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July 04, 2022

Poetry for Pikers 03

By Cheryl Haimann

Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't. Luckily, poetry is big enough to accomodate both of those moods, and everything in between. Master these short forms, and you will be able to move from sensitive introspection to juvenile mockery with ease.

Clerihew is the refuge for poets who never outgrew being smart-mouthed seventh graders. In fact, the clerihew was invented by a sixteen year old British school lad, Edmund Clerihew Bentley, specifically for the purpose of tweaking his teachers.

The poems are four lines long. Line one names a real or fictional person. Line two rhymes with line one. Lines three and four rhyme with each other. And the poem should be funny.

That's it. There are no restrictions about meter or syllable count.

Tinky Winky, the Teletubby,
Would make a bad hubby.
Marriage would be a curse
To a furry guy with a purse.

Make sure that the subject of your clerihew is known to your intended audience. The next example refers to someone familiar to readers of this publication, but not widely known to the general population.

Uncle Edgar Macassar
Avoided wartime disaster
By knitting an afghan
Whilst wearing wig and caftan


Cinquain is a five line poem invented by an American woman, Adelaide Crapsey. It is a syllable counted form, 2/4/6/8/2. It is written about a thing, with the first part of the poem generally a description and the last part an analytical or emotional response. A guideline for the poem would be:

Line 1: Title noun (two syllables)
Line 2: Description (four syllables)
Line 3: Action (six sylllables)
Line 4: Feeling or effect (eight syllables)
Line 5: Synonym of initial noun (two syllables)

crystals
sparkling, fragile
hang in air, float, settle
last warning - time to hunker down
first snow

A simplified word-counted form of cinquain is sometimes taught to youngsters:

Line 1: one word, the subject of the poem
Line 2: two words describing the subject
Line 3: three action words about the subject
Line 4: a four or five word phrase describing the subject
Line 5: one word that renames the subject or sums it all up

Spruce
gray-blue, tall
welcomes, shelters, embraces
large home for small lives
Evergreen


Pantoum poems are a boon to the lazy poet. You don't have to use rhymes, meter, or syllable counts, and best of all, you get to use each line twice.

The pantoum is a series of four line stanzas. The second and fourth lines of stanza one become the first and second lines of stanza two, and a new second and fourth line are added.

Line 1
Line 2
Line 3
Line 4

Line 2 (repeated)
Line 5
Line 4 (repeated)
Line 6

Line 5 (repeated)
Line 7
Line 6 (repeated)
Line 8

This continues on as long as you can stand it. Sometimes, the final stanza brings back lines one and three from the first stanza:

Line 7 (repeated)
Line 3 (repeated)
Line 8 (repeated)
Line 1 (repeated)

Many poets resist using computers when writing, but the copy and paste features of a word processing program are irresistibly useful for this type of poem. Write some lines that you would like to use in the poem, and then move them around until they suit you.

Curl up with me under your grandmother's quilt
A breeze ruffles the bedroom curtain
Leave the Sunday crossword unfinished and the dishes unwashed
More industrious neighbors are mowing and gardening

A breeze ruffles the bedroom curtain
The cat wakes only to follow the sun
More industrious neighbors are mowing and gardening
Do they know if they've had a weekend?

The cat wakes only to follow the sun
Children laugh as they ride their bikes to the park
Do they know if they've had a weekend?
When we wake at dusk, we will make ham sandwiches

Children laugh as they ride their bikes to the park
Leave the Sunday crossword unfinished and the dishes unwashed
When we wake at dusk, we will make ham sandwiches
Curl up with me under your grandmother's quilt


Acrostic poems can be any length and any form. The only requirement is that they spell something vertically, usually (but not always) with the first letter of each line. This is an ancient form of poetry. Some of the Psalms, in the original Hebrew, are acrostics.

To write an acrostic, just write a name or other message vertically and then fill in the lines.

Kitten stood at the front of the cage
Adamant, staring me down, daring me to
Take her home.
I stared back, but couldn't hide my
Eagerness.

Article © Cheryl Haimann. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-04-24
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