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Chapter #5 - Other Forms of Poetry
Limerick, Sestina, and Haiku

i. Understanding the Form and Writing a Limerick

A limerick is the most popular poetic form that uses three-syllable feet. To see good examples of limericks, look in the archives of Poetry Today Online and see the March 1998 issue which had a multitude of limericks. The limerick is a form that is said to have five lines of anapestic meter: Hcc, Hcc, Hcc. They can also be found in trochaic meter: cH, cH, cH.

With H and c for hot accented syllables and cold unaccented syllables, the following will demonstrate the accented and unaccented feet in three different variations of the limerick.

The first has the accent on the first syllable:

Hcc, Hcc, Hcc
Hcc, Hcc, Hcc
Hcc, H
Hcc, H
Hcc, Hcc, Hcc

The next form has accent on the second syllable

cHc, cHc, cHc
cHc, cHc, cHc
cHc, cH
cHc, cH
cHc, cHc, cHc

The following poem by the author makes use of this accent pattern. Each stanza of the poem is a complete limerick. The poem is a complete nonsense limerick to demonstrate the accent pattern.

Atchison Fantasy

The switchboard kept ringing and ringing
But Lena sat there softly singing.
She put them on hold
Until they got old
And Dan'l, she drove him to drinking.

A lady named Sherry the Scooter
Was known as a very straight shooter
She never ate treacle
And her birds hated beagles
But Sherry could drive her computer.

A dastardly chaplain so brave
Would grimace and gesture and rave
He got charged with libel
For quoting the Bible
And was seldom known ever to shave.

A third pattern of accented syllables follows:

ccH, ccH, ccH
ccH, ccH, ccH
ccH, ccH
ccH, ccH
ccH, ccH, ccHc

As you can see, the end rhyme pattern is aabba and the number of feet is fewer in the b lines than in the a lines. To understand the form, try writing a Limerick in each of the three patterns of accent. It is permissible to add unaccented syllables before an initial accented syllable or after a terminal accented syllable when needed. Limericks are usually extremely trite or extremely naughty. Naughty is an understatement.

ii. Writing a Sestina

A sestina is a complex form based on sixes. The poem starts with six lines that end with six different but significant words the poet chooses to explore. There are six stanzas of six lines each in which the six words are developed in relation to the others, while still ending the lines with those words in set or varied combinations. Then there is a final three-line stanza in which a revelation or resolution occurs including the six words, with two in each line. Like all forms it can be done according to very strict rules or wityh variations determined by the poet. The variations will always challenge traditionalists to say your poem is not really a sestina (or sonnet or haiku.)

Here is an example of a sestina by the author:


Parent stands in a doorway screaming
At a running child
The sunlight is dying
In the parent's hand, a letter
Throw it on the table, crying
As the child looks in hate at the parent

Letter arrived, screaming
News of a brother's dying
In a city distant from the parent
Waiting endlessly for a letter
From a parent or the younger child
The child who now holds back his crying

The anger is screaming
In the silence of the child
Something else is dying
Just as something died in the parent
Before his leaving; before the letter
Before the leaving with no sign of crying

Anger is too deep for crying
Crying, harder than screaming
Both are signs of dying
Beyond feeling for a child
Screaming silent, at a parent
Or child: a scream is a letter

Parent's crimes echoed in a child
Child's cries rooted in grief of a parent
Grief this time has no route but screaming
Pain of a family a form of dying
Each, in time, receives an unwelcome letter
Life an experience of love and crying

Pain starts long before the letter
Grief grows first from crying
A parent feels then hears screaming
Crying never leaves the child or parent
Weakness is the burden of a child
A parent sees the approach of dying

Crying thinks he remembers when he was a child
Screaming knows a parent
Dying each moment brings a letter

The sestina can be seen as a way of placing very strict demands upon the poet, to write within a tight form. The sestina is often made even more demanding to a rhymer by writing it in strict iambic pentameter with regular end rhymes and internal rhyme patterns. You can write a sestina in a somewhat open form as has been done here, or set yourself the task of writing it with very demanding complexity. As you can see, the sestina above was written with the six words divided into three verbs and three nouns. The six words are the ending words of each line in a stanza. The final three lines start with the verbs and end with the nouns. When writing in any form it is good to be led by either intuitive wisdom or strict adherence to the form. In the above sestina the author did not adhere strictly to the sestina form but used it as a point of departure to explore the ideas the form introduced.

iii. Try Writing Haiku With No Stress

Haiku is a Japanese form that has been somewhat modified when translated into English. A haiku Internet site or book will teach you more than this novice haiku lover can, but don't worry about all the complexity at the start. Just do it. To begin, haiku is a form that describes a simple event in nature with meaning symbolizing a greater reality. The first line of the haiku below tells of clouds over the moon, but in a greater sense brings up the problem of air pollution. Such topical meanings are somewhat foreign to the form as it focusses on nature and universal natural reality. The message is not hidden, but transcends the literal words in a minor or greater way. Haiku is often related to a season of the year or a time of day, often about the moment of transition from daylight to dusk or autumn to winter. The reality expressed is often transitory rather than static. Formally the haiku has seventeen syllables divided into three lines. The first and third lines have five syllables each. The middle line has seven syllables. It sounds very simple but can be very elegant when practiced in the haiku tradition. The haiku is not a very old form and is still developing. Many people consider almost any three-line nature poem a haiku regardless of the number of syllables. It is easy to find loose and tight definitions of haiku.

Here are three haiku by the author:

Gliding over moon
Stench of oil-soaked clouds in pain
Honda, acid rain

Smoky clouds in sky
Geysers make a small display
Eagles fear to fly

Plough rusts in the field
The sword is polished and put
Back on the mantle

Notice the off-rhyme of moon, pain, rain, in the first haiku, and of sky, display, fly in the second. The first haiku is obviously a modern poem referring to acid rain, and has a gentle twist to the relationship between the Japanese poetry form and the Japanese car, Honda, which produces its share of pollutants. The third haiku plays on the Biblical ideal of beating swords into plowshares.The ramifications of a polished sword and a rusting plow are left to the reader as is the implied metaphor of military hardware receiving more care than the life-giving essentials. Many rules plague the novice haiku writer. You can pick and choose which ones you will follow. Some haiku publishers refuse to accept haiku with metaphor, rhyme or other western devices. Others are open to almost anything. Much of what you find in print reveals that some write very traditional haiku and others follow the form's requirements very loosely. The more traditional writers have more rules to follow. Poetic forms have proliferated and have been changed by each poet who practices them. The sonnet can be seen in strict iambic pentameter or in open form (free verse.)

Article written by Don J. Carlson. All Rights Reserved

For more information, please contact: Don J. Carlson

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