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A Poetry Workout Regimen

In the effort to revise and rewrite poems I wrote while in the Navy, I'm revisiting the exercise regiment I did on the boat. It produced an awful spew of grey matter, filled four thin moleskines, about 300 poems, mostly irredeemable stuff. But reading back through them I’ve found phrases, memories and images here and there amongst those tortured, angsty verses that I like, and I’ve transcribed those into a series of wave poems, like free verse, rhyming and breaking as the ideas and imagery collides.

Now I’m realizing that I’ve lost (probably drowned in a sea of liquor) some of the mechanics, the terminology and language of the trade. For the next eight weeks I am going back to review eight classic forms. You’re welcome to join me. I’ll be posting my attempts with the prompts on reddit.com/warriorwriters. I’m focusing on forms that developed through poems written in the Romance languages:

  1. Stanza - Establishing meter and rhyme in isometric or heterometric lines through the first stanza, the pattern repeats.

  2. Blank Verse - Epic and often used for drama, blank verse does not rhyme but it sticks strictly to iambic lines, each with ten stresses and five beats.

  3. Sonnet - Reimagined by Jill McDonough in her masterful study of the form in her first book, Habeas Corpus, the sonnet generally composes 14 lines in either a Shakespearean or Petrarchan rhyme pattern.

  4. Villanelle - Song-like, two of the first three lines repeat (aba) throughout the 19 lines of the villanelle.

  5. Sestina - A military march, six end-words in lexical repetition for six stanzas, the sestina repeats in an unrhyming pattern.

  6. Pantoum - Beginning and ending with the same line, the pantoum repeats two lines (abab) in each four line stanza.

  7. Ballad - A story told through four line stanzas in a memorable meter, rhyming (often abab), ballads use common dialect (rap-like) to relate events, love tragedies, and tales of the supernatural.

  8. Heroic Couplet - Often in iambic, sometimes in tetrameter, the heroic couplet pairs rhyming lines (aabbcc) to explore high-minded subjects.

I’ll also be working on a pastoral, an ode and an elegy. I’ve already posted a prompt for the elegy here, and I still need to respond myself. I’m putting that off. Death seems so serious in the American culture and boring. I like Epicurus’ view, “The wise man neither rejects life nor fears death. For living does not offend him, nor does he believe not living to be something bad” (The Epicurus Reader). So those Shaping Forms, the emo stuff, might take a little longer to make right, honest and real.

While afloat I dedicated an hour after work each day to write a poem. I used “The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms,” chosen because it looked like a good pick up from the bookstore at the mall before my one OIF cruise in 2007-08. Plenty of other books and websites (eg. poetryfoundation.com) explain the mechanics and forms of poetry better than me. I’ll write up prompts, directing you to good sources I’ve found. I’d love help finding poems by warriors that fit these eight categories.