Poetry Society of Tennessee

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Saturday, February 1, 2014


The ballad is a rhymed form adapted for singing or recitation. Thrall & Hibbard speak of it as a simple narrative of a dramatic and exciting episode. Hence, it should tell a story.

The ballad stanza is specific to the form. This 4-line stanza has 8 syllables (4 feet) in lines 1 and 3; 6 syllables (3 feet) in lines 2 and 4. (This 4/3/4/3 rhythm is sometimes called "rocking horse" rhythm.) The meter is usually iambic. The rhyme scheme is a-b-c-b.

Below is an example of the ballad stanza:

There lived a wife at Usher's Well,
and a wealthy wife was she;
she had three stout and stalwart sons,
and sent them o'er the sea.


Beecher Smith, who invented this form, calls it a hybrid between a haiku and a limerick. The 5-line structure has syllable count 2-5-5-3-8 (representing positions in the alphabet for b-e-e-c-h) and rhyme scheme a-b-b-b-a. His first Beech (below) was accepted for publication:


I know
you were supposed to
be the Great Soul who
was my true
Love. That was very long ago.


The Poetry Society of Tennessee is sponsoring a blank verse narrative poem in the next NFSPS brochure (2015), so members need to be aware of that format.

Blank verse is iambic pentameter without rhyme. That means each line contains 10 syllables or 5 iambic feet.  One iambic foot contains 2 syllables, the first unstressed, the second stressed. That is symbolized as u/.  The whole line is symbolized as u/ u/ u/ u/ u/.  Don't be intimated by the expression "iambic pentameter."  It's really very easy to write because the English language is highly iambic, and that's a big help.

In a blank verse narrative poem, the poet must tell a story.  Several examples are given here to help members become familiar with blank verse narrative. 

Here's a humorous example of a blank verse narrative poem.

Fashion Changes in the Garden

A few weeks past the apple episode
the Snake sought Adam for a little talk.
Snake said, "Yo, Dude, I dig your leafy look.
I'd like to try that on if you don't mind."
"I love the suit you're wearing," Adam said,
and how it helps you blend with everything."
"I crave to mix, not blend," was Snake's reply.
"I think you and the broad look mighty cool!"
So Adam, being such an all-round sport,
began to gather up some fallen leaves,
and after fashioning a flashy string,
bedecked the snake along his narrow back.

The monkeys took one look and swung away.
The squirrels popped their tails frenetically.
The birds chirped loudly, letting kinfolk know
that first-time avant garde was going down.
Giraffes stood tall and craned their necks to see.
The elephants became emotional,
and flapped their floppy ears in frank dismay.
The owl, born wise, said, "Ain't that Snake a hoot?"
And Adam said, "Oh, yes . . . I quite agree,
but Eve, my wife, is bound to be upset
to find her frock is not the latest thing."

Here's a serious example of blank verse narrative:

Viola's Week

"I wish the phone would ring," Viola said,
one boring day. The talking to herself
was frequent now. Who knows when it began?
Some days were busy--Sundays at the church.
On Wednesday nights she took a covered dish.
Constructing that consumed an hour or two.
The longest days were Mondays, and the dread
of Monday started late in every week.
When she no longer drove, she quit the choir,
So Thursdays, which had once been fuller, dragged.
On Tuesdays she played Bunko with the girls
if they stayed well. Four hostesses took turns,
but Bunko games might soon be ending now
that Peggy had sustained a T.I.A.
Viola gave up sewing --well, the mess
that sewing left! The scraps, stray pins, loose threads!
The children came on weekends when they could
and helped with shopping, putting things away.
She understood how they had their own lives;
she'd told them so a hundred times or more.
So Fridays could be loneliest of all
on learning that the children couldn't come.
Well, getting a shampoo used up some hours
on Friday morning. She was home by noon.
She thought of volunteering, but she feared
she might not get the weekday she preferred.
She'd tell them she was free that day, of course.
They mustn't think time heavy on her hands.
One boring day, while talking to herself,
Viola said, "I wish the phone would ring."

