Introducing Couplinks

BULLETIN: A reminder that today IRA released online the 4th edition of CHILDRENS LITERATURE IN THE READING PROGRAM. I wrote the first chapter: “Poetry, the Write Thing to Do,” which was greatly enriched with poems by Jane Yolen, Kenn Nesbitt, and April Halprin Wayland, plus an embedded video of 5th grade boys reading poetry to kindergarten students, provided by Patricia Cooley, and a delightful quote by Joyce Sidman. Here’s the link.

Hi everyone,
David publicity photo

One of my favorite games involving poetry is when a group of people (poets are people too) face an audience, each armed with one or more books of poems in front of them. Someone starts by reading a poem. All others scramble for a poem that connects in some way to the first, no matter how tenuous or downright preposterous that connection might be. Which leaves the group flipping pages in search of the next connection to offer. The game continues until time is up. Sometimes sheets are passed out to audience members so they can choose poems and participate in the blast too. This is a good exercise to play in classrooms too. When we release the ham in students, they can be surprisingly witty and spontaneous.

So here’s an idea that springs from the poetry blast game. I’m posting a couplet and you, if you wish to accept, are challenged to write your own couplet that is linked in some way — according to you — to mine. If we have more than one couplet posted, participating poets may select their choice of couplets to link to. Thus the term COUPLINK. Here’s your prompt.

Too slow the fly, too late to scram,
Too quick the hand, too soon the wham.

From that I deduce that this fly is in trouble. It’s in a fix, in a jam, in a pickle. Pickle! Did someone say pickle? Aha! There’s more than one kind of pickle. So here’s my couplink.

Call me picky, call me fickle,
I won’t eat no chocolate pickle.

Or maybe I think the fly got the worst end of the bargain in the original poem so I decide to couplink by giving the story a happier ending, fly-wise.

Too quick the fly, too soon the scram,
Too slow the hand, too late the wham.

In which case I might focus on the noun, fly, which can also be a verb, and decide to couplink with your couplink thusly:

Gone are the days when I loved to go flying,
Replaced by discomfort, frustration, and sighing.

Your turn. Start with the fly poem and find your own couplink.

Pat’s back!

ANNOUNCEMENT: I’ve decided to leave this one up for a third day. We’re getting a lot of visitors to Pat Lewis’s challenge and poets are still contributing their poems to the fun. Thanks, Pat!

Hi everyone,

I’m delighted that our friend J. Patrick Lewis has just popped up with a devilishly clever new challenge, which he calls “mini-mini-book reviews.” Thank you, Pat, for giving us one that will be a challenge indeed. Let’s see what comes of this. Here’s the entire note from Pat, plus his usual helpful examples.

David, I wonder if your readers might have some fun concocting “mini-mini-book reviews.” To wit:

Moby Dick
(Herman Melville)

Man’s obsessed,
Whale is gored—
Man goes a little

* *

The Catcher in the Rye
(J.D. Salinger)

In its essence:
On society’s
By the golden-
Tongued Holden.

* *

Tarzan of the Apes
(Edgar Rice Burroughs)

A sort of
King of

Charlotte’s Web
(E.B. White)

At the fair, Wilbur (pig) wins!
Charlotte (spider) silk-spins
A reverie
So often,
Saving Wilbur
From coffin.

* *
Fahrenheit 451
(Ray Bradbury)

People read books,
Books are harmful.
Fireman cooks
Books by armful.
People leave home.
Each one learns
A novel, a poem.
Fire Chief burns.

* *

The Pied Piper of Hamelin
(Brothers Grimm, Robert Browning)

Exterminator catches pests;
The town refuses his requests.
He sets out to right the wrong
By playing on his flute a song
Exciting and inviting . . . that’s
When kids start disappearing. Rats!

* *

(Felix Salten)

Trouble’s coming
Here. Hear?
Hunters shooting—
Tearful tale of
Woe. Whoa!
End of Mother
Dear deer.

* *
I’ll go first, Pat. Here’s one effort. I’ll do others. David

Best Christmas Pageant Ever
(Barbara Robinson)

Every year, same play,
Same kids, same way.
Bullies come, loud, rough,
Hijack roles, act tough,
Unimpressed by plays past,
Shout the words to life at last.

The other “new” form

Hi everyone,

What got the conversation started yesterday about my fish poem was a note from Renee La Tulippe about a different poem, the one about a trombone, which I recorded as a video for her NO WATER RIVER The poem originally appeared in POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY, another great collection of poems published by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.

Renee and a poet colleague got to looking at the structure of the poem and asked if it were original with me. Again, I admitted that it was something that seemed appropriate at the time and was written without being aware that there is such a form although there well might be. Here’s the poem.

by David L. Harrison

I play a slide trombone,
my teacher says I’m flat,
I’m not as good as I’d like to be
but there’s nothing to do about that.

I play the slide trombone,
at least I’m not the worst,
I’m one chair up from the guy who’s last,
25 chairs from first.

My teacher says I’m flat,
I sound all right to me.
First chair practices every night,
when does he watch tv?

I’m not as good as I’d like,
a trombone is not easy,
even guys I like a lot,
say I make them queasy.

I play a slide trombone,
my teacher says I’m flat,
I’m not as good as I’d like to be
but there’s nothing to do about that.

For this one I repeated lines 1, 2, and 3 from the first stanza in descending order to begin each of the following three stanzas. Rather than start the fifth stanza with the original line 4, I chose to repeat the entire first stanza because it made more sense than opening that quatrain with “but there’s nothing to do about that.”

I might try another one of these to see if I can pull off a repetition of all four lines of the first stanza. It will help to give all four lines of these stanzas the same number of stressed syllables. In this case I set a pattern of 3-3-4-3, which got me in trouble when it was time to repeat line three as the lead line in stanza four. Going with all trimeter or all tetrameter lines would work better.

Call this a work in progress. If I do a better one later, I’ll get back to you with it. If someone beats me to it, I’ll look forward to seeing the result!


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.

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:  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!