In fact, it’s worth refamiliarising yourself with that post in general), an eight-line stanza with the rhyme scheme ababbcbc.

I propose a 4 stanza iambic-pentametrical poem. First stanza is royal, second is ballad, third is ottava rima, and fourth is Spenserian.

Evening Queen

1: ababbcc

In Liverpool’s night, he ventures forward,

In search of her, someone he once knew well,

To whom his blackened spirit was poured

From pints of blackened beer and last order bell:

His queen of drugs, architect of his hell.

If powder has beauty, she is pretty;

For that cocaine skin, he scours the city

2: ababbcbc

Between the fault lines along clockwork towns

At bleakly-timed intervals in their bars.

The patrons spill out, wearing their frowns

Amid choirs of mirth between the cars

Like drunken angels set against the stars.

Our hero spies the point of our ballad

And she cries: onto lips vengeful as Mars

Blue make-up drips, from the eyes as pallid,

(this is terrible. I’m this close to abandoning it)

3: abababcc

As cold, as stones smoothed by Mersey tides.

He approaches, thinking to call her name

But, without knowing why, he refrains and hides

From frozen eyes, where ice and fire’s the same;

Where Heaven’s death, Limbo and Hell imply.

Frightened, he’s lost the patience for the game

A braver someone takes up before him,

He wanders back to his drunken forum

4: ababbcbbc

tried lied ride bide died collide imbibe

Where drunker friends search Lime Street for transport.

They flag a taxi down, and climb inside

Taking good care not to get their hand’s caught.

He wonders why it’s such a bumpy ride

As much as he’s drank, the driver’s imbibed

Far more before getting into his cab.

Mystery still clouds our Lady of Lies:

Metaphysics fails as our hero dies

And bequeaths the night to the whims of Mab.

Laurence Thompson, 16 December 2011

Closing thoughts

I think the less said about this poem, the better. Serves me right for trying to write this after three sonnets in one day. Still, it was worth a go, and I think the subject matter of each stanza more or less makes the variation worthwhile.

So far I’ve found that there’s a general correlation between how strict I’m keeping to form or meter and how good the poem actually is. I hope to expand upon this in a future post.

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Laurence Thompson

Laurence Thompson is an English writer. He is almost certainly drunk.

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