Tag Archives: double dactyl

Double Dactyl: ‘Emily Dickinson’

Yellow rose, yellow rose,
Emily Dickinson
lived in seclusion, was
never a wife;
wrote of her garden most
anthropocentrically,
talking with God, Satan,
Death, all her life.

*****

There’s an old suggestion that all of Emily Dickinson’s poetry can be sung to the tune of ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’.

I never saw a moor,
I never saw the sea;
Yet know I how the heather looks,
And what a wave must be.

(Brave words, but I think that waves would have surprised her with their complexity and power and sensuousness.) There’s a newer suggestion that she lived so reclusively because she suffered from epilepsy, and wanted to hide it as much as possible out of a sense of shame.

Strange woman, strange life, strange little poems… but remarkably insightful, accessible, and word-for-word memorable.

My double dactyl on her was recently published in The Asses of Parnassus – thanks, Brooke Clark!

Emily Dickinson” by Amherst College Archives is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0.

Parody poem: Marcus Bales, ‘Slash Wednesday’

I
Because I do not do the limerick line
Because I do not do
Because I do not do the limerick
Desiring this man’s schtick or that man’s joke
I will stick to knocking out free verse
(If here and there a rhyme so much the worse)
In mournful moans
Presented ragged-right upon the page.

II
There once was a Lady with three
White leopards, a juniper tree,
And a bag full of bones
That sang their sad moans
Of what they had once hoped to be.

III
At every turning of the turning stair,
Your breathing hard, your eyesight edged with dark,
You see the face of hope and of despair.

You breathe the vapor of the fetid air
And toil as if some atmospheric shark
At every turning of the turning stair

Was hunting through the gathering darkness there,
While back and forth across the narrative arc
You see the face of hope and of despair.

At every turning there’s a window where
You contemplate a drop that’s still more stark
At every turning of the turning stair.

Instead you circle upward as you swear
Like you are looking for a place to park.
You see the face of hope and of despair.

You can’t endure the future’s dismal dare
Nor drag yourself to put out your own spark
At every turning of the turning stair.

You’re learning how to care and not to care
And whether you will make or be a mark.
You see the face of hope and of despair
At every turning of the turning stair.

IV
Higgledy piggledy
Here we are all of us
Trudging along where some
Billions have trod

Smelling the flowers and
Trusting religionists’
Tergiversational
Rodomontade.

V
If the word that is lost isn’t lost,
And the word that is spent isn’t spent
Then silence is actually speaking,
And meaning is something unmeant.

If the meaning is what is unheard
And the word is the thing that’s unspoken
Then how do you hear if a word
Has a meaning that hasn’t been broken.

If the unspoken word must be still
And the unheard is what it’s about
To have heard the unhearable meaning
The inside has got to be out.

If the unheard were out of this world
And the light shone in darkness were dark
Then the unlit unheard would be meaning
If the snuffer provided the spark.

If the yadda can yadda its yadda
And the pocus was what hocus took
Then gobble must surely be gobble
Though dee separates it from gook.

VI
Awake! Your hope to turn or not to turn
Is wasting time – but go ahead and yearn
To see the light or hear the word to know
A heaven human beings can’t discern.

There’s nothing there for such as you and me;
We make our meaning up from what we see
And hear and touch and taste and smell and think —
But all there is is fragments and debris.

The steps are just the steps, the stairs the stairs,
The rest is merely human hopes and prayers
That do no more than hopes and prayers can do,
And nothing’s chasing you except your heirs.

No unmoved mover writes upon some slate
That mortals may abate or not abate;
No hope and no despairing of that hope
Reveals what nothing states, or doesn’t state.

Whatever happens happens because of us
We get a muss when we don’t make a fuss
Demanding right from wrong not mere convenience:
We’re all complicit underneath this bus.

Awake! Don’t hope to turn or not to turn,
Don’t pray that this is none of your concern.
Awake! What will it take for you to learn
That if it all burns down you, too, will burn?

*****

Marcus Bales has produced this wonderful set of parodies of the long T.S. Eliot poem ‘Ash Wednesday‘, beginning with a piece in the poem’s style for Part I,
Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope

but then moving into a limerick for Part II’s
Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree

and a 22-line villanelle for Part III’s
At the first turning of the second stair

and a double dactyl for Part IV’s
Who walked between the violet and the violet

and quatrains for Part V’s
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;

and finally rubaiyat with a strong flavour of FitzGerald’s Omar Khayyam for Part VI’s
Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Ash Wednesday‘ has proved one of Eliot’s best-known and most quoted poems, with its signature mixture of Christian mysticism, personal emotion, loose form and scattered rhyme, rich imagery and memorable wordplay. Bales’ ‘Slash Wednesday‘ is an appropriate tour de force of a back-handed homage, mocking Eliot’s ragged rambling with a sampling of forms that could have been used (inappropriately) instead.

