Tag Archives: using form

Using form: choice of metre: John Beaton, ‘Request for a Dance’

Step with me, float with me, over the floor;
weave with me, waltz with me, out through the door;
slide to the deck where the crowdedness clears;
glide through the garden and tear off your fears.

Step with me, sneak with me, down to the lake,
onto its waters; the mirror won’t break;
lilt in a ball gown of luminous mist;
twirl till you’re breathless and need to be kissed.

Step with me, skim with me, let yourself go,
dazzling and dizzy, then flowingly slow;
whirl till our swirls make a maelstrom of night;
pass through the portal from here to delight.

Step with me, sway with me, feel yourself swing,
hammocked on rhythms of hearts on the wing;
move to the measures of seasons and years;
sweep to that island where time disappears.

Step with me, slip with me, up to its crypt,
quaff a last laugh from the pleasures we’ve sipped;
curtsey and smile at a parting of hands
joined in this dancing by two wedding bands.

*****

John Beaton writes: “Inspired by Richard Wilbur’s beautiful ‘For C,’ and by my own marriage, I wanted to write a poem about lifelong love. For the beginning, a wedding dance came to mind and that expanded into an extended metaphor. The theme needed a form that danced the reader along.
I adopted a four-line stanza rhymed aabb with the meter of each line being a form of dactylic tetrameter: DA-da-da, DA-da.da, DA-da-da, DA. To kick off each stanza dancingly, I used near-repetition in the first two dactyls. Then a lot of alliteration and internal rhyme help it swirl along.
The poem develops the dance into a shared lifelong experience, one that must end but does so with a sense of fulfilment and beauty. I’ve recited it at weddings.”

John Beaton’s metrical poetry has been widely published and has won numerous awards. He recites from memory as a spoken word performer and is author of Leaving Camustianavaig published by Word Galaxy Press. Raised in the Scottish Highlands, John lives in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island.
https://www.john-beaton.com/

Photo: “Wedding Dance” by DonnaBoley is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Using form: villanelle: Melissa Balmain, ‘Villain Elle’

Whenever I wake up and don’t feel well,
I like to read a women’s magazine.
I know that I can count on Vogue or Elle,

Cosmo or Glamour, Self or Mademoiselle,
instead of pills, elixirs or caffeine,
whenever I wake up and don’t feel well.

Page Eight has bathing suits that look just swell
if you’re six foot and live on Lean Cuisine.
I know that I can count on Vogue or Elle.

Page Nine’s a list of “wardrobe musts” that sell
at reasonable prices—for a queen.
Whenever I wake up and don’t feel well,

Page Ten says how to age, yet stay a belle.
The photo? It’s a model of eighteen.
I know that I can count on Vogue or Elle

to make my time in bed such living hell,
I’m out of there in sixty seconds clean.
Whenever I wake up and don’t feel well,
I know that I can count on Vogue or Elle.

*****

Editor: The villanelle is a highly structured poem, its two key lines rhyming and repeating several times. One of its challenges is to make each repetition fresh and interesting, either by developing and deepening the context, or by varying the repeated lines slightly or, as with this one, by having the same words resonate differently. Here “I know that I can count on” gives an initial impression of a favourable attitude to women’s magazines, but at the end the words show total disgust. This ‘Villain Elle‘ is typical of Balmain’s twists and puns and absolute control of form.

Melissa Balmain edits Light, America’s longest-running journal of light verse. Her poems and prose have appeared widely in the US and UK. She’s the author of the full-length poetry collection Walking in on People (Able Muse Press), chosen by X.J. Kennedy for the Able Muse Book Award, and the shorter, illustrated The Witch Demands a Retraction: Fairy-Tale Reboots for Adults (Humorist Books). Her next full-length collection, Satan Talks to His Therapist, is due out in fall 2023.

‘Villain Elle‘ is from Walking in on People © Melissa Balmain, 2014. Used by permission of Able Muse Press.

Photo: “304/365 – 8/8/2011” by GabrielaP93 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Using form: Refrain; Nina Parmenter, ‘Sense’

I am a bag of chemicals
with charge for eighty years,
I am a gassy mirage
that winks as oblivion nears.
Around me swill the stars,
my thoughts, the gods and insanity,
and nothing makes sense but this leaf
as it dances, drunk on gravity.

