Category Archives: poetic forms

Theme and poetic forms for Fall Issue – Fire

Dear Poets,

This post will guide you to navigate the submission guidelines for the fall 2020 issue. The theme for the fall issue is ‘fire.’ As always, you are free to interpret the theme the way you seem fit. Fire can be an actual fire, emotional rage, an idea that catches fire, and so on. Just let your imagination guide you.

About the forms that we are looking for this issue are,
Pantoum
Bop
Villanelle
Golden Shovel
Ballad

Check out the blog articles about these forms on this site and are linked above.  Happy writing and submitting.

 

Golden Shovel

The Golden Shovel is a poetic form invented by the poet Terrance Hayes. The last words of each line in a Golden Shovel poem are, in order, words from a line or lines taken from a Gwendolyn Brooks poem, “The Pool Players. Seven at the Golden Shovel” widely known as “We Real Cool.”  Read the “Golden Shovel” by Terrance Hayes.

Read a little more on the form here.

Taking inspiration from this, several poets use some other short poems such as “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams as the basis. Another short poem “Dust of Snow” by Robert Frost can be used as a basis also. Or you can choose the one that you like.  Although, strictly speaking, the original and authentic Golden Shovel is written in honor of Gwendolyn Brook’s poem mentioned above.

Good luck writing and submitting.

 

 

Ballad Form

Here is a quick cheat sheet on ballads for those of you who are thinking of writing and submitting a ballad poem.

A ballad is usually a narrative poem with a song-like quality.

The ballad meter consists of lines with iambic tetrameter and trimeter. Usually, the poem consists of four-line stanzas with abcb rhyme scheme. Loosely speaking, the first and third lines of a stanza have four accented syllables and the second and fourth lines have three. In other words, the quatrains with four stresses in the first and third lines and three stresses in second and fourth lines with an abcb or abab rhyme scheme.

Some well-known ballad poems are “La Belle Dame sans Merci” by John Keats and “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allen Poe.

Here are two of my favorite ballads. Notice the deviations from the strict formal structure at the hands of the skilled poets.

The Haunted Oak
By Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

Pray why are you so bare, so bare,
Oh, bough of the old oak-tree;
And why, when I go through the shade you throw,
Runs a shudder over me?

My leaves were green as the best, I trow,
And sap ran free in my veins,
But I saw in the moonlight dim and weird
A guiltless victim’s pains.

I bent me down to hear his sigh;
I shook with his gurgling moan,
And I trembled sore when they rode away,
And left him here alone.

They’d charged him with the old, old crime,
And set him fast in jail:
Oh, why does the dog howl all night long,
And why does the night wind wail?

He prayed his prayer and he swore his oath,
And he raised his hand to the sky;
But the beat of hoofs smote on his ear,
And the steady tread drew nigh.

Who is it rides by night, by night,
Over the moonlit road?
And what is the spur that keeps the pace,
What is the galling goad?

And now they beat at the prison door,
“Ho, keeper, do not stay!
We are friends of him whom you hold within,
And we fain would take him away

“From those who ride fast on our heels
With mind to do him wrong;
They have no care for his innocence,
And the rope they bear is long.”

They have fooled the jailer with lying words,
They have fooled the man with lies;
The bolts unbar, the locks are drawn,
And the great door open flies.

Now they have taken him from the jail,
And hard and fast they ride,
And the leader laughs low down in his throat,
As they halt my trunk beside.

Oh, the judge, he wore a mask of black,
And the doctor one of white,
And the minister, with his oldest son,
Was curiously bedight.

Oh, foolish man, why weep you now?
‘Tis but a little space,
And the time will come when these shall dread
The mem’ry of your face.

I feel the rope against my bark,
And the weight of him in my grain,
I feel in the throe of his final woe
The touch of my own last pain.

And never more shall leaves come forth
On the bough that bears the ban;
I am burned with dread, I am dried and dead,
From the curse of a guiltless man.

And ever the judge rides by, rides by,
And goes to hunt the deer,
And ever another rides his soul
In the guise of a mortal fear.

And ever the man he rides me hard,
And never a night stays he;
For I feel his curse as a haunted bough,
On the trunk of a haunted tree

(This poem is in the public domain.)

The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver
by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

“Son,” said my mother,
When I was knee-high,
“You’ve need of clothes to cover you,
And not a rag have I.

“There’s nothing in the house
To make a boy breeches,
Nor shears to cut a cloth with
Nor thread to take stitches.

“There’s nothing in the house
But a loaf-end of rye,
And a harp with a woman’s head
Nobody will buy,”
And she began to cry.

That was in the early fall.
When came the late fall,
“Son,” she said, “the sight of you
Makes your mother’s blood crawl,—

“Little skinny shoulder-blades
Sticking through your clothes!
And where you’ll get a jacket from
God above knows.

“It’s lucky for me, lad,
Your daddy’s in the ground,
And can’t see the way I let
His son go around!”
And she made a queer sound.

That was in the late fall.
When the winter came,
I’d not a pair of breeches
Nor a shirt to my name.

