| Susan Tichy, George Mason
1. 1. Measuring the Line
This exercise explores the relationship among various types of poetic line: accentual, syllabic, accentual-syllabic, and unmeasured.
a) Write several lines that are each 9-11 syllables long. Pay no attention to where stresses fall, but do examine the lines for other features, such as placement of ceasura, nature of the line-ending and line-turn, roughness or smoothness, pace, and so forth.
b) Rewrite these lines in three ways:
1) to achieve a strict syllable
c) You may do the same exercise with shorter lines, rewriting to two or three stress lines, and then to either iambic trimeter or iambic tetrameter.
d) You may do the same exercise
someone else's lines. Choose some fairly prose-like free verse lines to
2. Iambic Pentameter Exercises
Here are two exercises designed to increase the flexibility of your iambic pentameter lines.
a) First Iambic Exercise.
Unsanitarily extornionate UNsan iTAR iLY exTOR tioNATE
And I shall see the snow go all down hill. And I shall SEE the SNOW go ALL down HILL
The first has polysyllabic Latinate diction, mid-range vowel sounds, and lots of t’s and s’s. Its stresses are light, and the whole line seems to take place at the tip of the tongue, the front of the mouth. The second has monosyllabic Anglo-Saxon diction, several vowels from the high and low ends of the scale, and soft consonant sounds: sh, w, all. Its stresses are heavy. We say this line farther back in the mouth.
Try to write ten lines of blank verse in which no sequence of syllable distribution among words is duplicated--don’t, for example, write more than one line containing five words. Do include one ten-word line, and try for one two-word line.
b) Second Iambic Exercise: Wind it up or wind it down
Here's another approach to increasing the subtlety of your IP lines.
1. Write a short passage in strict
Here’s an example:
Unlike the other nudes, she stands at
Unlike other nudes, she stands,
So at ease, she’s a bit unlike the
Exercise from Creative Writer’s Handbook by Philip K. Jason & Allan B. Lefcowitz. Prentice Hall, 1999 . Example poems by Lisa Schenkel, a student of the authors.
3. Quantitative Syllabics Exercise
An imitation of Marianne Moore’s “The Fish”
If you have a rhyming dictionary, you may want to use it for this exercise.
a) Write a 4-word sentence in which
the 1st & 4th words rhyme.
Write one 12-word sentence in which words 1 & 4 rhyme with each other and words 8 & 12 rhyme with each other.
b) Write these two sentences out so that the rhyme words all fall at the ends of lines. Revise them until you like what you have, keeping the rhymes in position. You may change the words, but not the pattern. You may add or subtract words, but you must keep the relative proportion--that is, a one-word first line, a short second line, a long third line, and a shorter 4th line.
c) Begin a new sentence on line 5. The end of this line will not rhyme with anything you have written so far, but the sentence must run over into line 6. Line 6 will be the first line of the second stanza and it must be the same number of syllables as line 1 of the first stanza.
It should look something like this:
Yes, you may hyphenate words at line-ends, but no you do not have to.
d) Count the syllables in lines 1-5
(the first stanza) and you now have your stanza pattern.
e) Write at least three more stanzas on this pattern. You may revise the stanza pattern as you work on the poem, but whatever pattern you decide on you have to stick to it. The only variation allowed is to devise two stanza patterns and alternate them.
Here is a sample poem written to this exercise. Its first, third, and fifth stanzas conform to the initial pattern of the exercise; its second and fourth stanzas follow a slightly different pattern. Also, its rhymes interlock from stanza to stanza, which yours need not do. Why do you think the last line is short by one syllable?
This exercise forces you to think about rhymes as part of sentences and increases your skill in placing rhymes wherever you want them. And, because syllabics don’t create a line whose length or line-break we can hear, this exercise also makes you work with the rhythm of the sentence, a rhythm governed by punctuation and speaking rhythm. If you don’t particularly like the poem you produce with this exercise, try rewriting it in different lineation, but keeping the rhymes. Where do they fall? Are they now internal rhymes? What affects can you create with them?
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