Sunday 31 May 2015

Family Poetry

Here are ten poems about mothers, fathers, daughters and sons.

1.  The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me by Eavan Boland

2.  Will You Tie My Shoes When I Grow Old? (author unknown)

3.  Blessing by Christina Holmes

4.  A Prayer for my Daughter by William Butler Yeats

5.  A Flower Given to my Daughter by James Joyce

6.  A Father to His Son by Carl Sandburg

7.  If by Emily Dickinson

8.  My Father's Hats by Mark Irwin

9.  My Father was a Farmer by Robert Burns

10.  Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden

Saturday 30 May 2015

Love Poetry

"Love isn't something you find.  It's something that finds you." (Loretta Young)

From Shakespeare to Bono, love has been written about since Biblical times.  Here are eight poems about love:

1.  Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare

2.  A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns

3.  Maud by Alfred Lord Tennyson

5.  How do I Love Thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

6.  They Flee from Me by Thomas Wyatt

7.  I loved You First by Christina Rosetti

Friday 29 May 2015

Nature Poetry

"On earth there is no heaven, but there are pieces of it." (Jules Renard)

Nature inspires us to create.  Here are eight poems which focus on God's beauty.

1.  I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth at

2.  Birches by Robert Frost at

4.  Ode on the Spring by Thomas Gray at

5.  Ode to Autumn by John Keats at

7.  The Tuft of Flowers by Robert Frost at

8.  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou at

Thursday 28 May 2015

Dust Bowl Poetry

The Dust Bowl was a term coined by an American newspaperman, referring to the drought of the 1930's which forced tens of thousands of people off their farms.  To learn more about the Dust Bowl, read  The period of adversity produced some great writing, the most famous of which is likely John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.  Here are some poems which came out of the era:

1.  Leaving the Dustbowl by Bob Bradshaw (

2.  Dust Bowl by Langston Hughes (

3.  Hard Luck Okie (

4.  Storm:  February 17, 1934 (

5.  Dust by Stella P. Bell (

6.  At Last by Edna Becker (

7.  The Great Dust Storm by Woody Guthrie (

8.  Dust Bowl Days by Nicole Porter (

Wednesday 27 May 2015

Civil Rights Poetry

From slavery to Black Power, poets have been moved to write about civil rights.

1.  To Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe (1854), was written in reaction to the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, a novel loosely based on the slave life of Josiah Hensen

2.  The Hunters of Men (1835), written by John Greenleaf Whittier, brings to the forefront the hunting of escaped slaves, complete with hounds and whips (

3.  I Have Seen Black Hands (1934), written by Richard Wright, who was denied a library card as a child because he was black (

4.  Let America be America Again (1936), written by Langston Hughes, talks about all skin colours (

5.  A Seat on the Bus for Rosa, by Luke Easter, focusses on seamstress Rosa Parks who, in 1954, refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus to a white person, prompting the famous bus boycott (

6.  Ode to Emmett Till (2013) was written in honour of the black boy who was lynched for supposedly "whistling" at a white girl in 1955 (

Emmett Till.jpg

7.  The Little Girl from Little Rock (2004), by Joan Dresner Bernstein, features the black girl who along with nine other helped integrate Little Rock High in 1957 (


8.  Mississippi Burning Poem, written by blogger Leah (2011), talks about the four civil rights activists who were murdered in Mississippi in 1964 (

9.  Here is my civil rights poem, Justice for Johnnie Mae (2008), written in honour of the mother of ten, Johnnie Mae Chappell, who was gunned down on her way home from work in Florida in 1964.

In the ditch at the end of the day
A black lady looked for her wallet.
Inside was all of her weekly pay,
This mother of ten named Johnnie Mae.

As a loud shot rang out, she was hit.
An ambulance marked "colored" was hailed.
Her husband held her hand for a bit,
Yet despite his pleas, her heart soon quit.

At the church, as her small children wailed
Murdered Johnnie Mae was laid to rest.
But five months went by with no one jailed
In old Jacksonville, justice had failed.

"Four white men killed her" detectives say.
But the sheriff freed them anyway.
Ten grown children continue to pray
All seeking justice for Johnnie Mae.

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Social Issues Poetry

Poets are inspired to write about social issues every day.  Here are some powerful poems about issues which have touched people over the last two hundred years.