I am a pointless voice track
on a puff piece of DNA,
I am the ooze that awoke
and decided to live anyway.
Around me swings the void,
nirvana and calamity,
and nothing makes sense but the sea
as it dances, drunk on gravity.

*****

Nina Parmenter writes: “In 2021, in my strenuous efforts not to write pandemic poems, I probably wrote a lot of pandemic poems. This one, about focusing on tiny moments in nature to avoid thinking about the big scary things is a great example! I made it a foreword to my collection ‘Split, Twist, Apocalypse‘ because its slightly jolly air of existential dread sets the tone for the book nicely, I think.”

Editor’s comment: As with popular songs as well as verse forms such as the ballade, villanelle, triolet and rondeau, the use of a refrain (whether exact or varied) strengthens the poem by bringing the conclusion of each stanza back to a core image or message.

Nina Parmenter has no time to write poetry, but does it anyway. Her work has appeared in Lighten Up Online, Snakeskin, Light, The New Verse News, Ink, Sweat & Tears, and the Potcake Chapbook ‘Houses and Homes Forever’. Her home, work and family are in Wiltshire.
https://ninaparmenter.com/

Time Lapse of Stars During Earth’s Rotation” by Image Catalog is marked with CC0 1.0.

Using form: Roundel: Susan McLean, ‘No Thanks’

No one wants to be the damsel in
distress, the one in need of chivalry,
chained to a rock in nothing but her skin.
No!  One wants to be

the one who skirts the trap and steals the key,
testing the rope bridge with a shaky grin.
Whoever longs for victims he can free

is not a hero, but the villain’s twin.
So save yourself.  Don’t go expecting me
to play the clingy wimp, the might-have-been
no one wants to be.

*****

Susan McLean writes: “This poem got its start when I heard that Kirsten Dunst said, about playing Mary Jane in Spider-Man (2002), “I just don’t want to be the damsel in distress. I’ll scream on the balcony, but you’ve got to let me do a little action here.” It struck a chord with me. I was so tired of watching action movies in which the male hero does all of the derring-do and the female lead exists only to be saved, over and over again. Men still write, direct, and produce most films, so I guess it is not surprising that most movies reflect male fantasies. But women have fantasies, too, and screaming while I wait to be saved is not one of mine.
“The poem is a roundel, a poetic form invented by Algernon Swinburne. As in a rondeau, the poem has only two rhymes, and the first part of the first line appears twice more. Part of the fun of writing it lies in finding ways to vary the repeating line, and part lies in the challenge of finding five rhyme words for each rhyme. English averages fewer rhymes per word than French, the language in which the rondeau originally appeared. Swinburne chose to make the roundel shorter than the rondeau (which is fifteen lines long) in order to make it easier to write in English.
” ‘No Thanks‘ originally appeared in Mezzo Cammin, an online journal that features female formalist poets. It was also included in my second poetry book, The Whetstone Misses the Knife.”

Susan McLean has two books of poetry, The Best Disguise and The Whetstone Misses the Knife, and one book of translations of Martial, Selected Epigrams. Her poems have appeared in Light, Lighten Up Online, Measure, Able Muse, and elsewhere. She lives in Iowa City, Iowa.
https://www.pw.org/content/susan_mclean

Painting: ‘Andromeda Chained to the Rocks‘ by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, ca. 1630

Using form: Ballade: Marcus Bales, ‘Scary Home-Life’ (for GTZ)

Get up, get out, and get away–I went
as early as I could to leave one vile
exposure for another. School. It meant
escape from home at least a little while,
not long enough, and trading family guile
for reading sullen peers and teacher spin,
except for you, beside me on the aisle–
I was the girl with the scary home-life and bad skin.

I was first to homeroom every day.
And how did Mr Romo ever know
that half a sausage sandwich was the way
a skinny girl survived. He’d always go
“Good morning,” handing me a half as though
that half were mine and we were somehow kin;
I’d nod my thanks and sit in the back row–
I was the girl with the scary home-life, and bad skin.

And you, who sat beside me, always kind
to me, and always kind of sassy tough
to other kids who other years combined
to make me almost miserable enough
to stay at home, from you I learned to bluff
my inner fear, to fake a cocky grin,
and start to walk as if it wasn’t rough
to be the girl with the scary home-life, and bad skin.

