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.


Thanks to Madelyn Eastlund of Florida State Poetry Association (FSPA) and National Federation of State Poetry Societies (NFSPS) for helping the Blogger with this form.

The lachesis, an 18-line structure, is broken into triplet and couplet stanzas in iambic tetrameter (4 beats) or pentameter (5). The rhyme scheme is aaa-bb-ccc-dd-eee-ff, ggg. Choice of subject matter is open.

The name comes from Greek mythology, Lachesis being the second of the three Greek Fates. (Information on the Fates is available on the Internet.) Ms. Eastland mentions that great examples of this challenging form are available in the publication of NFSPS winners (ENCORE) from about 1992 on.

A few examples are given below.


December is a time to ponder life,
For women who have come to be "the wife,"
whose days consist of mollifying strife.

What happened to the freckled girl, so free,
with flying curls and piercing shrieks of glee?

The men she's loved have given her a goal:
To extirpate her will, deny her soul.
Her pleasure must be found in their control.

What happened to the temperament so bold,
The sassing back and stares so icy cold?

Her father's love, withheld 'til she complied...
Her husband, trusted mate, until he lied...
Her son, adored, but always occupied...

The bending willow weeps, but doesn't break;
A heart continues beating, with an ache.

The expectation's gone of Christmas cheer,
Of family who gather year to year.
The distance now between them draws a tear.

Kathleen Cesaro


When names are lavender and kelly green,
when tone of voice and color wheel convene
so that the whiner's yellow voice is seen

as well as heard, my senses come to me
like sound and light shows. I get in for free.

I'd buy a ticket to the exit door
when trumpet tosses me an apple core,
when saxophone spills merlot on the floor.

Sometimes, the hues of music fade in haste.
My tongue will linger on a letter's taste

when R is orange, C is lemon-lime.
Ripe honeybells fall from the wall clock's chime
when lilac lull and serenade scent rhyme.

Skin tightens like a drumhead when the flute
of Jethro Tull warps in the key of jute.

My senses are like twins conjoined: My ear
and eye inseparable. I would pay dear
if I could only see the sights I hear.

Kay Lindgren


The limerick, a 5-line structure, is a popular form of short, humorous verse (nonsense verse), usually untitled. Often the limerick is somewhat bawdy, which one should be cautious about in contest poetry. The rhyme scheme is a-a-b-b-a, and the dominant meter is anapestic. Lines 1, 2, and 5 contain 3 feet; lines 3 and 4 contain 2 feet. The characteristic rhythm of the limerick is demonstrated in the following illustration, in which / represents stress and u represents lack of stress.


Here's an example:

There was a young man so benighted,
he didn't know when he was slighted.
He went to a party
and ate just as hearty,
as though he'd been duly invited.



The minute is a syllable-count poem with 12 iambic lines and couplet rhyme (aa, bb, cc, dd, ee, ff).   Count per line is as follows: 8-4-4-4-8-4-4-4-8-4-4-4, for a total of 60 syllables, the number of seconds in a minute.  The message of the poem is supposed to capture a moment in time.

The minute was created by Verna Lee Hinegardner, former Poet Laureate of Arkansas.

Example by Mary Harper Sowell:

Deer Hunt

I stood and raised my rifle high
as he walked by.
He paused to drink
at water's brink.
He stood erect and sniffed the air--
and saw me there.
I held my breath
as still as death.
But when he stared with frightened eyes,
to my surprise,
I waslked away--
and let him stay. 


This form from Malaysia consists of any number of stanzas in which the 2nd and 4th lines of a stanza reappear as the 1st and 3rd lines of the following stanza. The stanzas are quatrains with rhyme scheme abab.  Lines 1 and 3 in the first stanza should be chosen carefully because they must recur in the final stanza, in reverse order, as lines 2 and 4.  This means that no new lines appear in the final quatrain, and the poem repeats its opening line on closing.  

The classical pantoum demonstrates both rhyme and meter.  As with the villanelle, the specific meter used is a matter of choice, iambic pentameter not being the specific requirement.  Many pantoums are written today in free verse, without rhyme, but the pattern of repetition must be correct. 

The example below is a classical pantoum with meter and rhyme, demonstrating the required pattern of repetition.  (Please note that the opening quotation is not a requirement of the form.)


"Sleep sweetly in your humbled graves.
Sleep, martyrs of a fallen cause."  Henry Timrod

The Civil War was fresh in memory.
Miss Higbee taught devotion to the dead
to all the girls in her academy,
requiring that the Southern poets be read.

Miss Higbee taught devotion to the dead.
She passed out thin, red volumes to her class,
requiring that the Southern poets be read.
Who could foresee how innocence would pass?

The passed out thin, red volumes to her class.
With florid elocution she recited.
Who could foresee how innocence would pass?
Now all the proper passions were incited.

With florid elocution she recited
the works of Pike, Lamar, Lanier, and Poe.
Now all the proper passions were incited.
What more should Southern ladies need to know?