(Sample poems above contributed by
Florence Bruce, the blogger.)


The cameo, correctly defined as "a thumbnail sketch," is a 7-line syllable-count poem invented by a member of Poets Roundtable of Arkansas (PRA). No rhyme or meter is required. The message is limited to one sentence. Syllable count per line is 2-5-8-3-8-7-2, for a total of 35 syllables. Take care not to use two thoughts separated by a semicolon. In fact, it's a good idea to avoid using the semicolon in this form.

Tangible subjects may work better than intangibles in this short format, but try both experimentally.  Line endings should be strong.  End the lines where pauses and stops occur normally in our language. Never break a line in the middle of a grammatical structure. This is demonstrated in the examples below written by the blogger, F. Bruce. 

Best of luck in writing the challenging cameo.

SPIDER (tangible subject)

brilliant architect,
producer of multiple silks
for weaving,
traps the fly on his web's wet lines
and walks himself on the dry.,

BOREDOM (intangible subject)\

seeps into my bones
wraps my central nervous system
in cotton,
obfuscating concentration,
canceling motivation,


The dorsimbra was invented by three members of The Poetry Society of Tennessee (PST): Frieda Dorris, Robert Simonton, and Eve Braden. All three (deceased) were talented, versatile poets.

The poem is 12 lines long. The first 4 lines in iambic pentameter, rhymed abab, look like the opening of a Shakespearean sonnet.  The next 4 lines are terse (short, choppy) free verse. The final 4 lines are blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter), with the final line repeating the opening line of stanza 1.

The tone and topic of these poems are usually serious, but don't have to be. The dorsimbra is often a love poem. Some writers, who see the dorsimbra as a formal structure like the sonnet, disapprove of the use of contractions in writing them. Participants in a dorsimbra contest need to keep these matters in mind.


(dorsimba in memory of Eve Braden)

Her poems danced through moonlight and through rain,
no matter what the sorrows in her life.
Her writing lifted her above the pain.
She overcame the darkness and the strife.

From moonlight
until dawn
she dances now
above the grief.

Her poetry was songs of love and hope--
her words gave rainbows when the skies were gray.
They spoke of worlds with harmony and peace.
Her poems danced through moonlight and through rain.

Frances Cowden, Poetry Society of TN


Composing a dorsimbra can be fun!
Accept the challenge; master this neat trick.
Come learn right here the way to create one,
and, fear not, you will catch on pretty quick.

A twelve-line poem,
but be sure
to repeat
the first line last.

It opens like a sonnet with four lines
that rhyme a-b-a-b and bump just right.
Then four of free style--final four, blank verse.
Composing a dorsimbra can be fun!

F. Bruce, Poetry Society of TN


The epigram is a brief, witty statement in prose or verse, similar to an aphorism. The examples here are all in verse.

Life's saving graces are love, pleasure, laughter.
(Wisdom, it seems, is for the hereafter.)

Michael R. Burch

Men seldom make passes
at girls who wear glasses.

Dorothy Parker

is dandy
but liquor
is quicker.

Ogden Nash


This is a wedge-shaped form invented by Etheree Armstrong of Missouri. The 10-line structure has syllable count per line of 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. Meter and rhyme was not required. Any number of sentences may be used. The trick is to create a memorable message within the required format. Of interest, the 1999 brochure for Poets' Roundtable of Arkansas spoke of this form as containing imagery and possible undertones of second meaning.

The poem must appear as a wedge; a pyramid is not acceptable. 

The examples are from "Intriguing Etheree," a small collection by Ted Badger and E. A. Henderson, published by Bear House, Eureka Springs, AR 1996.


reminds me
of my mother.
I see her again
wanting to celebrate
each day's small victory, and
to soften the edges of loss.
Her celebrations lifted us all
and taught us proper disdain for defeat.


old man
who has been
a pest for year--
ever since his wife
left him unprepared for
life alone--is now finding
it difficult to drive, or walk,
and I, who heartily dislike him,
find impatience giving way to pity.