1.  John Greenleaf's Whittier's The Barefoot Boy gives us a glimpse of child labour in America in the 1800's  (

2.  Charles Dickens' The Hymn of the Wiltshire Labourers talks about child labour in Britain in the 1800's (

3.  The Ghosts of the Black Donnellys, refers to the Donnelly family who terrorized the town of Lucan, Ontario for 30 years and, when local justice failed, were murdered by a vigilante group (

3.  Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman's The Anti-Suffragists proves that not all women were for the vote back in the early 1900's (

4.  Dustbowl Days, by Nicole S. Porter, describes the suffering of the Okies during the Great Depression (  Hence, the term "dust bowl poetry".

5.  Requiem to a Fourteen Year Old, composed by Pierre Berton, features a young Steven Truscott, jailed for a murder he did not commit and sentenced to be hanged (

6.  Farewell Saigon Bride, by Joan Baez, addresses the issue of American soldiers' relationships with Vietnamese women during the Vietnam War, most of which ended with the Fall of Saigon (

Monday 25 May 2015

Anti-War Poetry

"Poetry makes things happen." (W. H. Auden)

You know the old saying "Life imitates art."  Such is the case with poetry.  The power of the pen is mighty.  An aptly written poem can change the world as we see it.  Here are some anti-war poems which moved their readers.  

On Christmas Day in 1864, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wracked with grief after the tragic death of his wife and the crippling of his son in the Civil War, penned Christmas Bells.  Set to music in 1872, it became the Christmas carol "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" (  

After seeing his fellow soldier gunned down on a World War I battlefield in France, Dr. John McCrae wrote the rondeau In Flanders Fields, now recited in schools across Canada on Remembrance Day (

Soldier Frank Gibbons wrote A Beach in France, dedicated to the memory of British Sergeant Arthur Walton (

After four anti-Vietnam War protesters were gunned down by the National Guard at Kent State University in 1970, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young composed the song Four Dead in Ohio (

Michael Burch wrote the villanelle Because Her Heart is Tender, on the first anniversary of 9/11:

She scrawled soft words in soap:  "Never forget"
dove-white on her car's window (though the wren,
because his heart is tender, might regret
it called the sun to wake her).
As I slept,
she heard lost names recounted one by one.

She wrote in sidewalk chalk "Never forget"
and kept her heart's own counsel, no rain swept
away those words, no tears leave them undone.

Because her heart is tender with regret
bruised by razed towers' glass and steel the stone
that shatter on and on and on and on...
she stitches in damp linen:  "NEVER FORGET"
and listens to her heart's emphatic song.
(The wren might tilt his head and sing along
because its heart once understood regret
when nestlings fell beyond, beyond, beyond...
love's reach, and still the boot heeled toe strode on.)

She write in adamant:  "NEVER FORGET!"
because her heart is tender with regret.

Sunday 24 May 2015

The Six-Stanza Sestina

The sestina, which originated in France, is an unrhymed form of poetry.  The poem is six stanzas long with each stanza containing six lines; a three line envoy completes the poem.  Just as every line of a pantoum is repeated later in the poem, the final word of each line of a sestina is repeated later in the poem.  Once again, patterning comes into play.  Here is the pattern of the words in a sestina:

(62) (14) (53)

John Ashbery's Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape, published in 1966, is an example of a sestina (  

The first of the undecoded messages read:  "Popeye sits in thunder,
Unthought of from that shoebox of an apartment,
From livid curtain's hue, a tangram emerges:  a country."
Meanwhile the Sea Hag was relaxing on a green couch:  "How pleasant
To spend one's vacation en la casa de Popeye," she scratched
Her cleft chin's solitary hair.  She remembered spinach."

And was going to ask Wimpy if he had bought any spinach
"My love," he intercepted, "the plains are decked out in thunder
Today and it shall be as you wish." He scratched 
The part of his head under his hat.  The apartment
Seemed to grow smaller.  "But what if no pleasant 
Inspiration plunge us now to the stars?  For this is my country."

Suddenly they remembered how it was cheaper in the country.
Wimpy was thoughtfully cutting open a number two can of spinach
When the door opened and Swee'pea crept in.  "How pleasant!"
But Swee'pea looked morose.  A note was pinned to his bib.  "Thunder
And tears are unveiling," it read.  "Henceforth shall Popeye's apartment
Be but remembered space, toxic but salubrious, whole or scratched."

