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
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.