Iambic Pentameters—or Bust!
My Telegram dragons and I have spent the past two weeks practicing our iambic pentameters—
NEXT EXERCISE: Dunciad 2020
ti TUM ti TUM ti TUM ti TUM ti TUM.
Our first exercise was 20 lines, no sense or rhymes, just getting a feel for the beat. These were mine:
I gave you lines to write in measured verse.
Let’s see who came to play with metered lines.
I asked for playful dragons to arise
And sing their joyful praises to the stars.
A steak, a plate, a fork, a fitful dream.
A poet trains with pen and notebook blank.
Perhaps we can an epic story tell
Of dragons come to save the dying West.
I know you have the tools you need to fly.
Now share them in the chat so we can sing.
My heart has broken far too many times
To tell in such a public place as this.
Mere hints of sorrow are the poet’s ink,
The joy and laughter hidden in the pain.
I long to sing to you of Mary Queen,
But all I see is statues on the ground.
A piece of prose, a song of hanging wit.
See, here we are in conversation now.
My time is short, my pen is out of ink.
It’s your turn now—what learned you of the Muse?
The dragons rose to the challenge—haltingly at first, how else? It took some time for us to hear the difference between iambs (ti-TUM) and trochees (TUM-ti), not to mention between iambs (ti-TUM) and dactyls (TUM-titty). Anapests (titty-TUM) kept intruding where we didn’t want them (yet), and we all learned how useful it was having 10 fingers (ti-TUM ti-TUM ti-TUM ti-TUM ti-TUM). It remains an open question whether we have discovered the spondee (TUM-TUM). I made some notes about which words (typically) play the role of the Unstressed Syllable, and long midnight conversations ensued over the stresses in polysyllabic words like definitely.
Sharpening our metrical knives, we spent several days on steak (see “Up, drakes! It’s time for tea—and prosody!”), then graduated to current events:
𝐒𝐭. 𝐋𝐨𝐮𝐢𝐬 𝐏𝐢𝐧𝐤𝐬
The marchers crashed right through the gates, assured
their cause was just. With phones held high, like knights
of old, they marched for St. Louis. “For George!”
they cried. Their goal was nigh, the mayor’s house
they spied. But suddenly their path was blocked—
Two heroes had emerged. The one wore pink,
the other stripes; McCloskey was their name.
Two Boomers proud, a man, his wife, their guns
with caution held. “You broke our gate! Get off
our lawn! Now leave our property!” But Ken
and Karen, they were not commandos of
the day: “Not us!,” they cried, “we'd march with you!
We both love B L M!” Too late, Chadbros,
the credits roll—a sign of freedom’s sin.
Like the St. Louis McCloskeys, we learned that enjambment (carrying a thought over from one line to the next) and caesura (taking a breath in the middle of a line) are much harder to achieve than keeping your thoughts properly fenced with end-stopped lines. We also learned that acronyms like BLM are very hard to scan.
I asked the group at the end of last week whether they wanted to move on to other meters or practice iambic pentameters some more. “Let’s practice iambic pentameters some more!” they said. (It warms a teacher’s heart, even that of a Dragon Fechtmeisterin!) So I asked them to brainstorm themes, and we came up with five:
- Orange Juice
- George Carlin’s 7 Dirty Words
- The Pain of Poetry Slams
- J.K. Rowling and the Feral Left
- Mount Rushmore’s Gift Shop
The assignment: 16 lines, with end-stopping, enjambment, caesura, trochaic and pyrrhic substitutions all allowed!
On Monday, we brainstormed each theme, making notes of words (shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, tits—those were the days!) and topics (the wizardry of changing your identity by changing your pronouns, the conduct of poetry slams). The next three days, we spent woodshedding (new word for me!) each other’s lines, testing them as our Virgil Stephen Fry commanded by reading them out loud. (Telegram has a voice message function which makes this relatively easy—once you figure out how to hold the record “button” down.)
|Sample session with me and my Kampfleiter Matt McNasty, on his lines about OJ and Special K|
By the end of the week, we had five poems, plus a bonus portmanteau poem by one of our already accomplished poets. We spent yesterday taking turns reading, first our own poems, then someone else’s—which we then re-read slow, then quick-time, then with a ROAR like the 18th century Shakespearean actors from Blackadder Season 3. (You remember! The one where they can’t say the name of the Scottish play!) I took the one with George Carlin’s 7 Dirty Words—and read it slow, fast, and with a ROAR. (I don’t know what all the fuss is about—I hear those words on television every time I turn it on now. What was it with the 1970s?!)
Here are our poems. Now it’s your turn to read aloud!
⚡️JK Rowling and the Word Wizards⚡️
She promised us wands as deadly as swords:
“Godlike you’ll be, if you say the right words!