Olive came hurtling through the window; it's geraniums
Scratched her long thigh.  "I have news!" she gasped.  "Popeye, as you know, forced to flee the
One musty gusty evening by schemes of his wizened duplicate father, jealous of 
the apartment
And all that it contains, myself and spinach
In particular, heaves bolts of loving thunder
At his own astonished becoming, rupturing the pleasant.

Arpeggio of our years. No more shall pleasant
Rays of the sun refresh your sense of growing old, nor the scratched
Tree trunks and mossy foliage, only immaculate darkness and thunder."
She grabbed Swee'pea.  "I'm taking the brat to the country."
"But you can't do that.  He hasn't even finished his spinach,"
Urged the Sea Hag looking fearfully around the apartment.

But Olive was already out of earshot.  Now the apartment
Succumbed to a strange new hush.  "Actually, it's quite pleasant
Here," thought the Sea Hag.  "If this is all we need fear from spinach
Then I don't mind so much. Perhaps we could invite Alice the Goon over" -- she scratched
One dug pensively -- "but Wimpy is such a country 
Bumpkin, always burping like that."  Minute at first, the thunder

Soon filled the apartment. It was domestic thunder
The colour of spinach. Popeye chuckled and scratched
His balls.  It sure was pleasant to spend a day in the country."

The Complaint of Lisa, by Algernon Charles Swinburne, is a double sestina (

Saturday 23 May 2015

Rime Royale

The rime royale, or rhyme royal, was popularized by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th Century.  His imitator, James I of Scotland, also used it in his own verse; hence, the term "rime royale".  Each stanza of the rime royale consists of seven lines, each of ten syllables.  The rhyming scheme is: ABABBCC.  See Troilus and Criseyde (  Sir Thomas Wyatt composed They Flee from Me, also a rime royale, in the 16th Century (

They flee from me that sometime did me seek
With naked foot, stalking in my chamber
I have seen them gentle, tame and meek,
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themself in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range,
Busily seeking with a continual change.

Thanked be fortune it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array after a pleasant guise
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall
And she me caught in her arms long and small;
Therewithall sweetly did me kiss
And softly said, "Dear heart, how like you this?"

It was no dream; I lay broad waking.
But all has turned thorough my gentleness
Into a strange fashion of foresaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness,
And she also to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindly am served
I would fain know what she hath deserved.

The rime royale went out of favour for a couple of centuries, but reappeared in the 19th Century. Byron popularized the "ottava rima", an 8-line stanza variation on the rime royale.  W. B. Yeat's A Bronze Head is a 20th Century rime royale (

Friday 22 May 2015

The Delighful Diamante

Diamante, from the French for diamond, is a poem shaped like a lozenge or diamond.  The form was introduced by Iris Tiedt in 1969 in A New Poetry Form:  The Diamante.  The diamante can be the focus of two opposite subjects, like war and peace, or two synonyms, like bike and car.  It is seven lines in length and follows the following pattern:

Line 1:  subject (noun)
Line 2:  two words describing line 1 (adjectives)
Line 3:  three words describing line 1 (verbs)
Line 4:  a short phrase about line 1; a short phrase about line 7 (nouns)
Line 5:  three words re line 7 (verbs)
Line 6:  two words describing line 7 (adjectives)
Line 7:  end subject (noun)

Here is an example from the website

Shiny, quiet,
Pedalling, spinning, weaving
Whizzing round corners, zooming along roads
Racing, roaring, speeding
Fast, loud

The following example, War and Peace, contains antonyms rather than synonyms at

violent, deadly
confusing, damaging, suffering
armament, strategy, dialogue, harmony
forgiving, respecting, understanding
mental, spiritual

This example, Orphaned, is near and dear to my heart:

Abandoned, Afraid
Losing, Longing, Lacking
Always Alone, Forever Home
Lasting, Loving, Lavishing
Chosen, Secure

Thursday 21 May 2015

Kyrielle: A Cousin to the Kyrie

Kyrielle, from the French, is a type of poem.  A Kyrie is a type of Christian liturgy with the same attributes as a Kyrielle.  The Kyrielle has 8 syllables in each line.  Each stanza consists of four lines, ending with a refrain.  The poem demonstrates the rhythmical form of a couplet.  Generally, Kyrielle poems include a minimum of three stanzas.  The rhyming scheme is as follows:


The capital B represents the refrain repeated in each stanza.

