Playing with meter

BULLETIN: Kay Logsdon took my sunset picture on yesterday’s post as inspiration for a lovely metaphorical piece on the sunsets of our lives. Please go over for a look. Thanks to Kay!

Hi everyone,

Returning to a recent conversation about setting up and sticking to metric patterns when writing in verse: I said that it’s important to maintain the established pattern to spare the reader from losing time trying to figure out how to scan the poem. Scholarly poets engage in serious debates about the underlying dynamics of poetic expression, but for most purposes it’s sufficient to decide on a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables for the idea at hand and not go wobbling off that track far enough or often enough to confuse the reader.

We’ve talked about the poetic foot and its most usual configurations of accented and unaccented elements.
u/ = iamb
/u = trochee
uu/ = anapest
/uu = dactyl
// = spondee
uu = pyrrhus

Armed with these tools, the verse writer can create a variety of meters. Spoken English is a mishmash of iambic and anapestic words and phrases seasoned with the occasional trochee and garnished, now and then, with a dactyl. You’d need to be listening to pick up the odd pyrrhus, if you don’t count “uh-huh,” but spondees pop up rather routinely, especially in such throw-away expressions as “good grief” or “you go” or “who knew.”

Because iambs come to mind so easily and often, a good many poets rely on the comfort of writing lines of iambic meter.






But there are so many other alternatives! Think of us as composers writing music for an ensemble of six instruments. To give them enough numbers for a concert, we’ll have to create variety. We may like the trumpet and drum best, but there are four other musicians sitting there waiting their turn to play.

I’m not talking about formulaic structures — limerick, villanelle, sonnet — or number of lines. I’m talking about using our six most important tools to create enough metrical variety that our concert won’t sound like (to me) so many of today’s musical groups: one basically indistinguishable from the next in terms of instrumentation, leaping ability, and decibels of delivery.

Here are two examples that show how we can sometimes mix meters for special affect. In “Helping Momma,” the first reader speaks in iambic lines: “We love to help our” (u/u/u). The second reader seems to be speaking in spondaic feet: “mom cook” (//). This makes an unusual and interesting break in the conversation between first and second voice.

Now run the lines together and it’s apparent that the first beat of the spondee is actually the last beat of the iamb that proceeded it.

We love to help our mom cook: u/u/u//

I borrowed the last beat of the foot (our mom) and put it to work as the first half of the concluding spondee. So do I now have an incomplete iambic foot for the first speaker or a partial spondee for the second speaker? I don’t know. What do you think? Does it matter which way we call it? What matters, to me, is that it works. It works because I stuck with the goofy little plan all the way through. In the end, the poem takes on a rhythm you could almost dance to, deep into the evening when people start snaking around the floor with their hands on the hips of the person in front of them.

(Opening lines from a poem in LEARNING THROUGH POETRY)

(1st voice)
We love to help our
(2nd voice)
mom cook.
(1st voice)
We think we do a
(2nd voice)
fine job.
(1st voice)
Our momma says we’re
(2nd voice)
good boys,
(1st voice)
But now and then we’re
(2nd voice)
big slobs.

The second example employs a similar tactic but it’s more complicated. Here I have two different speakers engaged in dialog. Big sis is cajoling while little sis snores on with her one word response. Big sister starts out pleasantly and conversationally. As in “Helping Momma,” the first line is 2 1/2 iambs long: “Good morning, Sweetie” (u/u/u) and the response line supplies the missing accent (“Snore”). In the completed line there is no spondee involved.

But follow the number of syllables big sister uses. As her vexation grows, so does the length of her warnings. She goes from 2 1/2 beats in the first line to 3 in the second to four in each of the next two lines. I let the meter waver a bit in favor of establishing a more realistic sounding big sis tirade.

Good morning, Sweetie! = u/u/u
Time to rise and shine. = /u/u/
Get up now or you’ll be late. = u//u/u/
Don’t make me have to ask again. = u/u/u/u/

If you’re counting syllables, she uses 5,5, 7, 8 as the coming storm brews. Also, as she becomes more forceful, her lines end on an accent — shine, late, again — which gives more oomph and irony to little sister’s one beat refrain, “Snore.”

