3: alexandrine

Alexandrine: In English, a 12-syllable iambic line adapted from French heroic verse. – Poetry Foundation

Spenserian stanza: The unit of Edmund Spenser’s long poem The Faerie Queene, consisting of eight iambic pentameter lines and a final alexandrine, with a rhyme scheme of ABABBCBCC. – Poetry Foundation


A change in orbit and we are weightless,
But humanity was not meant to float:
Osteoclasts would eat my bones porous,
I’d break like ice under the hunter’s foot,
And my heart would waste autumnal without
The embrace of earth to fight. I circle
You, instead, like the planet you are, doubt
Burnt out. I do not have the will to kill
You again and again: let me rest, at last still.

Somehow familiar to be weightless,
Here where everything is new except you. You float,
Defy your heavy flesh, but I am porous –
Your solidity runs through me.  I woke barefoot,
Scared and ashamed because I am nothing without
You – a mirror has no face. The small bruised circle
Of my original’s death is the seed of a doubt
That burns me. Though I have the will to kill
Myself again, again, let me rest, at last still.

Metric verse isn’t something I’ve never really done a lot of. Mostly because it’s hard and it’s a skillset that you can easily get by without. Not that you necessarily should get by without it, but it’s possible. I decided to go with a Spenserian stanza as a way to try out alexandrines, since they seem – at least in English – to be used mostly as a light seasoning line in with the bread-and-butter of iambic pentameter. This also prompted me to actually read some of The Faerie Queen, which is awesomely violent and weird (at least as far as I’ve read) and not all the dull discourse on virtue that Spenser makes it out to be in his introduction.

I was reading up on alexandrines and thinking about appropriate subject matter. There’s aslowness to the alexandrine, a pausing (especially with the caesura). It’s also, through Racine in French and Milton and Shakespeare in English, associated with tragedy. I settled on writing about Tarkovsky’s Solaris, particularly the zero gravity scene in the library. I’ve always found that scene very moving, very tragic in ways I’ve found difficult to articulate, so the poem here is my effort to work some of that into words. The scene itself is, like, the alexandrine, a slowing and a pausing within the film itself – a space that exists, quite literally, without the pressures of Earth. The character of Hari also works well with the Spenserian stanza, given all of the characters who magically take on the appearance of others.

A bit of weird mishmash of stuff going on here, then, but it was fun to play around with and it’s always good to have a reason to rewatch Solaris.


2: acrostic

An acrostic is a poem or other form of writing in which the first letter, syllable or word of each line, paragraph or other recurring feature in the text spells out a word or a message. – Wikipedia

To James K. Baxter

At Hiruharama, I did not visit your grave.

Moonlight in the bellied clouds,
As I waited out teenaged insomnia,
Drunk on your intoxication with the life I lived:
Macrocarpa, chooks, the hopelessness of couch grass,
And the flicker of eels in muddy water. For me,
Not the drama of your head-long penance but simply home.

At Jerusalem, I did not visit your grave.

Never a believer, I still thought
Of lighting a candle for you in the Sacre-Coeur
But, abashed somehow by the violence
Of your late-found faith,
Did not. Walking past St Mary’s, I often imagined
You beating at the door I never even tried to open.

At Hiruharama, I did not visit your grave.

Running short on time, I guess,
And not sure where it was anyway, we
Called it a day at Jerusalem and went
On to Oakune. It was not malice,
Not disenchantment that kept me away. It was just
That I was busy living and you were dead.
Enough to let you sleep
Under that gentle, hill-choked sky,
Reading your words half a world away.


I can see why acrostics don’t get much use. They seem simplistic and silly, something children do as a trick, but lacking in beauty or meaning. What is the relation between the two elements of the acrostic and the lines themselves? A mutual reinforcement, like the use of “HEAR” in Blake’s “London” for lines about the sounds of the city, seems sort of redundant, especially given how easy it is to not notice the acrostic at all (unless, as with the beautiful Christian poem in the Wikipedia article, it’s typographically marked.)

What I like about them, as a form of constrained writing, is precisely that they do disappear – that they form an invisible backbone to the poem, supporting and determining its shape. It not surprising, then, that two of examples cited in the Wikipedia article [relinky here] are devotional poems. This mechanic also works for the way that writers who influence us are folded silently into our own work. As such, I chose to use a quote from James K. Baxter, a poet who a read a lot when I was younger, as the acrostic here. The quote, “a madman, a nobody, a raconteur,” comes from the first of Baxter’s Jerusalem Sonnets, Baxter speculating on how his Catholic God sees him.

Here’s a photo of me at Hiruharama, on a road trip I took with my sister, when I did not visit Baxter’s grave. Judging by the unfortunate hair, I think I would have been 17 or 18.

Me at the Hiruharama sign

1: Abecedarian

The abecedarian is an ancient poetic form guided by alphabetical order. Generally each line or stanza begins with the first letter of the alphabet and is followed by the successive letter, until the final letter is reached. The earliest examples are Semitic and often found in religious Hebrew poetry. The form was frequently used in ancient cultures for sacred compositions, such as prayers, hymns, and psalms. – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5767#sthash.8pQKX6Bn.dpuf

Chicago, to the letter

Across an arctic-blasted city, at last athaw,
Blows a blast that bores through the bustling
Coats of crowds, cocooned closely against the cold.
Dirty drifts dapple the drab dusk,
Evening dropped, clang! down early,
Fallen for the frames of flying
Glass, glowing with grapeshot gleams.
How heavy the heights here,
In irregular irruptions
Jagged into heaven! It’s a jazzed-up
Knife-set, knit out of knowledge,
Lifting in lurching, lilting
Merriment or maybe menace.
Nocturnal narratives, nacreous-nascence,
Open out in obscure oases, offering
Perhaps a place of peace for these packed people, panting,
Quivering for a quantum of quiescence:
Sidewalks satinned by rain quickly run into Saturday,
Treacherous tableaux of tarnished technotopia
Undermined underfoot by ugly
Vermiform ice. Versatile
Winter, who wears so many weapons –
Xeroxed and xenogenic alike –
Yanks at the young and yellowed alike with yesterday’s
Zealous zephyr.


Although there are lots of ways to do an alphabetical form, I settled on this because I thought 26 lines would be manageable and because it gives me a chance to double up with alliterative verse. Alliterative verse is so much fun and sadly neglected now. Of course, doubling up with alliterative verse made the form much harder – but that’s the fun of formal poetry, right? Contrary to expectation, I actually found the weird letters (Q, X, Z) easier than the more common ones – having fewer options made it clearer where those lines needed to go.

I used Chicago as my subject because I was there last week. I don’t think my poem does anything close to living up to its title, but I do like the idea of a list-like, discontinuous form like this for such a huge and sprawling subject.

As I was writing, I found myself shifting towards a more impressionistic, sound-based mode of writing – extended images or conceits (or even proper sentences and grammar) were just too hard for me. This reminded me of George Starbuck’s style, which I think I ended up imitating here. I’m wondering now, having written this poem, if some of Starbuck’s terrifically fun, free-wheeling manner was developed out of his work with very involved formal poetry.