Since then I’ve worked exclusively in publishing, first for game companies, now in education. I also continue to write, study, and promote poetry. It’s my opinion that poetry used to belong to the people, until academics stole it. It’s high time to steal it back from them.
This week in “The Pastime Machine,” chapter XIV force-feeds more Poetic Edda structure (Icelandic oral poetry of Norse mythology) to traditional sonnet form. The result is intentionally jarring—a matter of competing “feet” and “stress,” what poets call “measure.” (Hence the post title here.)
You may remember from high school English class that sonnets are traditionally iambic pentameter. That means five “feet” to a line, each “foot” an “iamb.” Sometimes teachers express this pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables as “daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM.”
In this chapter, “Thor set me down, with care to be less rough,” is a good example.
The Poetic Edda is instead trochaic tetrameter. That means four “feet” to a line, each “foot” a “trochee.” I doubt any high school teacher ever bothered defining that for you, but if they did, it would be “DUMda DUMda DUMda DUMda.”
In my chapter, “Stranger! Welcome! I hight Odin.” is a good example.
(For what it’s worth, Poetic Edda structure apparently also likes a conceptual split in the exact middle of each line. I think I’ve managed that, as well.)
So … whenever I have Thor or Odin speak in this section of the novel, I switch to trochaic tetrameter. Everywhere else, I preserve iambic pentameter. (It’s all part of the service.)
From Utah, New Zealand, and Scotland, we’ve recently added three new poetry collections at Popcorn Press!
Reclamation, from Brock Dethier (head of the composition program at Utah State University), is an honest examination of adult repercussions of a childhood trauma, ultimately finding moments of contentment, and even joy.
Chemical Letters, from Octavia Cade (PhD in science communication—New Zeland), posits a scientist waking in a periodic table of elements turned apartment complex, which she must explore to find her self.
Teaching Neruda, from B. T. Joy (a former high-school teacher—Scotland) is a poetic exploration of a diverse range of famous poets, musicians, and visual artists.
We’re honored and thrilled at the opportunity to publish each of these excellent collections. You can find them in print and ebook format alike at Amazon.com, or at PopcornPress.com (in print, with ebook format soon to come).
As you may be aware, I’m building The Pastime Machine, an irreverent novel in sonnets, at a pace of one sonnet a week.
I’d like to bend your ear for a moment about structural choices in that work.
English has two main sonnet schemes: Petrarchan and Shakespearean. Both are 14 lines long. Both use iambic pentameter for line structure (five “feet” consisting of da-DUM rhythm: as in “That TIME of YEAR thou MAYST in ME beHOLD”). The main difference is their rhyme scheme.
Petrarchan sonnets are named after the Italian sonneteer Petrarch (sonnets actually originated in Italy), and they have a tightly woven rhyme scheme. The first stanza is eight lines long (an octave) with an abbaabba rhyme order. It often introduces a question or problem. The second stanza is six lines long (a sestet) with a rhyme order of either cdecde or cdcdcd. Its purpose is to resolve the question or problem. Either way, it’s a lot of rhyme, which is fine for Romance languages like Italian, but not so easy in relatively rhyme-poor English.
Shakespearean sonnets (sometimes referred to simply as English sonnets) instead use three four-line stanzas (quatrains) followed by a rhymed couplet (two lines). Rhyme scheme is often abab cdcd efef gg. Generally, each quatrain presents the same question or problem in a different fashion, and the couplet responds. Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 73” is a pretty awesome example. (The sample iambic pentameter above is the first line of “Sonnet 73.”)
You may also hear of Miltonic sonnets (which I won’t bother describing here) and Spenserian sonnets (which I will). Spenserian sonnets tighten Shakespeare’s form by carrying a rhyme from each quatrain to the next: abab bcbc cdcd ee.
As an aside, let me point you to the masterful variation Shelley used in “Ozymandias“: ababacdcedefef. (That link takes you to a side-by-side comparison of Shelley’s and Horace Smith’s—the latter of which would surely be forgotten entirely if not for its dubious comparison to the former.) And mention that I recall Sylvia Plath (I think—I’m currently living in my oldest daughter’s guest room, waiting for our new home, and my books are in storage) extending her final couplets to iambic hexameter. And toss in that I tend to call my alphabetic morph rhyme poems—such as “Last Flight of a Vickers Gun Bus Pilot“—sonnets (because the word means “little songs”).
That was all introduction. Now to the point.
For the extended sonnet sequence of The Pastime Machine, I’ve chosen to cross Petrarchan and Shakespearean forms for comedic effect. To my mind and ear…
- quatrains keep things short and punchy;
- rhymed lines immediately next to each other (lines 2 and 3 in each quatrain) lends to comedic sound; and
- a couplet ending makes a good punchline.
That having been said, my old friend Shelly Hall (now deceased) pointed out that a whole novel of strong rhyme in this fashion could grow dreadfully sing-song. So I’ve been consciously choosing to distance some rhymes (“place / amazed,” “tale / Hell”), while assaulting your ear with others (“lay / flagrante”).
Having pulled back the curtain for a moment, to hint at the mad gathering of gears behind this monstrous machine, I’ll let it fall again and return to my labors.