L’envoi
Yeah, it was you and Mr Romo, in the end,
who gave me things that I could not begin
to pay you back for, so even I’d befriend
the girl with the scary home-life, and bad skin.

*****

Marcus Bales writes: “I have a modest file of poems that have got me unfriended, blocked, or banned by people or publications, for one reason or another. Sometimes, as in this case, the reason is unknown to me. 

“Back in the old days when I was a working salesman at the sort of retail store where it takes an hour or two to walk around the store with your salesperson and discuss wants and needs and preferences, it is often the case that the customer gets comfortable enough to tell things about themselves or their lives that they might hesitate to repeat without canny encouragement. Here, a vivacious and attractive young couple were moving in together and needed furniture and a bed. They were excited, and money was not an issue. It turned out the young woman had been an officer in the Marines or the Army — I forget which at this distance — in one of the rougher, tougher units, and I admired her for having the stuff to lead in that mise en scene. She recounted that she had felt driven to it by a harrowing early family life, complete with the sort of acne that is every teen’s nightmare. A scary home-life and bad skin was her description of it. After the sale was completed I wrote most of this poem in the break room in the back, after climbing on the table to turn off the Muzak speaker so I could think. 

“I discovered she had friended me on Facebook and had written some nice things about me at the store, which was very nice of her. Of course even back then I was posting my poems on Facebook, and posted this one, without her name, but with her initials. All the details are entirely fictional. I made them all up, except for that one line. She blocked me right away.”

Editor’s note: a ballade is a very suitable form for this poem, with iambics for thoughtful mood, claustrophobically restricted rhyme scheme, steady refrain, and final summation addressed to a superior person. From the Wikipedia entry ‘Ballade (forme fixe)‘: “The ballade as a verse form typically consists of three eight-line stanzas, each with a consistent metre and a particular rhyme scheme. The last line in the stanza is a refrain. The stanzas are often followed by a four-line concluding stanza (an envoi) usually addressed to a prince. The rhyme scheme is therefore usually ababbcbC ababbcbC ababbcbC bcbC, where the capital C is a refrain.”

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’).

Photo: “skinny girl” by Villegación is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Using form: sonnet variation: Amit Majmudar, ‘A Pedestrian’

He window shops. He yawns. He checks his watch.
He sips his Starbucks through a spillproof lid.
No one knows who he is or what he did
except a black van loitering down the block.
He buys a pack of gum. Briefly he stops
to crouch and read the headlines of the Times
before continuing up 12th and Vine.
His neck prickles. He slows. The coffee drops

and before it has landed he’s off like a hound at the races
he is hurdling strollers and ducking a chilidog raised
to the mouth checkered taxis grow fists as he cuts
into oncoming traffic our cellular phones snap shut
in amazement look billowing trenchcoats give chase
fleshcolored earpieces dangling a flush to their faces

*****

Amit Majmudar writes: “The actor Alfred Molina recorded ‘A Pedestrian‘ for the Poetry Foundation many years ago: https://www.wnyc.org/story/52133-poetry-off-the-shelf-amit-majmudar/ . It’s an excellent rendition. I remember feeling, when I heard that recording back in 2006 (at the tender age of 27), that I had finally “arrived” as a poet—after all, the guy from the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark had spoken my words! I don’t often write sonnets, but ‘A Pedestrian‘, with its metrical shift from walking to running at the volta (dovetailing with the idea of metrical “feet”), was a fun poem to write.”

