Poetry Friday – A Golden Shovel and da DUM, da DUMs

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Carol Wilcox. Have you read Carol’s beautiful 30 days of poems about Raising Rooney? During April this year, Carol wrote a poem each day about the service dog she has raised from a puppy–starting with “Beginnings” to when she realized “I’ve Got Rooney All Over Me,” as she had to say goodbye. Each poem tells a story, helps us get to know the ins and outs of raising a service dog, and touched my heart as a reader. This collection will be a lovely gift to the person who is blessed to receive Rooney as their service dog.

Last week Ruth Hersey’s post was so bittersweet and beautiful. I’ve been thinking of it all week. It inspired me to notice the birds (and people) here in Bahrain all week long. Thank you, Ruth, for the inspiration. Using a Maya Angelou quote that has been on my mind, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better”, I wrote a Golden Shovel poem:

Pigeons Well-Tended

we have birds here, like they do
in detroit and haiti and all over the
world. we know birds are best
in their wild brilliance and you
will do well to realize these birds can
exist in this blasted heat, up until
their feet melt into the pavement. you
can measure this desert against what you know,
thinking your birds are better,
but linger here, savoring their coos and vision. then
take your cue from the birds who know when
and how their next meal will come. Do you?
they don’t farm or collect salaries, but they know
their father in heaven better
than I often do.
rain of mercy, fall on us so we receive better

After I wrote a rambling “narrative” sestina, I wanted to try to learn more about meter, so I went to Bruce Lansky. He’s the king of da-DUM-da-DUMs, in my opinion, as he really knows how to write in that sing-song rhythm:

By Bruce Lansky
I have a brief confession
that I would like to make.
If I don’t get it off my chest
I’m sure my heart will break.

Many years ago, I would teach this lesson from Bruce Lansky–“New Version of Shel Silverstein’s ‘Sick'”–to junior highers. For a while during those years I understood meter much better, so this week I revisited this lesson. (Even though I had to go to the Way Back Machine archives to do so.)

I began to collect lists of words, seeing which syllable in the word is stressed. I’m not sure why I made these lists–perhaps looking for support, inspiration, patterns, or what-have-you. This week I’ve played a bit with using the words to make  equations, a menu of sorts, perusing the lists and thinking of better words. (e.g., da DUM da + DUM da + DUM da + DUM + da DUM = iambic pentameter.) Is that right? I have been playing with rhythm in my waking and sleeping. I’m not sure how successfully. Here is a sampler of couplet sizes I tried out this week.

Iambic dimeter (2 iambs)
Beyond all hope
Afraid to cope

Iambic trimeter (3 iambs)
The Light of God aglow
And Evil takes a blow

Iambic tetrameter (4 iambs) (Inspired by a real conversation I had with a student this week after we watched this video.)
We have a pup and no hedgehog,
but not no more; she’s now a dog.

Iambic pentameter (5 iambs) (Pigeons on my window sill)
Their cooing comes in waves of ease and whim
Alive and free, no cage can stop their hymn

Iambic hexameter (6 iambs)
I am alive in sweet embrace, a lovely scene
Of morning quiet during spring, so fresh, so clean

Iambic heptameter (7 iambs) (Two lines rewritten from my sestina)
We battle systems over people, country’s soul is near;
Our hope portrayed in Kamala brightens every dappled fear.

Do you have additional suggestions for writing iambs? I would welcome any advice!

16 thoughts on “Poetry Friday – A Golden Shovel and da DUM, da DUMs

  1. Denise,
    Phew! What a poem! The last line made me weep. So, so beautiful! And so, so true! I love the idea of “receiving better.” I’m going to start praying for that. Somehow it makes more sense to me than “being grateful,” although I often pray for a grateful spirit and more aware of God’s blessings.

    I have no advice on iambic (or any other) type of pentameter. I’m still traumatized by an F on a workbook page about accent marks in the fourth grade and regularly struggle with accent marks in my current Spanish class. But I did love Bruce Lansky’s poem! I can’t wait to use it next Fall lwhen I teach my sixth graders point of view.

    1. Carol, thank you so much for reading and responding to all the posts as you round them up for the Poetry Friday post. Thank you for that, and for hosting today. Yes, here is to receiving better.

  2. Your poem makes a wonderful pairing with Ruth’s today, Denise. I love the line “take your cue from the birds”, advice a grandfather gave long ago, including other animals as well. I am an Audubon member & just saw that our lesser prairie chicken has been added to the endangered list. Sometimes when I read their news, I wish there was much more to do & to help with. As for the meter, a class I took with Renee LaTulippe helped me very much, but I still do a load of talking out loud when I write & like you, look up words! Love your post!

    1. Thank you, Linda. It is so sad what we are doing to wildlife. I think we can talk and advocate more for climate change legislation. It’s all related, isn’t it? Great advice about meter. I just looked up Renee LaTulippe and there is a video and so many helps on her website. I’m looking forward to checking it out.

  3. Denise! I am so happy my post last week inspired you to write this lovely poem! I love how you brought in the way that God cares for the birds.

    I also really like your examples of different meters. I think this is probably the best way to teach meter – with examples the students can look at. I’ve found meter to be a really difficult concept to teach.

  4. Wow! I love the Da dum da dums…what fun to make lists and look for patterns. I like to do that too. It’s fun to teach something like this to jr-high kids. Not all of them fall into the love for it…but the ones that do make it so fun! I’m in love with your phrase, “rain of mercies.” I need to play with that word, mercy. Thanks!

    1. Linda, thank you so much. Yes, it is so much fun when you get the imagination of junior high kids in writing poetry. We always created an anthology at the end of the year, and some were so memorable I think of them to this day.

  5. Denise, you have been on a path to learn more about meter and word play and you are succeeding. I read through all your work and links yesterday but my little toddler granddaughters are here for the weekend and did not have a chance to respond. The house is quiet now during naptime so I have a chance to read PF posts. Thanks for all your examples. I am fond of the Iambic Hexameter example of yours.

    1. Thank you, Carol. How sweet to have your little visitors. Bless you for reading my work. (I think I went overboard this week; but I have so many things I’m learning and writing.) I liked that little springtime couplet too.

  6. What a lovely post, Denise. And your idea of working with iambs cumulatively is so clever. I’ve recently been trying to find a way to teach stress and metre to younger writers, and suggested (it was for a written activity) the use of simple musical instruments to match the stresses – noisy but fun.

    1. Thank you, Sally. Nice idea for the musical instruments. Thank you! I’m going to continue to learn and grow in this area. Linda Baie told me about a class she took from Renee LaTulippe, so I’ve recently subscribed to her Lyrical Language Lab.

  7. This post is a great mentor text for playing with rhythm! Time to up my game from counting syllables!!

    I love golden shovels and yours is a masterpiece. I loved coos followed by cues.

    1. Thank you so much, Mary Lee. I have been having fun listening to Renee LaTullipe. Fascinating, but I can also see how knowing a bit too much, but not enough, can be paralyzing. I like just counting syllables and playing with how it sounds too.

  8. There is so much to savour here – It’s like a poetry buffet, with the bite-sized morsels included along with the main course, and all of them lovely! I particularly like
    “(Pigeons on my window sill)
    Their cooing comes in waves of ease and whim
    Alive and free, no cage can stop their hymn”

    I love how you’ve taken something so commonplace and everyday, the cooing of a pigeon, and elevated it to a hymn. It reminds me to look for the beautiful and sacred in the everyday.

    1. Thank you, Elisabeth, I always appreciate your sweet comments. I have been enjoying the pigeons more since I wrote those lines and the longer poem last week. My ear is tuned into their coos.

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