To the casual reader I might get away with this, a second February poesy seamlessly following on from the last, but one look at the year and I’m rumbled. Yes. I know. It’s been a year since I last wrote any poetry. I suck. My suckiness aside, it’s been one hell of a year and in further mitigation of my poesy block I did have to manoeuvre around the “Curse Of Page 30” (see my first post).
Having established the desirability of ‘cheating’ in the last post (come on it’s only been a year, catch up here and here) the “Curse” requires further cheatiness and manipulation of the Iambs (the ti-TUM beat). These manipulations are called Weak Endings, Trochaic Subsitutions and Pyrrhic Substitutions. They sound horrifically classical, something Boris Johnson might get all hot and excited about. Is it any wonder I gave up? The problem with these tricks is that they really do require you to work your ear and get on top of the ti-TUM ti-TUM of Iambic Pentameter, because if you’ve been blagging it, there’s no way you’ll manage these. I may have been blagging it.
So, having an urgent requirement to write something that will earn me some money (see here) I have turned to poetry as a tool of helpful procrastination and decided to push through this little barrier. So what do these terms mean? Let’s start with Weak Endings.
Weak Endings are when line is written so that rather than ending on the usual definite TUM end-beat, it instead ends on a ‘weak’ beat, the ‘ti’. This is usually done by adding a syllable. It handily enables you to end lines on words that would otherwise never fit i.e. anything ending in -ing. The classic example would be (bold indicates emphasis and slash indicates Iamb pair):
To be/ or not/ to be/ that is/ the quest/ion
Teacher Fry also informs us that this enables us to create a question and answer within two lines of a poem, something mastered by Kipling. All good in theory, but suprisingly hard to do without making a line sound utterly conceited.
The next two concepts are to do with switching from the Ti-TUM by temporarily substituting the Iambs with a different emphasis or beat. In the case of Trochaic it is reversed to TUM-ti. In the case of Pyrrhic the accented beat is lost entirely to leave you with ti-ti. This is where my brain begins to bubble over slightly and I start compulsively checking twitter and the football results.
Trochaic is commonly used at the beginning or end of a line as the effect is generally used to create dramatic emphasis. Indeed, I’ve been finding it hard to use them without creating a little dramatic pause, but then that might just be due to the ridiculous 19th Century way in which I read poetry out loud (in tights with arms stretched out imperiously). A randomly picked line from Shakespeare to demonstrate:
Rome, thou/ has lost/ the breed/ of no/ble bloods.
The trick is to do this without ruining the basic Iambic pentameter rhythm in the rest of the line.
Pyrrhic substitution is used to emphasis the next Iamb pair and is commonly used in the second to last pair to build the final emphasis. So, you make the fourth Iamb dull to increase the impact of the last. The problem that I’ve been having is that the more I try to emphasise the rhythmic flow of a line, the more everything just starts to sound like Iambic Pentameter in my head. This is where I call on a fellow pupil to help me, or my wife as I usually call her. It helps to have someone read your lines out loud who doesn’t know how they are ‘supposed’ to sound. I’ve lost a lot of pretend Pyrrhic lines that way. The eminent Mr Fry uses the following example:
Now is/ the win/ter of/ our dis/content
In that example the Pyrrhic device is delivered in the third and fourth Iamb, setting up that rumbling: DISconTENT!
Unsurprisingly, the activity that follows requires us to use all of the devices. The twist being that we would be scored according to how many of them we manage to use:
- 5 points for every Trochaic and Pyrrhic substitution
- 2 points for Enjambment
- 2 points for a Weak Ending
What I found particularly difficult was letting loose all these tricks in the allotted sixteen lines without entirely losing a sense of the natural rhythm of the material that we’re meant to be working in (the metre). Surely the whole point of these devices are that they have the most impact when used sparingly, to break up the natural flow? In the end I just wrote as many normal lines as I could and then tried to rewrite as many times as I could, adding in the devices where possible. The score to beat (Stephen Fry’s that is) is 106.
I’ll write the lines out naked to begin with and then repeat them again but marking where I think the emphasis and beats are and with the scoring.
In this I might be wrong but then who can say.
Perhaps I’m not as mad as you might think,
To try and write a line or two that meriting
Nothing may end a poet’s nascent career.
Asleep in arms across my chest so tightly,
At last fortune has flicked in my favour.
Slowly, alarm begins to take control.
Awake, or not, I launch toward my work.
The bar now dry I’ll launch heaving revolt.
A cry for help I’m falling so far down.
Coffee, temptress, why are you so alluring?
I guess it’s due to caffeine in my blood.
The mouth, so red and warming, its encroaching
Takes wine to death and robs its bottled peace.
A fools engrained belief attacked and faltering,
Renew yourselves by letting go at last.
Lines with emphasis and scoring
In this/ I might/ be wrong/ but then/ who can/ say. [Weak ending = 2]
Perhaps/ I’m not/ as mad/ as you/ might think,/ [Enjambment = 2]
To try/ and write/ a line/ or two/ that merit/ing [Weak = 2, Enj. = 2]
Nothing/ may end/ a poet’s/ nascent /career./ [Trochaic = 5]
Asleep/ in arms/ across/ my chest/ so tight/ly, [Weak = 2, Enj. = 2]
At last /fortune/ has flicked/ in my/ favour./ [Pyrrhic = 5]
Slowly/, alarm/ begins/ to take/ control./ [Trochaic = 5]
Awake,/ or not,/ I launch/ toward/ my work./ [Pyrrhic = 5]
The bar/ now dry/ I’ll launch/ heaving/ revolt./ [Trochaic = 5]
A cry /for help/ I’m fall/ing so /far down./ [Pyrrhic = 5]
Coffee/, temptress,/ why are/ you so/ allure/ing? [Trochaic = 5]
I guess/ it’s due/ to caff/eine in/ my blood./ [Pyrrhic = 5]
The mouth,/ so red/ and warm/ing, its/ encroach/ing [Pyrrhic = 5 Weak = 2, Enj. = 2]
Takes wine/ to death/ and robs/ its bott/led peace./ [Trochaic = 5]
A fools/ engrained/ belief /attacked/ and falter/ing, [Weak = 2, Enj. = 2]
Renew/ yourselves/ by lett/ing go/ at last./ [Pyrrhic = 5]
The results just in: 75 points. I’ll take that, and I actually quite like some of the lines. Nevertheless, I’m sure I’ve got it wrong in some places, so feel free to re-score me if you like and have a go yourself in the comments section.
There we have it, having dusted myself off and got back on the bicycle I can move beyond the dreaded ‘Curse of Page 30′ and continue peddling on. In the next activity our dutiful teacher, Mr Fry, takes us on a journey to the “Land of Other Metres’. Yikes.