Amit Majmudar is a poet, novelist, essayist, translator, and the former first Poet Laureate of Ohio. He works as a diagnostic and nuclear radiologist and lives in Westerville, Ohio, with his wife and three children. 
      Majmudar’s poetry collections include 0’, 0’ (Northwestern, 2009), shortlisted for the Norma Faber First Book Award, and Heaven and Earth (2011, Storyline Press), which won the Donald Justice Prize, selected by A. E. Stallings. These volumes were followed by Dothead (Knopf, 2016) and What He Did in Solitary (Knopf, 2020). His poems have won the Pushcart Prize and have appeared in the Norton Introduction to Literature, The New Yorker, and numerous Best American Poetry anthologies as well as journals and magazines across the United States, UK, India, and Australia. Majmudar also edited, at Knopf’s invitation, a political poetry anthology entitled Resistance, Rebellion, Life: 50 Poems Now. 
      Majmudar’s essays have appeared in The Best American Essays 2018, the New York Times, and the Times of India, among several other publications. His forthcoming collection of essays, focusing on Indian religious philosophy, history, and mythology, is Black Avatar and Other Essays (Acre Books, 2023). Twin A: A Life (Slant Books, 2023) is the title of a forthcoming memoir, in prose and verse, about his son’s struggle with congenital heart disease. 
      Majmudar’s work as a novelist includes two works of historical fiction centered around the 1947 Partition of India, Partitions (Holt/Metropolitan, 2011) and The Map and the Scissors (HarperCollins India, 2022). His first children’s book also focuses on Indian history and is entitled Heroes the Colour of Dust (Puffin India, 2022). Majmudar has also penned a tragicomic, magical realist fable of Indian soldiers during World War I, Soar (Penguin India, 2020). The Abundance (Holt/Metropolitan, 2013), by contrast, is a work of contemporary realism exploring Indian-American life. Majmudar’s long-form fiction has garnered rave reviews from NPR’s All Things Considered, the Wall Street Journal, Good Housekeeping, and The Economist, as well as starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist; his short fiction won a 2017 O. Henry Prize.   
      Majmudar’s work in Hindu mythology includes a polyphonic Ramayana retelling, Sitayana (Penguin India, 2019), and The Mahabharata Trilogy (Penguin India, 2023). His work as a translator includes Godsong: A Verse Translation of the Bhagavad-Gita, with Commentary (Knopf, 2018).

Photo: “a hot drink” by [ embr ] is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Using form: Couplets: Maryann Corbett, ‘Fugue in October’

Baroque chamber ensemble and homeless encampment, Saint Paul

Perfect: the singers, strings, and keyboards. Perfect
Bruised sky above the tents of the squatters’ district
the little jewel-box church, its bright acoustic
calm in the year’s last mildness, the only music
softened a little in the candles’ lighting,
the mumbling underpass. The wind. No fighting
for this is God’s mind, woven of harmonies
for once. Tonight, for once, no one ODs—
and our souls thread through the flame of the vigil lamp
someone got lucky at the entrance ramp
as we hold, hold to Monteverdi’s line
(panhandling, on this warm day, with a sign)
and stop our breath until the last string dies
and parcels out his manna of salty fries
in the last great chord of his Beatus vir
while sirens wail some sorrow, far from here.

*****

Editor’s comments: “In case it isn’t clear from whatever device you are reading this on, each couplet here is comprised of a line about a musical ensemble in a church followed by a line about a homeless encampment under a highway. You can read it straight through as a soft-voiced line followed by a harsher one; or you can read every other line in one voice and the remaining lines in a different voice; either way, you are blending two very different aspects of city life into a larger, richer picture of community sharing, whether in glamour or squalor. This is an unusual and remarkably effective use of rhymed couplets of iambic pentameter.
The contrast built into the poem, and the skill with which it was done, made it a natural poem for inclusion in the ‘City! Oh City!‘ Potcake chapbook. It first appeared in Measure Review; and is included in the collection In Code.

Maryann Corbett writes: “Events that trigger a poem need not be as simultaneous as the poem makes them seem. The choral concert in this poem took place on a subzero night during the Christmas season; the rise of homeless encampments occurred at a warmer time of year–but both could be happening in my city at any time, and they probably still are.”

Maryann Corbett earned a doctorate in English from the University of Minnesota in 1981 and expected to be teaching Beowulf and Chaucer and the history of the English language. Instead, she spent almost thirty-five years working for the Office of the Revisor of Statutes of the Minnesota Legislature, helping attorneys to write in plain English and coordinating the creating of finding aids for the law. She returned to writing poetry after thirty years away from the craft in 2005 and is now the author of two chapbooks, five full-length collections already published, and a forthcoming book. Her fifth book, In Code, contains the poems about her years with the Revisor’s Office. Her work has won the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize, has appeared in many journals on both sides of the Atlantic, and is included in anthologies like Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters and The Best American Poetry 2018.

Her web page: http://maryanncorbett.com

Photo: “sleeping on the rock of ages” by waferboard is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Using form: nonce form; John Beaton, ‘Wolves’

I’m wakened, drawn towards the ice-thin window,
to witness scenes as faint and still as death.
How bleak the moon; how bare the trees and meadows;
sky’s pale maw overhangs
Earth bleached beneath star fangs.
Night’s curled lip sneers on shadows
of mountains set like teeth.