I couldn’t go to school,
Or out of doors to play.
And all the other little boys
Passed our way.

“Son,” said my mother,
“Come, climb into my lap,
And I’ll chafe your little bones
While you take a nap.”

And, oh, but we were silly
For half an hour or more,
Me with my long legs
Dragging on the floor,

A-rock-rock-rocking
To a mother-goose rhyme!
Oh, but we were happy
For half an hour’s time!

But there was I, a great boy,
And what would folks say
To hear my mother singing me
To sleep all day,
In such a daft way?

Men say the winter
Was bad that year;
Fuel was scarce,
And food was dear.

A wind with a wolf’s head
Howled about our door,
And we burned up the chairs
And sat upon the floor.

All that was left us
Was a chair we couldn’t break,
And the harp with a woman’s head
Nobody would take,
For song or pity’s sake.

The night before Christmas
I cried with the cold,
I cried myself to sleep
Like a two-year-old.

And in the deep night
I felt my mother rise,
And stare down upon me
With love in her eyes.

I saw my mother sitting
On the one good chair,
A light falling on her
From I couldn’t tell where,

Looking nineteen,
And not a day older,
And the harp with a woman’s head
Leaned against her shoulder.

Her thin fingers, moving
In the thin, tall strings,
Were weav-weav-weaving
Wonderful things.

Many bright threads,
From where I couldn’t see,
Were running through the harp-strings
Rapidly,

And gold threads whistling
Through my mother’s hand.
I saw the web grow,
And the pattern expand.

She wove a child’s jacket,
And when it was done
She laid it on the floor
And wove another one.

She wove a red cloak
So regal to see,
“She’s made it for a king’s son,”
I said, “and not for me.”
But I knew it was for me.

She wove a pair of breeches
Quicker than that!
She wove a pair of boots
And a little cocked hat.

She wove a pair of mittens,
She wove a little blouse,
She wove all night
In the still, cold house.

She sang as she worked,
And the harp-strings spoke;
Her voice never faltered,
And the thread never broke.
And when I awoke,—

There sat my mother
With the harp against her shoulder
Looking nineteen
And not a day older,

A smile about her lips,
And a light about her head,
And her hands in the harp-strings
Frozen dead.

And piled up beside her
And toppling to the skies,
Were the clothes of a king’s son,
Just my size.

(This poem is in the public domain.)

Notes on the Sonnet form

We are reading poems in Sonnet form for our summer issue. So far, many submissions seem to echo or mimic Shakespeare in his archaic form. The definitions offered on the submissions page are the basic definitions, but in the hands of a skilled poet, the form can be altered somewhat. We are looking for artistry more than the rigid adherence to the form. That’s not to say the abandon all the rules, but to say that learn the rules so well that you can bend them to suit the needs of the poem. I offer you an article by Annie Finch, “Chaos in Fourteen Lines,” and a few sonnets that can help you in creating your sonnets. This article by Annie Finch cites several modern sonnets. Please, pay careful attention to creating a powerful “volta” in your sonnet.

The one modern sonnet that I would like for you to read isn’t available online and is copyrighted. It is “Therapy” by Kim Addonizio from her poetry collection Tell Me.

In this journal, we prefer poems that technically skilled yet are accessible to a broad audience. Personally, I prefer poetry that resonates emotionally yet retains a logical coherence. In the end, an average reader wants to connect to your poem, and it’s not likely to happen if the poem is obscure. So, clarity of expression is critical. Since the internet is an open medium, I want the poem to reach some isolated soul in a distant land to read your poem and connect with it, be comforted by it, and be inspired by it.

Having said all that, I want to emphasize that we are looking for a variety of styles and themes including traditional style. This post is here to let you know that there are options besides the common styles and themes. Here are the guidelines for submissions.

If We Must Die
— Claude McKay

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Remember
–Christina Rossetti

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

Mad Girl’s Love Song By Sylvia Plath – A Villanelle

The Literary Nest is now a poetry journal. To mark the new year and new beginnings, I am holding a Villanelle contest.

A villanelle is a form closer to my heart because of the song-like quality and repetition that resounds, emphasizing the claim that the poet wants to make. I’ve been partial to the lyrical poetry since it allows the mind to roam free and still be rooted in reality. In many cases, a villanelle can tell a story like narrative poetry does. Take, for example, Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” True, that the reader has to imagine and fill in the details, but the story builds up to the graceful climax at the end.Similarly, “The House on the Hill” by Edwin Arlington Robinson tells a stark story that a reader can imagine. The tone and the carefully chosen refrains “They are all gone away.” and “There is nothing more to say.”  guide the reader to build a story. The graceful closing leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind about the gradual destruction of the people, the decay of the community, who lived there.

So, what story Plath’s “Mad Girl’s Love Song” tell? With its surreal, dreamlike tone and imagery of heaven and hell, the narrative is far from linear.  There is a story, however.  It’s the story of struggle in the narrator’s mind and the back and forth arguments that lead to the final resolution. During the internal discussion, the story of love and loss unfolds. It turns out that the narrator isn’t a ‘mad girl’ after all. It’s an often-repeated story of the betrayal of the narrator, presumably a young woman, by a deceitful lover. The narrator is left to wonder her sanity, hence the title. Through the waltz-like movements of the thoughts and the poetic lines, the dance of the internal struggle goes on.