Thomas Campion's A Lenten Hymn is an example of a Kyrielle (  Where Once We Played is a modern example:

Across our childhood street we trod
on carpet lawn and hold sod.
We walked along where some had prayed.
Where once we played, he now is laid.

The dead's abodes we visited.
But times we ran and sometimes hid.
Such escapes by fancy made!
Where once we played, he now is laid.

Our bikes we'd ride on many a track
That wound around and further back.
A decade near this place I stayed.
Where once we played, he now is laid.

He left.  We followed, each our way
until the fateful sorry day.
We all returned and farewells bade.
Where once we played, he now is laid.

Another decade passed, then two.
Cruel time, it's passing now I rue.
My place for his, I would not trade
Where once we played, he now is laid.

*Dedicated to my brother Dale, who died much too young and is buried across the street from our old family house in a place called the Greenwood Cemetery where kids rode bikes and played.

Wednesday 20 May 2015

Tanka: Five Flowing Lines

A tanka, also known as a waka or uta, is a Japanese poem of five lines and 31 syllables.  It is similar to a haiku, but has two additional lines.

Line 1:  5 syllables
Line 2:  7 syllables
Line 3:  5 syllables
Line 4:  7 syllables
Line 5:  7 syllables

Here is a famous tanka written by a Japanese poet from 850 AD named Ono No Komachi.

The colour of the cherry blossom
Has faded in vain
In the long rain
While in idle thoughts
I have spent my life.

Here is Great Blue Heron by Thomas Martin:

I must tell you this bird:
long, thin legs, sharp beak
wading in a dappled stream
grayish blue, at home in Cypress
Curving skyward through Spanish moss.

For more information on how to write a tanka, visit

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Persona Poetry: Wearing a Mask

Character poems, or persona poetry, is a type of poetry where the author takes on the persona of another character.  Persona, comes from the Greek word "mask"; the author wears the mask of another character.  The author imagines the character's voice, age, interests and beliefs.  It is common to put a fresh twist on an old story when writing a persona poem.

The author can use the structure of the poem to mirror the speaker's circumstances.  For example, if the poem is the speaker is confused, the structure could be free verse.  Mary Ann's Samyn's "Alice Falling" is an example of such a poem   However, if the speaker is very structured, the poem should follow a rhyming scheme.  Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess" is written in Iambic pentameter to mirror the speaker's rehearsed speech, trying to convince the world he didn't poison his wife (

A character poem is also a good vehicle for an author to retell an historical event.  For example, "Jessica from the Well" is written in the voice of Jessica McClure, the 18 month old baby who fell down a Texas well in 1987 (  Similarly, the persona poem "34", by Patricia Smith, is written in the voice of the 34 New Orleans nursing home residents who were abandonned to die after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 (  Ms. Smith cleverly weaves the words of the Lord's Prayer into her poem.

Here is my character poem, The Captain, written in the voice of Captain Smith, on his maiden voyage of the Titanic, last voyage before retirement:

Wow!  She's a beauty and she's all mine.
What a chance to sail for the White Star Line.
Flaunting four funnels placed all in a row;
Four city blocks long with tugboats in tow.
Dropping the anchor twenty horses hauled.
I check my log for our first port of call.
We stop in Cherbourg, Southampton and Cork.
Now we're steaming on cue towards New York.
What a lovely evening; the stars are out.
It's a perfect night for a walkabout.
That crisp, fresh air makes me ready for bed.
but how about a cup of tea instead?
WAIT!  What was that awful, terrible crash?
The stewards ell me her side has a gash!
What should I do here?  What words should I say?
should I take action or should I now pray?:
They told me her compartments were airtight.
Yet it seems as if we're sinking tonight.
They told me there were no icebergs to check.
Yet I see pieces of ice on the deck.
Can I save my stately ship from demise?
Should I tell the truth or a bunch of lies?
Water's filling our hold due to the blast.
Where are the rowboats?  Let's fill them up fast!
Let all women and children get off first.
Another boiler is about to burst.
My S.O.S. is getting me nowhere;
That foll's completely ignoring our flares.
I should have retired when I had the chance.
Now I hear the brass band play the last dance.
There aren't enough lifeboats for everyone.
will my ship last 'til the rise of the sun?
We've only a short time left on this boat.
With so much water, we won't stay afloat. 
I pray my passengers' lives yo will spare.
Losing my crew would be too much to bear.
Please forgive me for this awful mistake!
Make it a nightmare from which i"ll awake.

