One of the aspects of English Syllabic Verse that I enjoy is how people are inventing new forms of syllabic verse in a kind of playful way. Sometimes these new forms have no specific creator. Instead they arise spontaneously from a number practicing poets simultaneously. Two examples of this are the Lanterne and the Fibonacci. Others are deliberate creations from individuals and the grandmother of this kind of deliberate creation is Adelaide Crapsey and her offering of the Cinquain in the early twentieth century. But the creative development of syllabic forms continues.
Which brings me to Etheree. Today is the sixteenth anniversary of Etheree Taylor Armstrong’s death; (born February 13, 1918, died March 14, 1994) so I thought I’d take a few moments today to express my appreciation for her.
I know very little about Etheree, other than she was a poet from Arkansas who seems to have developed a local following in her State. She is the inventor of a syllabic form which has developed a small, but devoted, following. This form is appropriately called “The Etheree” and it is simplicity itself.
Consisting of ten lines, the Etheree starts with a one syllable line, then adds one syllable per line, until the last line of ten syllables for an overall syllable count of 55. In other words the syllabic structure is as follows: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. Now, wasn’t that easy!!! I bet you won’t have any trouble remembering the line count for this form. I have a fondness for this kind of simplicity; there is something wonderfully unpretentious about it. Just count from one to ten, and there you have the syllabic structure. There are no other requirements for the Etheree; an Etheree can have a title or not, rhyme is permissible, but not required, and an Etheree can be on any subject.
Etheree poets have elaborated on the form. There are now inverted Etheree (10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1) and double Etheree (where you start with a traditional Etheree, then add an inverted Etheree to create a twenty line poem). All sorts of variations are possible. Some Etheree poets have developed sub-categories that involve rhyme schemes. Like the Haiku, the Cinquain, and other syllabic forms, Etheree poets are lovingly expanding the expressive possibilities of the form they find meaningful.
I have to admit that at first I didn’t think much of the Etheree. Not challenging enough, or perhaps I wanted something more explicitly sophisticated. But I’ve come to see the Etheree is a valid form, capable of embodying as much depth and wisdom as any of the more well-known syllabic forms. So in honor of Etheree Taylor Armstrong and the form that bears her name I wrote the following Etheree:
After the rain
That lasted for days
The air is clear again
And we have stopped arguing
For reasons I don’t understand
We’ve both dropped the posture of command
And found the openness of heart within
What I have found in writing Etheree is that the form has the feeling of something slowly opening, like a flower blossoming. It starts slow, gradually adding meaning. Writing an Etheree in some ways resembles painting a picture; there is the first tentative stroke, then the next one, and fairly quickly the picture takes shape. The opening lines of the Etheree are like those tentative first strokes, and by the time you get to the middle of the poem, the five and six syllable lines, the shape and direction of the poem is becoming clear.
Give the form a try if you like. I think you will find it rewarding.