Not much is known about Marcus Bales except that he lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio, and that his work has not been published in Poetry or The New Yorker. However his ’51 Poems’ is available from Amazon. He has been published in several of the Potcake Chapbooks (‘form in formless times’).

This is being posted two days late for T.S. Eliot’s birthday, but as it’s for the already late T.S. Eliot that shouldn’t matter too much…

Photo: “File:T S Eliot Simon Fieldhouse.jpg” by Simon Fieldhouse is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Short Poem: ‘Cultural Field Trip’

Properly stroppily,
Off to Thermopylae
Busloads of schoolchildren
Grudgingly go;
Hoovered, manoeuvred
Off into the Louvre’d
Be better for profs who are
Trudgingly slow.

No, I agree, that’s not a true Double Dactyl because it doesn’t have a single-word double dactyl line. It’s just one of those poems I’ve written for no other purpose than to play with rhymes. The poem was published in this month’s Snakeskin, editor George Simmers privately commenting: “As an ex-teacher I empathise with the trudging profs.”

“Mona Lisa Madness” by Joe Parks is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Poem: “Zombie Apocalypse”

Zombie Apocalypse –
humans have always had
end-times fear: Ragnarok,
Judgement Day, World War III,
comet strike, Y2K,
supervolcano – well,
you get my drift.

Zombie Apocalypse –
there’s a pandemic and
AI has run amuck –
this is no practice round,
this is for real!

Zombie Apocalypse –
head for a tropic isle,
live on fish, coconuts –
solar will last a few
years, then corrode.

Zombie Apocalypse –
walls can be built without
concrete or plastering,
fight infestations of
zombies and dogs.

As the world splits in two
all the Enhanced are gone,
gone to the Cloud and space;
only the Left Behind
scrabble, deteriorate,
left in the dirt and ash,
left on the Earth.

I, the last poet am
here on Earth’s farthest beach,
toweled, not panicking,
waiting for Branson and
Musk in their ships.

Yes, humans love the threat of the end of the world, the collapse of civilisation, all apocalyptic disasters. We don’t want the disasters to be inflicted on us… but we love thinking about them. Perhaps it’s a way of thinking about our own mortality, without actually thinking that it is we who will die one day.

The Zombie Apocalypse is wonderful because it is both a complete fantasy (as in the photo) and an image for the kind of catastrophic real-world disaster that an out-of-control plague can inflict–a medieval Black Death killing a third of the population… an early 20th century Spanish Flu infecting a third of the world’s population (but “only” killing maybe 50 million)… or, of course, a coronavirus leaping out of a food market in Wuhan and spreading around the world before anyone can get a proper handle on it. Death is real. Around the world, 150,000 people die every day. What can you do but work to minimize death–and laugh at it?

And then there’s the fantasy of being one of the lucky few survivors, faced with the difficulties of a post-apocalyptic world, a post-nuclear Wasteland, a flooded Waterworld, a Biblical Left Behind, reminiscent of Nevil Shute’s On The Beach, John Christopher’s The Death of Grass (No Blade Of Grass in the US), even Ursula Le Guin’s post-alien-invasion City of Illusions. Carrying a towel like Ford Prefect to hitchhike through the galaxy, away from doomed Earth. Dramatically, heroically, surviving the destruction of the world as we know it. As though you can dramatically, heroically, survive the time-driven destruction of your body…

The poem itself (yet another one published in Bewildering Stories) is unrhymed, but written in a form inspired by double dactyls. Technically double dactyls are eight-line poems with a few additional requirements–the form was created by Anthony Hecht, Paul Pascal and Naomi Pascal in 1951, and popularized by Hecht’s and John Hollander’s collection Jiggery Pokery… the name of the book being a double dactyl, naturally. So this poem is only “inspired by” double dactyls. But, as with limericks, the bouncy rhythm adds to a mood of flippancy, frivolity, which is always suitable (in my mind) when discussing existential catastrophe. I tip my hat to Country Joe and the Fish for the I Feel Like I’m Fixin To Die Rag, and to all political cartoonists everywhere.

Life is short; enjoy each day.