The darkness descends when the narrator closes her eyes. The real world comes roaring back when she opens her eyes. The stars waltz in and out of her dreams. She dreams about the lover’s passionate wooing, and she equates it with God’s grace falling over her. As like every other love story, the lover goes away and has no intention of ever returning. “I grow old and forget your name.” She wonders if it was all in her mind. Did she make it all up? In some ways, she did make him up, made up all his desirable qualities because love is born and exists in one’s mind. The physical manifestation of love is not possible without the brain making up the narrative of love. In that realization, one thing is sure: the narrator is not a mad girl, but one who narrates an astute observation about the nature of love.

I hope, readers, that some of you are inspired to narrate your story through the villanelle form and submit. Who knows, you could possibly win. If you don’t remember Annie (as if that’s possible), read her poetry, her poetry textbooks, and join her online poetry groups to exchange information about form and meter. All that information can be found on her website.

 

Music in Poetry

If you love to write poetry and you are like me, you love to write in formal meter but are not completely comfortable with the rigidity of the meter. Yet, I bet many of you speak and write in rhythm without even realizing it.  If you have ever recited Mother Goose rhymes, you recognize the swinging and swaying of the words.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockleshells
And pretty maids all in a row.

Which words in this nursery rhyme did you emphasize? Did a pattern emerge?

How about these lines?

I feel the nights stretching away
thousands long behind the days
till they reach the darkness where
all of me is ancestor.
Do you feel the similar swaying? “da-dum da-dum.”
This rhythm is Trochaic. A stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable.  Look through your poem(s). Can you make simple alterations to make your existing poem into a Trochaic one?
For a complete guide to meter and a step-by-step guide to scanning, check out Annice Finch’s blog post.
Do send us your poems for the upcoming issue.

Bop – A Poetic From and Contest

Thanks to Ani Poet and Poetrywitch Magazine contest, this week, I discovered an interesting poetic form, ‘Bop.’ It’s a relatively new format invented by Afaa Michael Weaver.

The basic rules are:

  1. Three-stanza poem
  2. First six-line stanza presents a problem, followed by a refrain.
  3. Second eight-line stanza shades more light on the problem by elaborating the problem. The same refrain, as stanza one, follows.
  4. Third six-line stanza offers the resolution to the problem. The same refrain, as stanza one and two, follows.

Here is the complete form definition.

And here is the contest information.

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Here is the well-known poem, Rambling,” by Afaa Michael Weaver.

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/rambling?mbd=1

Pantoum

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I am creating a series of posts as a handy reference of poetic forms and meter. The Spring 2016 issue of The Literary Nest includes a pantoum, so let us talk about that form.

According to all the sources, the Pantoum is derived from an ancient Malaysian folk poetic form. The most significant feature of this form is the interweaving of lines with certain repetition built in the design. This repetition gives the poem a feel of forward movement without losing the historical context, sort of keeping the memory alive.

A Pantoum contains four-line stanzas with the following rhyme scheme: lines 2 and 4 of the previous stanza are used as lines 1 and 3 of the next. The poem can have an indefinite number of stanzas. In the final stanza, lines three and one from the first stanza are repeated as the second and fourth (final) lines.  A perfect Pantoum contains four four-line stanzas. Let us illustrate the scheme by an example. I use Harmonie du soir by Charles Baudelaire, to avoid the copyright issues. This poem does not circle back to the first line.

Structure Harmonie du soir by Charles Baudelaire
Stanza 1
A
B
C
D
Voici venir les temps où vibrant sur sa tige
Chaque fleur s’évapore ainsi qu’un encensoir;
Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir;
Valse mélancolique et langoureux vertige!
Stanza 2
B
E
D
F
Chaque fleur s’évapore ainsi qu’un encensoir;
Le violon frémit comme un coeur qu’on afflige;
Valse mélancolique et langoureux vertige!
Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir.
Stanza 3
E
G
F
H
Le violon frémit comme un coeur qu’on afflige,
Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir!
Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir;
Le soleil s’est noyé dans son sang qui se fige.
Stanza 4
G
C (or I)
H
A (or J)
Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir,
Du passé lumineux recueille tout vestige!
Le soleil s’est noyé dans son sang qui se fige…
Ton souvenir en moi luit comme un ostensoir!

It is important to remember that the form should not “drive” the poem. If the form begins to restrict the expression of content, the poet can choose to change the form to fit the content. If you are inspired by the form, expect to practice a lot and have patience. I can’t wait to see more submissions of form poetry.

Some well-known Pantoum examples are:

“Something About the Trees” by Linda Pastan
“Parent’s Pantoum” by Carolyn Kizer
“Iva’s Pantoum” by Marilyn Hacker
“Pantoum of the Great Depression” by Donald Justice