Monday 18 May 2015

Enjambment: An Endless Flow

From the French word for the phrase "to straddle", the enjambment is a form of poetry which often has no punctuation at the end of each line to indicate a stop.  There is a continuation of the sentence from one line to the next, giving the poem a constant flow.  This helps to reinforce the main idea, without the constant pauses at the end of each line.  Sometimes the poet leads the reader to think one way, then reverses his approach in the next line.  The rhythm is fast paced.

Joyce Kilmer's "Trees" is an example of an emjambment.

I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day
And lifts her leafy arms to pray.

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robin's in her hair.

Upon whose bosom snow has lain
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me
But only God can make a tree.

William Shakespeare used the form in his plays including Romeo and Juliet.  (  John Keats' Endymion ( follows the enjambment pattern as does William Wordsworth's It is a Beauteous Evening (

Sunday 17 May 2015

Terza Rima: A Chain Rhyme

The terza rima, which originated in Italy, can trace its roots back to Persia and the Orient.  The poem, which consists of 3-line stanzas, is written in iambic pentameter.  It follows a chain rhyme in which the middle of each stanza rhymes with the first and last line of the next stanza.  The rhyme scheme is: ABA BCB CDC DED (
Dante was the first European to popularize the terza rima in his work Divina Commedia.

Sixteenth Century poet Nicholas Breton wrote "Country Song" (

Alfred Lord Tennyson, one of the most famous Victorian-era poets, composed "The Eagle", published in 1851 at

Edwin Arlington Robinson, an American poet, wrote "The House on the Hill, published in 1894.

They are all gone away,
The house is shut and still,
There is nothing more to say.

Through broken walls and gray
The winds blow bleak and shrill:
They are all gone away.

Nor is there one today
To speak them good or ill:
There is nothing more to say.

Why is it then we stray
Around the sunken sill?
They are all gone away.

And our poor fancy-play
For them is wasted skill
There is nothing more to say.

There is ruin and decay
In the House on the Hill:
They are all gone away
There is nothing more to say.

Saturday 16 May 2015

The Ode: Pindaric, Horatian, Irregular

The ode comes from the Greek word "aeidein" which means to sing or to chant.  The original odes were accompanied by music while later versions were usually recited.  An ode is a formal address to a person, thing or event.

The Pindaric ode, named after the Greek poet Pindar, was often composed to celebrate athletic victories.  Greece, of course, is the home of the Olympics.  The Pindaric is divided into three stanzas, the strophe, or introduction, the antistrophe, and the epode, which demonstrates a different metre than the first two stanzas.  William Wordsworth's "Ode on Intimations of Immortality" is a famous English ode at

The Horatian ode, named after the Greek poet Horace, is "better suited to quiet reading than theatrical production".  It demonstrates a recurrent stanza pattern.  Each stanza is of two or four lines in length. See Allen Tate's "Ode to the Confederate Dead" at

The Irregular ode, while exhibiting a different form than the Pindaric or Horatian, shares the same tone and themes as the other two forms.  See John Keats' "To Autumn" at

The traditional rhyming scheme for an ode is:  ABABCDECDE.  For tips on how to write you own ode, visit

Friday 15 May 2015

The Ballad: From Samuel Taylor Coleridge to B. B. King

A ballad is a narrative poem, often of folk origin and intended to be sung, consisting of simple stanzas and usually having a refrain. (

The ballad, based on the French word "ballade", has been around for a millenium.  The poetry form has a rhythmic 4-3-4-3 line beat and is divided into quatrains.  Religion, love, tragedy and politics were all early subjects for ballads.  The "ballade" first appeared in Provencal folk music in France. Troubadour poets developped the cadence of the poetic form.  Later the ballad spread to Spain, Italy and post-Norman England.

Medieval troubadours set the rhythm for the ballade courtesy 

The French form of the ballade, based on three rhyming sounds, follows the following pattern:


Note:  First stanza is repeated three times.