The works of Pike, Lamar, Lanier, and Poe,
the grandeur of the Timrod elegy:
what more should Southern ladies need to know?
Theirs was, of course, a whitewashed history.

The grandeur of the Timrod elegy!
Such eloquence in praise of martyred lives!
Theirs was, of course, a whitewashed history,
scrubbed clean for well-bred ladies, future wives.

Such eloquence in praise of martyred lives!
Miss Higbee never spoke of rage or race.
Scrubbed clean for well-bred ladies, future wives,
she felt that she would overstep her place.

Miss Higbee never spoke of rage or race
to all the girls in her academy.
She felt that she would overstep her place.
The Civil War was fresh in memory.

Thanks for this published sample to
Russell H. Strauss, Poetry Society of TN
Recent past president of NFSPS

NOTE:  The Blogger personally feels that the poet/writer must accomplish 16 lines or 4 stanzas, minimally, to prove any knowledge of the pantoum.  Fewer than 16 lines simply does not adequately demonstrate how the pantoum works. 




The pendulum is an 8-line syllable-count form done in rhymed couplets. The line by line count is 8-6-4-2-2-4-6-8.  Below are two examples from Mary Harper Sowell's collection, "Poetry Patterns A-Z."


Sometimes I yearn, I must confess,
for things I don't possess.
I sit and sigh
and try
to think
a coat of mink
would be just right for me.
I'm sure the mink would disagree.

So Little Time

Time flies so swiftly day by day.
So little time to say
the things I feel --
the real
true word
that should be heard.
Before my thoughts are said
it's time for me to do to bed.


The pirouette is a 10-line poem with 6 syllables in each line; no rhyme or metric pattern is required. Lines 5 and 6, called "the turn-around," contain the same words in the same order, but the punctuation and capitalization may vary. The turn-around must be sharp, taking the thought in a different, hopefully opposite, direction.

The first example below is from “Our Daily Grind,” a small collection of pirouettes written by Chuck Belcher, creator of the form. The second example was written by the blogger, F. Bruce.


“Just like the good old days,”
I tell my wide-eyed kids.
“Abraham Lincoln ate
this way, and that is why
      we dine by candlelight.”
      We dine by candlelight
because the lights were cut.
My wife don’t say nothin’.
If my piece wasn’t hocked,
I’d rob a liquor store.


I'm going to see Mom
for a couple of days.
She's still there on the farm.
I'll pack just a few things,
       the bare necessities.
      The Bare Necessities
is where I strut my stuff
 to make a living in
this gawd-forsaken town.
Mom thinks I wait tables.






A Rubaiyat is a poem using Rubaiyat stanzas. The Rubaiyat stanza is a quatrain (4-line stanza) written in iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme is a-a-b-a. This form is also called the "Omar stanza."

Ideally, if the poem contains more than one such stanza, the third lines in all should rhyme.

The examples below from Omar Khayyam were found on the internet.

Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
The Winter garment of Repentance fling;
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly - and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.
[Stanza 7, 1st edition]

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread -- and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness --
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!
[Stanza 12)


The SCOT is a variable, titled, short form containing 15-18 poetic feet. Rhythm is optional; no rhyme is required.

Line 1: S = 4 poetic feet
Line 2: C = 5
Line 3: O = 2-5
Line 4: T = 4

Here are two examples, both by Tom McDaniel, who created the form as a tribute to his heritage.


Grave streams of peat course down to feed
the loch where thrives the living Capricorn.
To save a swimmer, Saint Columba banned
bane beast and cast it yawn below.


When Mother’s Day is past, I plunge
to angle at the lake. Blue motor boat
just drones me to a zone,
each weekend charmed until the fall.


The Shadorma is a 5-line, unrhymed poem with strict syllable count of 3-5-3-3-7-5. It has a title. Below is an example.

Early Winter

point accusingly
at pot plants
frozen stiff.
I meant to bring them inside-
winter came too soon!

Mary H. Sowell


The villanelle, a French form, is a 19-line structure consisting of five 3-line stanzas (tercets) and one 4-line final stanza (quatrain)

Its main device, as with the pantoum, is effective repetition. Unlike the pantoum, however, the length of the villanelle is prescribed. Idyllic, delicate subject matter is recomomended. No specific rhythmic pattern is required. Research indicates that tetrameter (4 beat line) is most commonly used. E. A. Robinson used trimeter (3-beat line)in his well known villanelle, "The House on the Hill."

Two rhymes are required by the form. The writer should select the rhyming sounds early and carefully. The total rhyme scheme is a-b-a, a-b-a, a-b-a, a-b-a, a-b-a, a-b-a-a. Lines 1 and 3 appear four times in the poem, which means the poet constructs only 13 total lines.

The poem below, by Dylan Thomas (1914-1953), is considered a classic example of the form. He elected to use iambic pentameter.


Do not go gentle into that good night.
Old age should turn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning, they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
and learned too late they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight,
Blind eyes could blaze the meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

A number of poets have taken liberties with the classical form. See "The Waking" by Theodore Roethke and "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop.