Etheree Day – 2013
Today is Etheree Day. This is the day we set aside to celebrate the Etheree syllabic form. Since learning about the Etheree I have had a lot of fun with it. I find the simplicity of the form highly attractive. The basic form is a 10-line poem. The first line has 1 syllable, the second line 2 syllables, on up to the tenth line which has 10 syllables. The overall structure is 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10; for a total count of 55 syllables.
There is something really charming about this form. I first started writing Etheree in earnest when I set the word ‘tea’ as the first line. My day job is working at a tea shop and spiritual bookstore (since this blog don’t pay the bills). I began writing a bunch of Etheree all starting with the word ‘tea’. And about 25 ‘tea’ Etheree just tumbled out. Lots of fun. It has occurred to me that if I were to teach the Etheree form one way to do it would be to have everyone in the class compose an Etheree with a shared first line. That opening one syllable line. I could use ‘spring’ or ‘June’ or ‘moon’, etc. Then everyone take off from there. I think it would be interesting to see how different people would go in different directions from that first word/line.
People who compose Etheree have experimented with form variations. There is, for example, the reverse Etheree: 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. And then there are various combinations of the forward and reverse types.
I found that in some of my Etheree I wanted to go beyond the last 10-syllable line; it’s like I was on a role and out came the 11-syllable, 12-syllable, and etc., lines. I think the longest line I worked up to was 14 syllables. But these longer Etheree still feel like the same form to me because of the gradual unfolding, syllable by syllable, line by line. The pace of the unfolding stays the same.
Lately I have written some Etheree is which I hover over a particular line length before going on to the next longer line. Something like this: 1-2-3-3-4-5-5-5-6-7-8-8-9-10. This makes for an overall longer poem, but it still has the feeling of an Etheree to me; a kind of slowed-down version of the process of unfolding.
There is another aspect to the Etheree form which I enjoy. Because the Etheree is a new form, I find there is a great sense of freedom in how to use it. If I want to rhyme, I’ll rhyme. Or not. If I want to focus on subject X, Y, or Z, I’ll go ahead. There is not a long tradition behind the form, so I don’t get the feeling of looking over my shoulder at what predecessors did. At times that can be intimidating to a poet. For example, when writing a sonnet, so many of our greatest poets have written such magnificent sonnets that it can feel kind of impertinent to try to find one’s own way in the sonnet landscape, so to speak. With the Etheree I don’t get that sense. And there is no National Society of the True Etheree Way issuing lists of do’s and don’t’s as to correct Etheree procedure. All of this makes my experience writing Etheree very enjoyable. And yet the Etheree is formal syllabic verse so there is a sense of discipline and focus in the form, just as in other syllabic forms. It’s a captivating balance of freedom and focus.
My basic approach to Etheree is to think of the opening, very short lines, particularly the first line, as resembling a seed, a thought seed, out of which the rest of the Etheree emerges. My tendency is to use the first three or four lines to write a list; and the list is the setting for the poem as a whole. Words like ‘dawn’, ‘dusk’, ‘night’, ‘cold’, ‘sun’, ‘moon’, words the give a broad sense of place and/or time. Then with each subsequent lines details are added, until the Etheree becomes a complete picture. Here is an Etheree I wrote a few months ago:
In the sky
Between the clouds
Over a rainbow
A few angels hover
Gathering the pray’rs from earth
Pray’rs that come from green fields of grass
Pray’rs that come from the waves of the sea
Pray’rs on behalf of all humanity
So if you are inclined, compose an Etheree today, share it with some friends. The structure is so simple anyone can learn it in a few minutes. And it is always a good thing to share poetry with friends.