Envoy (4 line version)

Envoy (5 line version)

There are variations on this format, but the cadence of the poem is the same.

Romantic poets like Lord Byron, John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley all wrote ballads, but the form wasn't immortalized until the next generation of poets which included William Wordsworth, Thomas Percy and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  Perhaps the most famous ballad, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", was penned by the latter in 1834 (

Gustave Dore etching for Rime of the Ancient Mariner published in 1798, courtesy

British street ballads were popular during the Victorian era.  Printed on thin sheets of paper, they were sold on the streets for a penny or half penny.  Besides the traditional subjects, street ballads centred on humorous anecdotes, social reform and crime (

Not all ballads have adult like themes; some are geared for children.  Because of the ballad's strong rhythm, repetition and rhyme, it does appeal to young minds (

The Three Ravens circa 1919 courtesy 

English folk and American blues musicians popularized the music ballad.  B. B. King's blues ballad, Sneakin Around can be viewed at

Dudley Randall's Ballad of Birmingham was written during the Civil Rights Movement. Visit to view the poem.

Four black girls perished in the bombing of a Baptist Church circa 1963 prompting Dudley Randall to write Ballad of Birmingham courtesy

Thursday 14 May 2015

Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Villanelle!

The villanelle comes from the Latin word "villanus", or farmhand, and the Italian word "villano" or peasant.  The original villanelles focussed on pastoral subjects, hence the name.  A villanelle is a fixed form of verse, consisting of 19 lines of five tercets and one quatrain.  The first and third lines of the first tercet are repeated alternately until the last stanza which includes both repeated lines.

In 1606, Jean Passerat was credited with introducing the modern villanelle to the world with his poem, written in Old French, "J'ay perdu ma Tourterelle".

While the French popularized the villanelle, the English soon were writing their own villanelles by the late 19th Century.  No longer focussing on pastoral subjects, obsessions tended to be a popular topic; for example, the aestheticism of the 1890's.  James Joyce wrote a villanelle for his novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man".  William Empson revived the poetic form in the 1930's.  Likely the most common villanelle is Dylan's Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night" (1951) at

Do not go gentle into that good night
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the song in flight,
And learn too late they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men near death who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

In 1976, Elizabeth Bishop composed "One Art", also a well received villanelle.  The 1980's and 1990's saw the rise of New Formalism and more villanelles.

Here is my villanelle, The Wilhelm Gustloff Villanelle, written in 2008, based on the evacuation of thousands of East Prussians in early 1945:

On an icy night in '45
East Prussian refugees swarmed the ship
Desperately seeking to stay alive.

The boat filled quickly with soldiers' wives
And babes with knuckels between their lips
On an icy night in '45.

Fleeing the Russians' relentless drive
The ship steamed west at a rapid clip
Desperately seeking to stay alive.

Beneath the Baltic, the sub took dives
Aborting the steamer's fateful trip
On an icy night in '45.

Scrambling for lifeboats, many did strive
Thousands jumped as she started to tip
Desperately seeking to stay alive.

Under the corpses, the last to survive
Was a baby blue from winter's grip
On an icy night in '45
Desperately seeking to stay alive.

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Acrostic Poetry: A Hidden Message

Acrostic is derived from the French word "acrostiche".  "Stich" refers to a line or row of verse.  An acrostic is a poem in which the first letter, symbol or word of each line or paragraph spells out a word or message.  Acrostics date back to the Bible; examples can be found in the Book of Lamentations as well as the Psalms of the Hebrew Bible.  Psalm 145, which has an acrostic, is repeated three times a day in Jewish services.

Acrostics are also found in Medieval literature in which a poet is often highlighted; some acrostics were written as prayers to saints.  In chronicles, acrostics were often used in German and English. However, the Greeks also used acrostics; one such example spells out JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD, SAVIOUR.  The Dutch national anthem is an example of an acrostic, spelling out the name WILLEM VAN NASSOV, referring to the Dutch royal William of Orange.  Examples of acrostics can be found in literature, such as the final chapter of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, which spells out the real Alice's full name, ALICE PLEASANCE LIDDELL.

Here is a French acrostic:

Paradis des monuments
Attend petits et grands
Reve des touristes et des enfants
Illumine par tous le temps
Sur la tour Eiffel c'est geant.