(Opening lines of a poem in PARTNER POEMS FOR BUILDING FLUENCY)

(big sis)
Good morning, Sweetie!
(little sis)
(big sis)
Time to rise and shine.
(little sis)
(big sis)
Get up now or you’ll be late.
(little sis)
(big sis)
Don’t make me have to ask again.
(little sis)
When you go back through the verse poems in your files, check to see how much variety you’ve built into them. If too many have a sing-songy sameness about them, consider ways to create more distinctive meters.

Marc Simon tomorrow

Hi everyone,

I’m back from Pennsylvania and New York, tired but pleased. I got to bed late so here I am moving slowly but surely this morning. And my first item of business is to bring you Marc Simon as this week’s Featured Guest.

Marc just graduated from high school, the same one from which I graduated in 1955. Whew! Marc is a talented young man and among his many gifts is that of writing. This year he received the largest scholarship given by Writers Hall of Fame. Last week you met Kay Logsdon and earlier you met Jean Stringam, both of whom donated funds to support Writer’s Hall of Fame scholarship program. When I offered to feature Kay, she suggested instead that I introduce Marc on my blog. As a result, I featured Kay and am now turning to Marc.

I asked Marc for a bio and here’s what he provided. Tomorrow you’ll see his picture and responses to questions. Mark it down for Marc.

At the end of this past May I graduated from Central High School as an International Baccalaureate Diploma Candidate. I went to Central for seven years total, as I was apart of the Middle Years Scholars Program from 6th to 8th grade.

I joined the journalism program my freshman year and worked as a reporter for the Central High Times (Central’s newspaper), and throughout my sophomore year I served as sports editor. The summer after my sophomore year I was accepted into and attended the Missouri Scholars Academy on the University of Missouri campus.

For my junior and senior years I served as Editor-in-Chief of the Central High Times and converted the publication into a newsmagazine. During the summer between my two years as Editor-in-Chief, I attended the Aspen Ideas Festival as one of twelve Bezos Scholars selected from around the nation (the Bezos Scholarship Program, stemming from the Bezos Family Foundation). The Aspen Ideas Festival brings together myriad experts from various artistic, scientific, educational, political, and entrepreneurial fields every year to engage in discourse and debate, and the whole thing boils down to a lavish celebration of intellectualism and, per the titular suggestion, the generation of ideas. I lunched with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, had coffee with Alan Greenspan, listened to Bill Gates discuss education, chatted with Tobias Wolff, and, through a multitude of other similar experiences, had my mind just about boggled.

When I’m not in school or editing or writing, I play piano and tennis competitively. I played number one on Central’s tennis team and qualified to the state tournament all four years in high school. This coming fall I’ll be headed to New York University as a scholar in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where I plant to pursue a career in writing and soak up all the culture N.Y.C. has to offer.


Kay Logsdon today

Hi everyone,

Yesterday I introduced this week’s Featured Guest, Kay Logsdon. Today it’s my pleasure to bring you her responses. I know you will enjoy reading them and learning more about Kay.

To begin, Kay, please tell us how you got started as a writer.

While I was in college, one of my professors, Dr. Zenas Bicket, challenged us in a writing class. He said that if we got one of our class assignments published during the semester, it was an automatic “A” in the class. Of course, that was a challenge I wanted to meet, so I worked really hard to target my articles to publications with which I was familiar—primarily some of the magazines put out by the Gospel Publishing House in Springfield, Mo. I received some unexpected help from Dr. Bicket, who was himself a frequent contributor to those publications, when he hand-walked one of my pieces to the Sunday School Counselor and somehow talked them into buying it. They paid me a whole $8 and published it with a byline, and I had an absolutely heady sense of accomplishment that I remember to this day, some 35 years later.

What has fostered your interest in young writers?

Obviously what Dr. Bicket did to encourage me means I look for ways to encourage young people. It may have started earlier than that, though, when I entered and won a writing competition sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution while I was probably in junior high. Somewhere I have an absolutely awkward photo of me as a pre-teen, accepting the certificate. The point is, both of these things told me, “You can do this—you can be a writer.” No matter what jobs I have held, writing has always been key.

Your jobs don’t appear to be traditional writing jobs, though.

