A challenge: write a long ballad poem

Hi everyone,

Recently Ariel O’Suilleabhain suggested that I post a specific poetic form as a challenge to anyone who wanted to try it and I said I liked the idea. If you’re interested, here is something you might consider. I’ll provide examples of other short poetic forms in Poetry Tip #7 coming up in a few weeks but today I thought I’d skip ahead and select the long ballad from that segment. Here’s how it works.

Long Ballad (4 lines per stanza)
Line lengths: 4/4/4/4 (4 accented syllables in each line = tetrameter)
Typical meter: iambic (da DA da DA da DA da DA)
Rhyme: abcb, aabb, or abab

My Treasure (abab)

It’s such a slender little book
Squeezed between a larger pair,
Unless you know just where to look
You could easily miss it there.

But it’s worth more than all the host
Of books on shelves beside my bed.
I’ll forever treasure most
This book – the first I ever read.

(c) 2003 David L. Harrison, all rights reserved

Let me know if you have questions. If you decide to write a long ballad, post it here under comments to help us keep all the poems gathered in one place. I expect contributions to trickle in over time. Have fun and tell me if you’d like to do this again one of these days.

The villanelle

Hi everyone,

Just finished work on a new poem framed as a villanelle. I love writing those things! They are a challenge for sure but oh so worth it when they work. I can’t show you the new one but here’s an example of another I wrote a couple of years ago about a pig.

The Feisty Pig of France

The feisty pig of France is prone to root
In search of buried fungus called the truffle.
The problem is he likes to eat the loot.

Farmer tries to train the spry galoot
To snout the fungus out by sniff and snuffle.
The feisty pig of France is prone to root.

Farmer can’t control the greedy brute.
The pig will dig and fill a gallon duffel.
The problem is he likes to eat the loot.

When farmer yells, he doesn’t give a hoot.
He swings his derriere in a shuffle.
The feisty pig of France is prone to root.

Sometimes the farmer prods him with a boot,
But swine hide is much too tough to ruffle.
The problem is he likes to eat the loot.

The pig is much too valuable to shoot
And farmer knows he’d lose if they should scuffle.
The feisty pig of France is prone to root.
The problem is he likes to eat the loot.

— David L. Harrison

The form expects us to compose five stanzas of three lines and a final one of four. There are only two rhymes in all. In stanza one, the 1st and 3rd lines alternate as the third line in each succeeding stanza until the last and in it they come together as the final two lines.

You don’t want to begin a villanelle unless you’ve checked how many words rhyme with the two you’ve selected. They’ll be repeated six times each. In the poem I just finished I began with lists of 13 and 17 rhyming words but just barely managed to find six each that made sense with what I was writing about.

A villanelle must flow naturally with nothing forced. The third line of each tercet, being a repeat of one of the lines in the first stanza, must make a logical statement about that stanza. That may be the hardest challenge of all.

If you haven’t tried one of these before, take some time before long to attempt one. It’s truly an example of Frost’s statement that a poem is a word game.



Hi everyone,

Perhaps you read the poem I posted in the March Madness tournament but here it is in case you missed it. I have a reason.

One More Time, Kid
By David L. Harrison

Okay, first you roll your eyes.
Raise those eyebrows toward the ceiling.
Perfect. Lift your shoulders – slowly.
Your sigh could use a bit more feeling.
Show your palms like, “What? What?”
Shake your head as though you’ve never
Been so pained and bored before.
You are ready! Groan, “Whatever.”

I’ve had some funny comments about family members reading the poem aloud and following the instructions. It seems to me that others might have similar fun with it.

If you decide to give it a try and get some humorous pictures you’d like to share with the rest of us, I hope you will!


Word of the Month and Theme for January

Hi everyone,

As we kick off 2014, how about this for our first Word of the Month word of the year? FIRST. Doesn’t that bring all sorts of thoughts to mind? I’m eager to see your poems!

The theme? Let’s go with WINTER.

By the way, Sandy Asher is at work on a new project and has asked for suggestions of books about seasons. Here’s what she has to say on her Facebook page.

Friends with early childhood, theater for the very young, children’s literature, and/or literacy interests: I’m working on a new interactive play for 3 – 6 year olds that will involve the reading of four actual picture books for that age group — each with a clear seasonal setting, for instance, Lee Harper’s SNOW! SNOW! SNOW! for winter and David L Harrison’s VACATION: WE’RE GOING TO THE OCEAN for summer. Not a holiday setting, but a single seasonal setting. I’d like to be able to recommend several such titles for each slot so producing companies can make their own choices, preferably books currently in print. I’m looking for delightful language and a story as strong as the illustrations. The text won’t be part of the script; I’ll just be suggesting titles to be read, books in hand, as they would be during a library story hour. Suggestions?

Double Dactyls

BULLETIN: I have an article today on International Reading Association’s blog called Engage. The piece is called “Playing with Phonemes.” If you’re interested, here’s the link. http://www.reading.org/general/publications/blog/engage.aspx

Hi everyone,

My day started well with a note from Renee La Tulippe. One of the things she mentioned was the passing of poet John Hollander and the double dactyl poems that he enjoyed writing. Here’s part of her note.
Renee LaTulippe reading
I thought you might be interested in Julie Larios’s challenge to write double dactyls in honor of John Hollander, and maybe give it a plug. All the poetry people have scattered – time to rein ’em back in and get ’em writing!

Here’s her link: http://julielarios.blogspot.com/2013/08/john-hollander-imagine-studying-poetry.html  I already contributed mine.

(My note: Renee’s right about that. Summer has been long and lazy but it’s time to get back to work, people!)

Thanks, Renee. I think we had a go at double dactyls a while ago but they are good fun to write and well worth bringing back.


Aha! I just found what I was looking for and am reposting it here. This was all Jane Yolen’s fault! Read on.
Jane at Direlton Castle 2010
On Friday, August 9, 2012, Jane Yolen entertained and taught us when she posted her delightful three-line poem, “Summer Sijo,” a form of poetry from Korea.

Summer Sijo
By Jane Yolen

The baby squirrel vaults, somersaults over the bird feeder,
Twanging the wire, scattering seeds and dark crow curses.
See daffodil and laurel smiles break out across the garden.

In her explanation, Jane mentioned that poets enjoy a good challenge now and then. I accepted her challenge but rather than write a new sijo, I attempted to cast the essence of Jane’s poem in a different form.

For my experiment I chose the double dactyl, a form made popular by Anthony Hecht and Paul Pascal in the early 1960s.

In the language of meter, a dactylic foot (dactyl) is a group of three syllables. The first one is accented and the two that follow it are not. Cereal is a dactylic foot.
A double dactyl poem has two stanzas of four lines each and is written with two dactylic feet in the first, second, and third lines and a fourth line with one dactyl and one final accent.

The two stanzas have to rhyme on their last line. The first line of the first stanza is nonsense. The second line of the first stanza is the subject of the poem. There is also a requirement for at least one line of the second stanza to be entirely one double dactyl word! Here’s my effort.

The Acrobat
By David L. Harrison

Chittery chattery
Squirrelishly scattering
Seeds on the daffodils
Smiling below,

Twirling and vaulting he
Teases the crows who are
Cursing the show.

Did I pull it off? Let me know what you think. Jane, thank you for the inspiration and the challenge!