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.


4 thoughts on “1: Abecedarian

  1. A year in forms: I’m going to copy Sonia.

    An abecedarian to start with,
    because Sonia has begun with one,
    choosing Chigaco for her subject; mine, though,
    dearer than a city, is Sonia herself!
    Easier to praise Sonia
    for she has numerous qualities
    giving me a subject for each line and letter:
    her hair, which has been many lengths and hues,
    intricacy, in her prose and poetry, and personality, and in her
    jade coloured, subtle-toned eyes; clarity, if it started with a
    k, would be a good word to start a
    line; her
    memory, which does not discriminate; her
    knees, which are nice –
    oh, knees would have done nicely for k!
    Poetry, obviously, and projects; a
    queenly quality when playing the guitar – “Time’s a
    revelator,” I remember her
    singing, sitting cross-legged on the carpet,
    three of
    us at the end of a
    yoga session – it was lovely! But I’ve reached
    z too soon, and listed so little – never did the
    alphabet seem so short!

    • This is wonderful – thank you! I do remember that day with the yoga and the guitar. Elvira must have grown up so much since then.

      • We just held a fabulous party to celebrate her 17th. Teenagers drink bourbon! Weird. Have they not heard of ouzo?

      • We mostly drank terrible cheap vodka (or probably technically vodka-like clear liquor), as I recall. Foul stuff.

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