Poetic Form to Aid Prose

June 20, 2017

There are enough poetic forms to keep a rhyme junkie happy for a lifetime but, as the point of this post is how to use poetic form to improve our prose through figurative language, I’ll keep it simple.


Firstly, 'line'. Poetry is made up of short lines but how short is for you to choose. Length is decided by the number of syllables in it. In ‘Summer Missed’, the poem I posted last week, the general line length is ten syllables, technically known as a pentameter. Those syllables also have a pattern (beat) made up of stressed and unstressed syllables. If your pattern is unstressed (di) followed by stressed (DUM), that’s called an iamb, and a ten syllable line of iambs—diDUM,diDUM,diDUM,diDUM,diDUM—is called iambic pentameter. (Shakespeare often wrote in Iambic Pentameter, so you’d be in good company choosing this form.)


If you choose longer or shorter line lengths and different stress patterns, DUMdi, for instance, it’ll have a different technical name but don’t worry about the name, just choose a pattern.


After line length, we need to decide the number of lines in each stanza (verse). ‘Summer Mist’ has seven (a septet). The poem below, ‘Beach Hawkers of Pittulongu’, generally has four (a quatrain). These patterns of syllable stress allied with line and stanza length give a poem rhythm and, consequently, musicality.


Rhyme is more complicated than you may think. There are simple rhymes, half rhymes (heart and hearth) eye rhymes (though and thought), assonance (rhyme within the vowel sound—over and out), consonance (as with assonance but on the consonant—getting fatter), mid-line rhymes, end line rhymes or anywhere-else-you-fancy-to-put-them rhymes, as well as numerous rhyme repeating patterns. As this exercise is about unearthing metaphor and not about discovering rhymes, don’t stunt your creative juices worrying about it.


When talking about patterns, I’ve used the word ‘generally’. A repetitive musical pattern runs the danger of becoming a lullaby, sending you and your reader to sleep. Occasionally, or even regularly, breaking the pattern stops that happening and gives you the freedom and space to include a phrase that breaks the pattern but works regardless. It also allows you to manipulate mood. I’ve reproduce the poem about Pittulongu (great beach, waters so clear I watched a cormorant ‘flying’ under water in the shallows) because the final stanza breaks the pattern of syllable stress, line and stanza length, moving the poem from a muse to a salute to the lost. Without a pattern, there would be no opportunity to break it for effect.


There you go, poems as a pattern, not a corset, to improve your prose.


Pittulongu’s last verse also uses rhetoric, a prosaic way to fist thump and favoured by politicians the world over to avoid answering a straight question. A great tool for claptrap (trapped into clapping something that feeds your prejudices) and twitterers (or trumpers as I tend to think of them now). The next post will be about rhetoric because it’s an essential tool for writers as well as Donald.



Beach Hawkers of Pittulongu


The number four bus from Olbia in

Sardinia takes tourists and African

hawkers to the nearby beaches of



Crusted sand above the tideline,

The dust of rock and bone spread thick

And smiling crescent pleasures

To those who lie and soak,


Small-troubled by the sandal prints

Of beach hawkers who shun the sea

Once crossed. Who turn away

From there, where brothers risked


And died. Yet rise, froth white, still churned

And desperate with the shrouding

Waves, covering then baring

The tombstone rocks


To the African

Who never hawked the beaches;

Who never spent the euro;

Who never hauled the trinkets;

And never rode the number four

To Pittulongu.



Ps, I use my own work because I can’t be arsed worrying about copyright, but do check out real poets and, unless it’s free verse, try to work out the pattern.



Book review/recommendation: Outer Dark by Cormack McCarthy


Like many of McCarthy’s novels it’s a road trip along roads no sane person would ever want to travel. What sets it in motion is incest and infanticide. A very dark novel in prose that break conventional rules yet are perfect for the gloom ridden narrative drive. The end is the end of the road—and where to then for the optimistic blind man?




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