I’ve found that being a good writer brings dimension to any job. At the City, we needed to convey information both internally and externally. I began writing up summary notes of department head meetings and sharing those with employees, and found that helped employees feel a part of what was going on. We reinvigorated the employee newsletter and took it from personal tidbits to news that helped them do their jobs. We began communicating regularly with media, opening up those lines of communication with news releases and story ideas—and, trust me, it wasn’t always easy in the days before the Internet, or even email. In fact, when I started with the City, most of the newsrooms didn’t even have fax machines, meaning we had to mail our news releases and call to them them know it was coming. I remember one station asking me, “Please, just insist that you’ll only send your news releases by fax. If the City does that, they’ll HAVE to buy us a fax machine!” It’s the same in any job. Communication, through writing and sharing the story, helps business move forward.

What difference has the Internet made in your writing career?

I’ve always told my students, “Don’t worry about what kind of job you will do. Train yourself to be adaptable, to know how to learn, to be open to new ideas. The Internet didn’t exist when I was in college—I could never have predicted what I would end up doing.” So, of course, the difference is huge. I was fortunate to get to work with Annie Busch, who at the time I was with the City was the Director of the Springfield-Greene County Library System. Annie had a vision for the Internet that she shared with me and a few others, and we began a quiet campaign to bring the Internet to this area. The result was ORION, the Ozarks Regional Information Online Network. We had no idea—at least I didn’t—how this would grow and change over the years. We just knew it was something big, and useful, and we had to figure it out. So we did. When I think about the jobs it has created, including my own, it’s pretty mind-boggling.

Tell us about

This is a property owned by Noble Communications, known as a top advertising agency with a specialty in food. In the 1980s they had the forethought to trademark the Food Channel name, and then purchase the URL, way before food TV got popular. A few years ago, Bob Noble decided to focus attention on growing the site, and began talking with me. I am a passionate foodie, and am one of those people who read cookbooks for pleasure. It was hard for me to turn away from this opportunity, so I jumped, feet first. We have built the site, adapted to the advances in everything from Search to video, and are now preparing for the next great opportunity: Internet Protocol TV. We actually call ourselves a hybrid IPTV site, because the Internet allows great depth through links. So a “show” can be watched online or via satellite, and if you really get into that show, you can find the background stories about the stars, the recipes they make, additional programming—it’s really limitless what you can do with content. And this is the era of content. Google recently altered its algorithms to give greater precedence in search to sites that have a continual flow of original content, rather than aggregating other people’s content. We are all about original content, and we’ve seen our numbers move accordingly. It makes me very excited about what’s to come and thrilled with the importance placed on originality.

What do you read?

I read a lot of marketing books, and am currently reading Grant Achatz’ book, Life, On the Line, about his struggle with cancer of the tongue just as his career as a chef was taking off. Achatz is the owner of Alinea, the acclaimed Chicago restaurant that really brought micro-gastronomy into focus in the restaurant industry. And, when I just need to unwind, I pick up a culinary mystery. They are great fun and actually teach me something about cooking in the process. Right now I’m working my way through Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mystery series, but the Goldy Shulz character, as written by Diane Mott Davidson, is what got me started on this type of book. I blame my daughter—she found them first.

What’s your favorite thing to write?

I still go back to the inspirational article quite often, and I’ve had the privilege of being published by other Gospel Publishing House magazines over the years. I’ve written two children’s stories, and we adapted them for Food Channel use and added recipes, then put one on the site each of the last two Christmas seasons. It’s nagging at me to write the third, and I think they get better each time. I like to blog, because I can put my thoughts out there without the pain of trying to sell it. Blogging has changed things, and made everyone who wants to be a published writer, although I think blogs are morphing into something else. There are only so many times a Julie & Julia can be developed from a blog, so I keep my expectations low and blog primarily as a release of some of the ideas that are running around in my head all the time.

Besides eating, what’s your favorite past time?

Travel. It combines everything I love—new experiences, new food, interesting people—into one. I work to make money to travel; I travel for my job and think I’ve got the greatest job in the world as a result. My husband was able to go with me to Australia and to Japan, which just makes it all the more rich to have that shared experience.

When do you write?

Early morning is best for me. I’ll get up and go directly to the computer, and then realize hours later that I haven’t gotten dressed for work and I’m going to be late!

Any advice for young writers?

