Friday, May 11, 2012

Shaping Forms

Shaping Forms

A feature of modern syllabic poetry in the English speaking world is the unfolding of new syllabic forms.  I enjoy hearing about these new forms and watching how they spread.  In the past, in that ancient time before the internet, new forms would be offered by a poet, shared with some friends, published in some small journals, and the spread would be rather slow and tentative.  A good example of this is the Crapsey Cinquain, which is also the first syllabic form offered for English language poetry.  Interestingly, Crapsey never seems to have written a prosodic presentation of her new form.  Rather, she wrote effectively in this form and others simply picked it up.  This is also true of the Etheree which was created by Etheree Armstrong Taylor; but I have not run across any essay that one could call a presentation of Etheree prosody.  This absence of a formal prosodic presentation in some cases of new syllabic forms would seem to indicate that there is at the beginning still a kind of informal sharing and verbal exchange among friends.  In such a context a formal presentation isn’t really necessary.  Only when it goes beyond such a small circle does such a need arise.

On the other hand, Ray Stebbing presented his Tetractys form to the world and had a very well written essay on its prosody right from the beginning.  I don’t know very much about Stebbing or the poetic culture he moved in, but from the essay he wrote it strikes me that he was speaking to people fairly knowledgeable about prosody, people who would likely want something specific.  Hence, the essay as an introduction to the form.

The offering of new syllabic forms comes at a time when a syllabic approach to English language poetry is starting to make headway.  I think of it as a sign of the potential for syllabic verse in English.  Here I’d like to present three new forms as examples of this trend.  I could have chosen from a wide range of possibilities.  But I have settled on the Rictameter, the  Monchielle, and a form called 100 Friends.

The Rictameter

The Rictameter is a very recent form.  It is a nine-line form with the syllables distributed as follows: 2 -4 -6-8-10-8-6-4-2.  One more thing; the first and last lines are the same.

Fortunately, its creators have posted online the story of its beginning.  The Rictameter was created by Jason Wilkins and his cousin Richard Lunsford who had formed a ‘secret poetry society’ called The Brotherhood of the Amarantos Mistery; a kind of humorous takeoff on the ‘Dead Poets Society’.  According to Wilkins it was Lunsford who came up with the syllable structure and it was Wilkins who suggested that the first and last lines be the same.  

The first published Rictameter appeared in 2000 online at; at that time a relatively unknown site.  This is a good example of how a new poetry form can spread beyond the initial creator’s, or in this case creators’, circle via the internet.  This is 2012 so the form is only twelve years old.  Already there have appeared several small books of poetry in the Rictameter form.  One is ‘Elder Expectations: My Life in Rictameters’ by Marlys Styne.  Another is ‘Rictameter Ramblings’ by Lawrence Seeger.  Both Styne and Seeger have no formal background in poetry, but somehow heard about the form and found it attractive and congenial to what they wanted to express.

One of the things that interests me about this story is how the emergence of the Rictameter completely bypasses institutions and settings where one would think of looking for creative poetic investigations.  Wilkins is a fireman.  Lawrence Seeger, author of ‘Ractameter Ramblings’ is a retired policeman.  Marlys Styne was an English Professor for many years but only encountered the Rictameter after retiring.  In other words, this is very much a ‘from the ground up’ story.  None of this was done via a university or through some kind of official poetry publication. 

This reminds me of the origins of some of our more celebrated poetic forms.  The sonnet’s origin was a popular song form from Italy called the ‘sonetto’, which means ‘little song’.  The Villanelle has similar origins in popular song.  Both of them are earlier examples of ‘from the ground up’.

Here’s an example of a Rictameter from ‘Elder Expectations’:

The Joys of Walking

Challenge now, with
Creaky knees, stiff movement,
Yet on good days what a joy to
Move, explore, observe the city, see life!
Memories all around me as
I amble on, ponder
All I see while

I find the effect of having the first and last lines the same notable.  There is a strong sense of cadence and closure.  Wilkins wrote that the Rictameter has a seasonal, cyclical feel to it.  And I have noticed that some who compose Rictameter pick up on that cyclical feel by composing double, or triple or more, Rictameter.  In this extrapolation of the form the last line of the opening Rictameter becomes the first line of the second Rictameter; and this can be continued indefinitely. 

The even-numbered syllable counts for the lines give the Rictameter a sense of easy flow.  In addition, if one is interested in traditional metrical poetry, I think one could fairly easily map traditional metrics onto the Rictameter.  There is a sense of gracefulness to the form and I can see why it has caught on with a number of people.

The Rictameter is open as to subject matter and I have read Rictameter on love, the seasons, ordinary life, as well as introspective Rictameter.  There is no requirement to rhyme, though rhyme is not forbidden.  For such a brief history the response to this form is impressive.  I wish the form well and want to thank Jason and Richard for so freely sharing it.

The Monchielle

This is a form I only became aware of this year.  I think it is only a few years old.  It is the creation of the Norwegian poet Jim T. Henriksen, but its presence online seems to be mostly in English.  Hendriksen also writes a lot of his poetry in English so he seems to straddle two language communities.  Henriksen writes that one day he wrote a poem called “You know you have found love” which he liked.  Upon rereading it he realized that the poem had a form and that the form itself was attractive.  Henriksen named the form ‘Monchielle’ with the Monchi for his ex-wife, and the ‘elle’ part because he saw similarities between his form and the Kyrielle; they both use rhyme and repetition.  The prosody of the form is as follows:

1.         It consists of four stanzas.
2.         Each stanza consists of five lines.
3.         Each line consists of six syllables.
4.         The first line repeats in each stanza.
5.         Lines three and five rhyme.

