Tag Archives: patter

Poem: ‘Ticking Away’

You have hopes. You don’t expect
that they’ll ever come to pass
but you drink, think and reflect
as you look into the glass…
And you wonder what will happen
while your life just ticks away:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… end of play.

Science’s prognostications,
things you’d pick up in a flash:
soon they’ll start rejuvenations
if you only had the cash…
Cash cuts those who’d live forever
from the rest as with a knife:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… end of life.

But you don’t like thoughts of dying
so you hope you’ve got a soul;
and though preachers are caught lying
Heaven seems attainable…
But there’s got to be a Heaven
or prayer’s just a waste of breath:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… towards death.

Though you think that you’re so clever,
you’ve got goals but not the How.
Play the lottery for ever
it must pay off – why not now?
But you never do the homework
so at question time you’re stuck:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… out of luck.

That affair you never had
with the person down the street
for you’re really not that bad
and besides, you rarely meet…
But it sits there like a present
that’s unopened on a shelf:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… end of self.

So there’s all the other options
for the things you’d like to do:
travel, study, home, adoptions,
building family anew,
but you’re aging while you’re thinking
and the chances go on by:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… till you die.

*****

On this funereal day I take happy morbid pleasure in remembering that we are all mortal. Let’s keep on ticking as long as we can! ‘Ticking Away’ was published in the most recent edition of David Stephenson’s ‘Pulsebeat Poetry Journal‘, a recent and welcome addition to the growing cadre of formal-friendly magazines. It’s a nonce form, shaped in the writing of it; the lines rhyming ABABCDD, and the metre being a rapid patter broken by the ticking in the last line of the stanza.

You could say it’s mostly written in incomplete trochaic tetrameter, the form of Longfellow’s ‘Hiawatha’

By the shore of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
At the doorway of his wigwam,

But I prefer to read it with the rapid beat of W.S. Gilbert’s

I am the very model of a modern Major-General
I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral

which, technically, you could read as iambic octosyllable

I am the very model of a modern Major-General
I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral

but not all of those stressed syllables have equal weight. Gilbert’s lyrics are patter, built on highly stressed, semi-stressed and unstressed syllables. English poetry is flexible and chaotic, and its analysis can be contradictory, because the poetry is a fusion of casual Anglo-Saxon verse which counts stresses but not syllables, and formal French verse which counts syllables but not stresses. This mirrors the creation of English itself which is a fusion of various Germanic and Romance languages… with a dash of Celtic grammar thrown in. (Where do you think the pointless auxiliary verb “do” comes from in the phrase “Where do you think”, rather than a more straightforward “Whence think you”? Answer: Celtic.) But the educated literati of the past few hundred years learned all their analysis of grammar and poetry from the French who in turn were drawing on the Greeks and Romans. And some of that thinking is irrelevant to Germanic and Celtic structures.

TLDR: Write what feels natural, enjoyable and memorable. Personally, I’m always glad to remember I don’t have to write everything in iambic pentameter…

Photo: “Self portrait – Ticking away” by MattysFlicks is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Poem: “Optimism”

Do you have a clear detection
Of an unexpired affection?
Are you reckoned to come second in her life?
Was there someone there before you?
Let it be, don’t let it bore you;
It’ll maintain her somewhat saner as your wife.

This little throwaway poem was recently published in Lighten Up Online. In my mind its value is not so much as a commentary on modern marriage, as an enjoyable way to string some rhymes together. I no longer have any idea what was on my mind when I wrote it.

Many poets would analyse this as written in trochees with lines of either four or six feet, the third line being

ARE you RECKoned TO come SECond IN her LIFE?

but to my mind the lines have only either two or three strongly accented syllables, with the third line being

Are you RECKoned to come SECond in her LIFE?

It is a short piece of patter, which is emphasised by the internally stressed rhymes of reckoned/second and maintain-her/saner. But that leads to a problem: there is a difficulty with the beginning of the last line, and it is hard to find a smooth flow.

Originally it read

‘Twill maintain her —

Archaic, said LUPO editor Jerome Betts, and requested a change for publication as

It’ll keep her —

I accepted this, not noticing that I was losing the rhyme with saner. So why not

It’ll maintain her —

Now the problem is that there is one syllable too many, and we don’t have a smooth flow from the previous line.

You’ll maintain her —, perhaps?

That gives a brand new problem, a subtle shift of meaning from the abstract “it” to the personal “you”, with a much more active sense of “maintain her” and even a suggestion of financial concern.

If it was just an oral presentation, you could probably slide by with

‘t’ll maintain her —

but is that acceptable, comprehensible, in print?

My operating principle with poetry is that there is always a solution. But in this case I haven’t yet found it.