My father-in-law used to ask me, “What are you going to write about?” I’ve never found ideas to be my problem. And writing just flows out. So my problem is going back and editing, putting things in final form, and putting them out there for sale (and, yes, judgment). My best advice is that if you share my problem, address it early. Find an editing partner if necessary. Submit, submit, submit. My new son-in-law writes science fiction. I don’t always get it, but I like his style, so I offered to pay his entry fee to submit it to a writing contest. I want him to feel success, and I think every young writer should seek even small successes to keep motivated. A good writer can make a living writing, and there are all sorts of ways to find a writing job. Just start somewhere and adapt as you go.

Kay, thanks so much. I’ve enjoyed it!
David, so have I.

I posted contact information and other links to Kay yesterday but here they are again.
Follow Kay on Twitter @foodchannel ( and on Facebook at  . Read her blogs at  and

Kay Logsdon tomorrow

Hi everyone,

I have a good story today. A few weeks ago I auctioned a Featured Guest spot on my blog to raise scholarship funds for Writers Hall of Fame. My friend Kay Logsdon was the first to bid and, in the end, lost the high bid by only five dollars. Later Kay got in touch to say she wanted to donate her bid anyway because the money goes to provide college scholarships for high school graduates who wish to pursue a career in writing.

I know Kay and realized that she would make a great Featured Guest so I invited her to let me feature her anyway. She suggested instead that I select one of this year’s scholarship recipients to feature. I contacted Marc Simon, who received this year’s highest scholarship of $1,500. Marc is pleased to be invited to appear in an upcoming spot. But in the meantime I’m going ahead with my wish to thank Kay Logsdon and to welcome her as my Featured Guest for this week.

I asked for a bio from Kay and received the one that follows. It only hints at her wide range of achievements, interests, and awards.Still, it provides an idea of her talents and energy level.

Kay Logsdon
417.849.7909  or

Kay Logsdon serves as Editor in Chief for, a position she has held for the past five years. In that role, Kay provides primary leadership in the development of content and features for the Web site as well as business planning and marketing.

Content creation includes the popular Top Ten Trends reports that help the industry identify and discuss what is happening in the world of food, including Dessert Trends and an annual trends projection. She provides strategic direction as well as writes, edits and produces. Her blog, Comments from the Kitchen Office is on; she also writes a Food Channel blog for

Her writing is picked up by publications across the country, in both print and online, including many regional magazines and newspapers. Publications such as USA Today, Reuters, Forbes, The Daily and others have linked to her work.

Prior to joining The Food Channel, Kay was responsible for the design and creation of a variety of award-winning Web sites, working primarily in government and education. She started her writing career when she sold her first article during college, then began working at KTTS Radio in Springfield, MO as a news reporter (Kay Compton). She moved on to WDAC in Lancaster, PA, where she was News Director, and then moved to print, serving as an associate editor at the Quarryville Sun Ledger.

On returning to Springfield in the late 1980s, Kay began working for the City of Springfield, setting up their first Public Information Office. Under her direction that office grew to include the City’s first Web site as well as TV23 (now City View), its cable broadcast channel.

She holds a B.A. in English and Communications from Evangel University and an M.A. in Integrated Marketing Communications from Drury University, and served for many years as an adjunct faculty member at Drury. She spent five years as Executive Director of the Springfield Regional Arts Council, overseeing the renovation of the Creamery Arts Center within Jordan Valley Park.

Her work included writing and implementing the Cultural Plan as part of Vision 20/20, as well as facilities management, grant writing and coordination, and working with a 21-member Board. During her tenure the not-for-profit received close to $3 million in grants. The organization was also presented in 2005 with the Governor’s Pathfinder Award for increasing tourism and economic development in the region.

Kay has written food and restaurant reviews for a variety of publications, including the local Springfield Business Journal, and is a frequent seminar speaker, including the keynote at the March 2010 Chain Operators Exchange (COEX) conference and a panelist at a recent seminar for food bloggers associated with the American Society of Journalism Association conference held in New York. She has provided service over the years to a number of national and international boards and committees, including the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce Governmental Relations, the United Way Communications Committee, Students in Free Enterprise (Evangel University) advisor, Junior League of Springfield Community Advisory Board, and more.

She is a current member of the Good Community Committee and serves on the Executive Committee. She is a past president and still active member of the Springfield Sister Cities Association, and a graduate of Class VI of the Leadership Springfield program. She was named was named one of the “20 Most Influential Women” in the region by the Springfield Business Journal in 2005. Kay currently serves on the Civility Committee of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

Follow Kay on Twitter @foodchannel ( and on Facebook at . Read her blogs at  and