Henriksen cleverly put the rules into his form:

"To Write A Monchielle"
Copyright: November 7th, 2005
By Jim T. Henriksen
To write a Monchielle
you start each verse alike,
third line and fifth must rhyme.
Line two and four is free
for messages sublime.

To write a Monchielle
you must abide by rules
to be the perfect bard.
Each line six syllables,
it is not very hard.

To write a Monchielle
four stanzas you must write
to get your message through.
I know it may be tough,
but something you must do.

To write a Monchielle
is fun and challenging,
it spreads like raging fire.
Although it is my style,
use it as you desire.

Henriksen wrote this in 2005, so I suspect that the Monchielle is a little younger than the Rictameter.  Although it is difficult to keep up with all the new syllabic forms being offered, this is the first form I’ve run into that has a rhyme requirement.  As readers of this blog know, I’m a huge fan of rhyme and have wondered if and when someone would offer a syllabic form with rhyme requirements.  Now I have the answer in the Monchielle.

As with most new forms, people quickly develop variations on the form.  An interesting variation on the Monchielle is the Monchielle Quintain.  The Monchielle Quintain consists of only a single verse of the standard Monchielle.  In other words it is a five-line poem, six syllables per line, with lines 3 and 5 rhyming.  For an example of the Monchielle Quintain see the blog and look for the April 12 post.

This form has been picked up by a lot of people.  I haven’t, as yet, run into a book specifically devoted to the Monchielle; but it wouldn’t surprise me to see one in the near future.

The Monchielle strikes me as particularly song-like.  In some ways it reminds me of the Chinese Quatrain forms where all the lines have the same syllable count.  When a form has lines that have all the same count the effect is one of steady pacing and a musical meter naturally suggests itself. 

The 100 Friends Form

The last form I’ll deal with is called ‘100 Friends’; it was created by yours truly.  It is a fifteen line form with the syllable count as follows: 2-4-2-4-6-4-6-8-6-8-10-8-10-12-10, for a total syllable count of 100.  Hence the name ‘100 Friends’.  I created this two or three years ago.  I remember wanting a longer syllabic form than what I had been writing, such as the Crapsey Cinquain, the syllabic Tanka or Haiku, or the Tetractys.  I love those forms, but sometimes I wanted more time to develop a theme. 

I also wanted the form to have the wave-like effect of the Tanka, which is a feature of syllabic Tanka I find very attractive.  The 5-7-5-7-7, especially when extended in Renga, has a rocking effect and rhythm that is part of its beauty.  I was sitting in a coffee house thinking about these things again (I’d been mulling them over for weeks) and the pattern came to me.  I didn’t realize until after writing it down that it consisted of 100 syllables; but that nice round number somehow felt auspicious to me. 

There are no additional requirements for the 100 Friends form.  Rhyme may or may not be used.  The poem may titled or untitled. 

100 Friends is only about three years old and I have not made efforts to publicize it on online sites.  I am not aware of anyone else using this form, so perhaps it is simply an individual expression; that is to say an expression of my own poetic sensibilities.  It isn’t an easy form to internalize; but once I start writing in the form it becomes comfortable.  In terms of complexity I think 100 Friends is less complex than the sonnet, but more complex than the Tetractys or Rictameter. 

Here is a recent example of this form:

In the Distance

Warm afternoons
No clouds
A gentle breeze
Spring is almost over
The fresh green leaves
Like the sound of wind chimes
Like incense wafting from somewhere
Like a cloud of starlings
Turning and dancing in the air
Like pebbles observed in a stream of light
And the peace of mind we all seek,
A mind without fear, a mind without fright –

I catch a brief glimpse of a far off mountain peak
As I walk the banks of a dried-up creek


These are just three examples of new syllabic forms of poetry.  One thing that all three of these forms have in common is that even syllable count of the lines.  This isn’t new; the Crapsey Cinquain also uses even count lines as follows: 2-4-6-8-2.  This differs from East Asian forms where odd-numbered lines seem to be favored.  Perhaps this is a reflection of a differences in the languages, though I’m only guessing here.

My sense is that all these new forms that are being offered is a kind of tilling of the field of English syllabic poetry, followed by the planting of seeds.  In this case the seeds are the various forms; under the right conditions they will grow.  Syllabic poetry in English is so new that all we can see in its garden right now are fresh sprouts, full of potential.  It will be rewarding to watch and see which forms flourish in the future.


Jim T. Henriksen said...

Lovely article on my Monchielle form, but you got my last name wrong. It's spelled Henriksen, not Hendriksen. Please check the original page at to verify. :)

Jim714 said...

Sorry about that. I will correct the post sometime today.

Thanks for drawing this to my attention.

Best wishes,


Jim T. Henriksen said...

Also, I would like to ask you to add the title "To Write A Monchielle (Monchielle)", and to honor the copyright by adding the lines below; I will let you use this on your blog without compensation. Thanks.

© Jim T. Henriksen
November 7th, 2005

Jim714 said...


I believe I have made the changes you requested. Thanks for your patience and willingness to let me use your poem. I really enjoy the Monchielle, though I haven't written any myself. It has a lot of charm.

Best wishes,