Two bow waves shear the median of the valley,
iced hayfield yields as feral muscles glide–
hoarfrost disturbed by wakes of live torpedoes.
Grey shoulders breach and lope,
implode and telescope,
impelled by ruthless credos
of chilled and vicious pride.

The wolves tear savage furrows down the nightscape;
their eyes are shined with blood, their mission clear.
Grass springs back shocked to green behind their passage–
twin tracks traverse the vales,
cold comets trailing tails
leave scarred in frost their message:
the wolves, the wolves passed here.

*****

John Beaton writes: “This describes a real incident on our acreage when I woke in the middle of a frosty night for no apparent reason and looked out the window. I was struck by the grace, power, and sense of danger the wolves evoked.
“The first three lines are pentameter and the endings alternate—feminine, masculine, feminine. The next four lines contract to trimeter to give a sense of speed and acceleration. Lines two and seven have a masculine rhyme that closes the stanza and ties its parts together. The overall rhyme-scheme is xabccba. My intent was to convey the power and motion of the wolves running and I built in alliteration and internal rhyme to help with this.”

John Beaton’s metrical poetry has been widely published and has won numerous awards. He recites from memory as a spoken word performer and is author of Leaving Camustianavaig published by Word Galaxy Press. Raised in the Scottish Highlands, John lives in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island.
https://www.john-beaton.com/

Photo: “Wolves With Northern Lights (Color Corrected)” by edenpictures is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Using form: alliterative verse: A.M. Juster, ‘Three Visitors’

Mist on moonspill as midnight nears.
Adrift but not dreaming our drowsy son
is covered and kissed. At the kitchen door
our old basset is barking; coyotes out back
are standing like statues down by the dogwoods.
Across the crystal of crusted snow,
they search for stragglers to startle and chase.
Their vigil reveals no victims this night.

Trash would be trouble; they trot away
unbothered by bloodthroated growling and baying.
No star distracts their stealthy march.
As the highway hums they howl through the calm,
then savor new scents that spice their path
in this world awash in wonder and wrath.

*****

Editor’s comments: “Alliterative verse is a form found across the old Germanic language family including Old English, Middle English, Old Norse, Old High German and Old Saxon. It relies on a chant-like use of stressed syllables and does not count all syllables in the way that Romance poetry tends to; and it relies on alliteration rather than rhyme as its key memory-aid for recitation. Although there are many regional variations in the structure, most include these key points:
each line is divided into two halves by a heavy caesura;
each half has two heavily stressed syllables (“lifts”) as well as some unstressed ones (“dips”);
the two lifts of the first half alliterate with the first lift of the second half, but not with the second.
There is a good article on alliterative verse in Wikipedia which goes into more detail and also quotes or references a range of modern poets who have experimented with the form: Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Auden, Richard Wilbur, Ezra Pound, Heaney… and Alaric Watts for his alliterative abecedarian ‘Siege of Belgrade‘. Alliterative verse can work smoothly and powerfully in English.”

A.M. Juster writes: “After translating the anonymous long Old English poem ‘The Phoenix‘ for a stalled book, I became interested in the possibilities for original alliterative verse—this poem is the first of those poems. A reader should also be able to detect the ghost of a sonnet in it due to the length of the stanzas, the turn, and the closing rhymed couplet.
“The poem started in my mind with the real invasion of coyotes in our suburban Boston neighborhood, but as I struggled with the poem it seemed to be situated in a beautiful place I have never seen—a fusion of our house and the house my bride’s parents used to have in Vermont (where I set an experimental sonnet in my first book).
“Although I think the religious undercurrents are fairly subtle, Micah Mattix & Sally Thomas did include the poem in their recent Paraclete Press anthology of Christian Poetry in America since 1940.”

A.M. Juster’s poems and translations have appeared in Poetry, The Paris Review, The Hudson Review and other journals. His tenth book is Wonder and Wrath (Paul Dry Books 2020) and his next book will be a translation of Petrarch’s Canzoniere, which W.W. Norton will release in early 2024. He also overtweets about formal poetry @amjuster.

Photo: “LZGC coyote” by animaltourism.com is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.