Imperio!—and your troubles are over.
Words are what’s real, not the bodies of lovers.
“Just lift up your wands! Man, woman—or snake,
sex is not fixed—it’s a construct of hate!
He/she/it/they, say our pronouns, you bitch.
No one is born to be wizard or witch.”
We bought all her books, embraced her Dark Art,
But now Joanne says our words have no heart!
“There's no same-sex sex if sex isn't real;
Men are born men—and no women are male.”
“You promised what mattered was only our looks;
Now burn on a pyre of your own Muggle books!
We loved you, you spurned us—then spit in our eye.
Avada kedavra! Now curl up and die!”
A frumpy young woman takes up the mic,
A fist full of papers holding her rage,
Standing in darkness save one single light
Illuminating her angry visage.
From her subconscious, just like a rock slide,
Fly unreconstructed thoughts about life;
Patriarchy and sexual Marxism,
Politics, dishes of hot buttered toast.
Audience members all nodded approval;
Well-heeled and tipsy, and down with the struggle,
Down with the cri of this young woman’s Coeur,
Hip to her struggle for je ne sais quoi.
The last emanations of her penumbras,
Were ended abruptly when she finally stopped.
The audience clapped and I rolled my eyes.
The slam poetess just looked out and scowled.
The Mount Rushmore Gift Shop
By Cheryl Butler-Drake
Arrayed along the shelves and on the walls,
Are baubles, trinkets, knick-knacks large and small.
The pots at first glance all appear quite old,
But now they’re hauled from Jersey I am told.
T-shirts, ballcaps and American flags,
Keychains, mementos and jumbo sport bags;
With Lincoln’s, Teddy’s and Washington’s face,
Thomas’s too, but for him there’s scant space!
And globes of snow that picture Mount Rushmore,
I’m daringly close to buying this whole store.
I need to stop, but, wait: A giant bear!
The rocks are very black. Are they from here?
They weigh a lot. How many precise grams?
Also, homemade goods; sauces and some jams.
I spy cool magnets straight ahead of me.
It’s time to check. Oh well, I’ll take three!
A Monumental Slam
By Jan Demuth
“Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Mount Rushmore’s got to go!”
The mob came chanting. But the guards said no.
“They have a gift shop! Let’s go loot some shit!”
The clerk said: “Watch the Glock between my tits.”
“Don’t mind the cunt!”—cried one. “We won’t go home!
I’ll slam the motherfuckers with a poem!
My name is J.K. Growling, I’m a furry,
My fury shall the patriarchy bury!”
He stabbed and squeezed a Sunkist soda box:
“May orange piss give Donald Trump a pox!
May juicy gender fuckers run amok!
May all white cis-males kneel and suck my”—“Stop!”
“I beg you, stop this,” cried the clerk in pain,
“I’ll drop the Glock, stop torturing my brain!”
So mugs were smashed and miniatures defiled
While high above the stone-cold faces smiled.
Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words
By Arwen “Boomer” Yiannopoulos
Young George knew well the great power of words
How certain words could earn a kid a slap!
(Or land a man like Lenny Bruce in jail)
While other words could make a nun guffaw.
But some words, on the tube, were never heard
At least not in the 1970’s!
You’d never hear Marshall Dillon say SHIT,
And PISS would never soil Miss Kitty's lips.
None of the Brady kids ever said FUCK,
And Felix would never call Oscar a CUNT.
No COCKSUCKER ever mentioned on “M*A*S*H”
Nor MOTHERFUCKER on Carol Burnett.
Not even Danny Partridge would say TITS!
This bearded pot head comic prompted all
To really ponder how some words were just
Too filthy for TV—but made us howl.
By Carbon Mike
When, in the search for worthy breakfast Drinks,
One ponders which of all of them is best,
“The Tropic-Analects”, I often think,
Reveals at most a thin and sour Jest.
The seven deadly Curses, truth be told,
Confer on mortal Man no special Luck
Except upon the fortunate who hold
A singular monopoly on “fuck”.
The Poets known as “slammers”, loud as Guns
(their mediocre Talents deeply hidden),
Admit no Rules at all, except for one:
That every kind of Meter is forbidden.
the Loud, Gregarious, and (yes) Banal,
who manage to be Tiresome, yet Quirky,
curse J.K. Rowling from their foul Canal,
uncivilized, unclean, undead — but perky.
Our Dragon bears a stern and heavy Load
Of rising and ambitious Poets plenty.
She’s ordered sixteen Lines of rhyming Ode—
Alas! I cry too late — I’ve given Twenty.
Next week we are going to spend reading and reciting and working with Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Criticism.” You think a little learning is a dangerous thing? Just wait until you read our next set of poems!
NEXT EXERCISE: Dunciad 2020