Here is a calendar acrostic to help remember the months of the year:

JANet was quite ill one day
FEBrile trouble came her way
MARtyr-like she lay in bed
APRoned nurses softly sped
MAYbe said the leech judicial
JUNket would be beneficial
JULeps, too, though freely tried
AUGured ill, for Janet died
SEPulchre was sadly made
OCTaves pealed and prayers were said
NOVices with ma'y a tear
DECorated Janet's bier.

The following poem is my attempt at an acrostic:

Put her hair in braids today;
It may be your only chance.
Give her a nice red ribbon.
Time will pass very quickly
And before you tie the bow,
I think she'll be all grown up.
Little girls become young women fast;
So put her hair in pigtails, for it sure won't last.

Visit for more examples of acrostics.

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Pantoum: Patterning in Poetry

While Math was never my cup of tea, I do appreciate the patterning involved in writing a pantoum. When you compose a pantoum you repeat every line once in the poem.  What a challenge it is to follow the pattern of the poem, while still preserving its meaning!

The pantoum, or pantun, originated in Malaysia in the 15th Century.  Originally, the poem had only two couplets.  However, in time, the poem lengthened.  Victor Hugo introduced the pantoum to Europe when he published one in his Les Orientales collection.  Charles Baudelaire composed the popular pantoum, Harmonie de Soir.  Later, poets like Anne Waldman and Donald Justice brought the poetic form to America.

The rhyming scheme is ABAB, but can also be ABBA.  Here is the format for a five stanza quatrain (four is also common):

Stanza 1:  1, 2, 3, 4
Stanza 2:  2, 5, 4, 6
Stanza 3:  5, 7, 6, 8
Stanza 4:  7, 9, 8, 10
Stanza 5:  9, 3, 10, 1

My pantoum, The Magic of a Father and a Daughter, written while at the Lake Erie beach in Long Point in 2006, follows the structure above:

I see the magic of a father and a daughter
As they build sandcastles on the beach.
I watch the pair as they lounge by the blue water,
Knowing fatherhood is something that you cannot teach.

As they build sandcastles on the beach, 
He sculpts the sand with a big strong hand.
Knowing fatherhood is something that you cannot teach;
Next to him, she look so little as she pours the sand.

He sculpts the sand with a big strong hand.
No words are needed as they work side by side.
Next to him, she looks so little as she pours the sand.
Father an daughter share a bond that they cannot hide.

No words are needed as they work side by side.
Clad in an orange bikini, she builds the castle tall.
Father and daughter share a bond that they cannot hide.
AS the waves encroach, he builds a giant wall.

Clad in an orange bikini, she builds the castle tall.
I watch the pair as they lounge by the blue water.
As the waves encroach, he builds a giant wall.
I see the magic of a father and a daughter.

Here is Donald Justice's Pantoum of the Great Depression, which has no rhyming scheme, but does repeat each line.

Our lives avoided tragedy
Simply by going on and on.
Without end and without any apparent meaning.
Oh, there were storms and small catastrophes.

Simply by going on and on
We managed.  No need for the heroic.
Oh, there were storms and small catastrophes.
I don't remember all the particulars.

We managed.  No need for the heroic.
There were the usual celebrations, the usual sorrows.
I don't remember all the particulars.
Across the fence, the neighbours were our chorus.

There were the usual celebrations, the usual sorrows.
Thank God no one said anything in verse.
The neighbours were our only chorus.
And if we suffered we kept quiet about it.

At no time did anyone say anything in verse.
It was the ordinary pities and fears consumed us.
We gathered on porches; the moon rose; we were poor.
No audience would ever know our story.

It was the ordinary pities and fears consumed us.
We gathered on porches; the moon rose; we were poor.
What audience would every know our story?
Beyond our windows shone the actual world.

We gathered on porches; the moon rose; we were poor.
And time went by, drawn by slow horses.
Somewhere beyond our windows shone the world.
The Great Depression had entered our souls like fog.

And time went by, drawn by slow horses.
We did not ourselves know what the end was.
The Great Depression had entered our souls like fog.
We had our flaws, perhaps a few private virtues.

But we did not ourselves know what the end was.
People like us simply go on.
We had our flaws, perhaps a few private virtues.
But it is by blind chance only that we escape tragedy.

And there is no plot in that; it is devoid of poetry.