Thursday, October 7, 2010


I have posted previously about analogs; but to refresh our memories (something I need to do more and more these days), in syllabic poetry analogs are two or more syllabic forms that share an overall syllable count but distribute the count differently. I have found that composing poetry using analogs is one of the best ways of becoming clear about how syllabic poetry functions, the rhythm and pulse of particular syllabic forms, and how linneation works.

Recently I was reading the online 'Fib Review' (see my blog list), a journal devoted to the Fibonacci form of syllabic poetry, when I realized that many Fibonacci are analogs of two other syllabic forms; the Tetractys and the Five-Four Quatrain. The Fibonacci form is open ended; that means that theoretically a Fibonacci could be any number of lines long. Practically most Fibonacci are six or seven lines long. The six line Fibonacci, which seems to be the most frequently used, has the following syllabic structure: 1-1-2-3-5-8, for a total count of twenty syllables.

That makes three syllabic forms that I know of that have an overall count of twenty syllables:

The Five-Four Quatrain: 5-5-5-5
The Tetractys: 1-2-3-4-10
The Fibonacci: 1-1-2-3-5-8

I think this is a wonderful set of forms to learn from. My suggestion, for those interested in deepening their understanding of syllabic poetry, is to take a traditional subject and then write on the subject in all three forms. By 'traditional subject' I mean something like the seasons, the moon, love, parting, old age, etc. By composing poems on the same subject in the three syllabic forms the nature of syllabic poetry becomes clearer. This set of forms is, I think, particular well suited because the number of lines differs from form to form: the Five-Four Quatrain has four lines, the Tetractys has five lines, and the Fibonacci has six.

Don't worry about writing something great or original. Think of this as an exercise. The purpose of the exercise is to increase one's understanding of syllabic linneation and how syllabic poetry works. Here is an example I wrote using all three forms taking the subject of the moon:

Five-Four Quatrain:

The autmn full moon
Thin clouds in the sky
Slowly cross its face
Slowly drifting by


Full moon
Summer moon
A few thin clouds
In the distance the weird cry of the loon


Full moon
Summer moon
A few thin clouds
Draped around the moon resembling a shroud


Some clouds
High thin clouds
Drift across the face
A slow moving dance done with grace

The Five-Four Quatrain has a regular pulse and each line has the ability to contain a full semantic structure. The Tetractys and Fibonacci start out with very short lines, lines that are too short for full semantic meaning. For those not used to writing a very short line, I would suggest thinking of a list, like a shopping list. That's an everyday usage of the very short line and provides a good entrace into the opening lines of the Tetractys and Fibonacci. Try to avoid using articles like 'the' or 'a' in the very short lines, particularly the one syllable lines. In a shopping list one wouldn't place an article on a separate line. Also, try to avoid using prepositions for very short lines; again one would not place a preposition alone on a shopping list. The clearest way to write a very short line is to use nouns. A strong second are modifiers like adjectives and adverbs.

Have fun with this exercise. Taken together, these three syllabic analogs can really open up the world of syllabic verse.


Dan Gurney said...

Great idea.

I think it can be very helpful for us to approach poetry with a practice-oriented frame of mind similar to the way a musician approaches music.

Jim714 said...

Thanks, Dan. One of the plusses about viewing poetry as a craft is what I call a "good enough" view. Like a potter who makes a cup that is "good enough" a craft-oriented poet can construct a poem that is "good enough". The objective criteria of specific forms make this possible.

Thanks again,