By Sibyl, From The Enigma,
|We have chapters to go - lots by Qaqaq, ho ho; lots by
Brillig and Treesong and Hudu:
We’ve a list: “Where to Send It,” and
tips: ways to mend all the flats, forms, and extras the
|But for now, you’ve got me. May my subject not be
the occasion for shrugging or curses:
I have just a notandum or two - sundry, random remarks on
the subject of verses.
|When the lines just won’t come, you feel eerily
dumb, and the work cancels study and leisure,
And it seems even worse, even mildly perverse, that
you’re taking such pains to give pleasure;
|Or some critic on high casts a cold yellow eye on the
wordplay you thought was employable.
Don’t despair, don’t feel hateful. Believe me,
we’re grateful you’re there to make solving
|You’ll discover a slew of your fine fellow Krewe
will respond with delight to your humor,*
And will eagerly praise a felicitous phrase - if its
scansion is more than a rumor.
|So let verse have its say in a natural way. Put the
stress where it goes. (And it’s neater
If no word you include has a suddenly skewed change of
pronunciation for meter.)
|Now extend that technique: read aloud as you’d
speak any phrases with meaning that’s sensible.
Then discover the rhythm compatible withm. The beat will
|Ogden Nash is a strain, but a ballad quatrain (abcb)
has everyone’s blessing,
Just as long as the b’s aren’t
“curtsies” and “wheeze”: put the
rhyme on the part that gets stressing.
|And I hope you’ll be spurred to include the whole
word at the end of each line. I’d adore so
Never seeing, say, “cart” rhymed with only a
part-icle, parted from part of its torso.
|“’Twill” and “
’twas,” aye, forsooth, may ring deeply of truth
if King Arthur thou hast in thy versery;
Likewise, “ ’cause” (pronounced
“cuz”) makes a cute little buzz in a Cwistopher
|Well then, Pooh. Call it quits: use the diction that
fits what you’re talking about. Keep it free
Of archaic incursions and King James inversions:
“Thou wilt,” “He did say” - those,
|Does it give you the blues when a verse without clues
makes your eyes feel like pinwheels revolving?
Then, dear sisters and brothers, please do unto others when
yours is the flat they’ll be solving:
|Say you curry each line, braid its mane, make it shine
head to hoof (caviare to the mob);
If the verse is unclued, then the creature’s unshoed,
and it’s back to the gate with a sob.
|(What was that? Equine roe? I just wanted to know if
you puzzlers were paying attention.
I’ve seen metaphors mixed with abandon - and fixed
two or three that I don’t care to mention.)
|*Footnote one: To debase any gender or race or
persuasion - you just wouldn’t care to,
Nor to linger - oh, please - on dysfunction, disease that
our mutable flesh may be heir to.
|*Footnote two: Cockney “’E” is
intriguing to me: is the h-dropping author a bobby?
Thanks for hearing me out. Now let’s shout a great
shout: “Hallelujah, it’s only a
A Brief, Oversimplified Checklist for
|“I weep for you,” the Walrus said:
“I deeply sympathize.”
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.
Read your verse out loud, with completely natural phrasing.
Don’t try to make it fit the meter, just read it and see
where the stresses naturally fall. (Remember, to write verse does
not mean to lose the ability to make sense or to speak
If the verse doesn’t have a regular pattern (stresses
every second or third syllable, most often), rewrite for a more
||HAPpy BIRTHday to you, GUYS
||HAPpy BIRTHday, GUYS, to YOU
||a CAStle is at the TOP of the HILL
||a CAStle stands TALL at the TOP of the HILL
||at the TOP of the HILL is a CAStle
Some variation in the regular stress pattern is likely (see
verse above): “THOSE of the LARgest SIZE,” or
“HOLDing his POCKet HANDkerchief”-in light verse,
like ours, only once in a while. Don’t vary the pattern so
that the line reads awkwardly; don’t use two variations in
a row-you’ll get prose.
Keep the same number of beats in each line. (Or alternate odd
lines with even ones a stress shorter.)
Enigma verse almost always rhymes. Most common are couplets
(aa bb), quatrains with alternately rhyming lines (abab), or
quatrains with even-line rhyme only (abcb). Rhyme depends on
stressed sounds (never on spelling) that match except for their
first consonant (actually the first phoneme: all/fall).
These are rhymes: hard/card; word/deferred; doggerel/hoggerel;
or (see above) sympathize/size, using the secondary stress of the
three-syllable word. These are not rhymes: card/diehard (LIE
hard rhymes with DIE hard); howler/bowler (spelling
doesn’t count); beaut/swimsuit (no “secondary
stress” in a two-syllable word); male/female.
If you’re willing to read (aloud, of course) a lot of
verse, you’ll write better stuff. If you’re willing
to read just a little, try The New Oxford Book of Light
Verse, edited by Kingsley Amis; or try some other light-verse
anthology. Or look in the library for verse by Dorothy Parker, W.
H. Auden, Samuel Hoffenstein, Phyllis McGinley, Felicia Lamport,
or someone else you like. Verse is to be enjoyed. Enjoy!
This page was last updated on Friday, December 17, 2010. /webmaster