Category Archives: nonce forms

Poem: ‘Barefoot’

After your city feet in socks and shoes,
After your crowded evening with its booze,
Your air is tainted with your body’s sweat,
Unclean and laden with a vague regret.
But we are free
Who live beside the sea,
Can choose what our life spurns or craves.
Surely we reach
Purity on a beach,
Daily dallying barefoot in the waves.

I grew up barefoot. The only downside came when I was sent away to school, and shoes were always too tight even if they were EEE width. That in turn meant that in England I suffered from chilblains all winter. As an adult I still go barefoot, wear sandals in town, have shoes for rare stuations. But let’s face it – shoes make your feet sweat, and also make it hard to climb trees and to swim.

The form of the poem reflects the argument: the first four lines about shoe-wearing are regimented: iambic pentameters, rhyming AABB. The barefoot lines are less constrained, more playful, rhyming CCDEED – the short lines could be written together as iambic pentameters, but the rhymes work against seeing and hearing them that way. And the seventh line is the most unorthodox, having only four feet, while the last line is the most whimsical with its ‘daily dallying’.

The poem was originally published in The Orchards Poetry Journal.

Photo: “25/02/2009 (Day 3.56) – Definitions” by Kaptain Kobold is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Nonce Poem: “Roughing It In Europe”

One two three four
Is OK, but you need more:

Un deux trois quat’
If you want a welcome mat

En to tre fire
With the krone getting dearer,

Bir iki uç dirt
Selling off your jeans or shirt

Wahid zoozh teleta arba
In a cafe by the harbour

Üks kaks kolm neli
For some food to fill your belly;

Jeden dwa trzy cztery
Language may be shaky, very,

Uno dos tres cuatro
But they’ll love you if you’re up to

Eins zwei drei vier
Trying freely, laughing freer.

This poem, more fully titled “(On the value of learning languages, when) Roughing It In Europe”, was originally published in Unsplendid, actually a splendid magazine that unfortunately has been quiet for the past couple of years. Now the poem is just being reprinted in The Orchards Poetry Journal whose Summer edition is due out today. The poem dates back to my early hitchhiking days, when I was based in Copenhagen but wandering around Europe, North Africa and North America. My experience was that you could wander into any country without any plans, prior contacts or knowledge of the language, and survive so long as you quickly learned to say Yes, No, Please, Thank you, Hello, Goodbye and to count from one to ten – and so long as you smiled, and were comfortable being laughed at for all kinds of mistakes. Case in point: the word “zoozh” that I learned for “two” in Morocco won’t get you very far in most Arabic-speaking countries… So it goes.

Technically, this poem was written in a simple form, nine rhymed couplets, four feet to a line. The second line of each couplet has mostly trochaic feet (i.e. with two syllables, a stressed or accented one followed by an unstressed one). But the first line of each couplet is simply counting out 1-2-3-4 in different languages, and therefore the feet vary with the words of the language. But as we are used to counting to four in a steady rhythm, everything sounds rhythmic regardless of the number of syllables.

So this shows another type of “form”: each couplet is structured the same with the first line counting 1-2-3-4, always in a new language, and the second line having four feet and rhyming with its first line’s “four”. And therefore the poem has a “nonce” form – I created this form for this specific poem; it was created “for the nonce”. You’d be unlikely to find another poem structured quite like this.

Photo: “Hitchhiking in Amsterdam” by Teppo is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0