The Ode Less Traveled: Iambic Pentameter

I have written about the book “The Ode Less Traveled” by Stephen Fry in the past. At one point I was going to work my way through the book and do all the exercises. Life intervened and I never did do the poetry exercises. This morning after reading about eighty pages of Stephen King’s book titled “On Writing” which really is very good and I will probably write about it another day, I pulled out “The Ode Less Traveled.”

I read the first section. It introduces the book and talks about meter in poetry. The first exercise involves listening to the rhythm of a set of selections of two lines of poetry that are written in iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter is a type of meter where every other syllable is stressed. An example would be:
“He bangs the drum and makes a dreadful noise.”

I read through all of the examples and felt confident that I had the rhythm of iambic pentameter. The second exercise in the book is about writing iambic pentameter. I need to work more on this.

Here is what I wrote this morning. It, uh, needs work shall we say. I am still trying to get the hang of this iambic pentameter thing.

Touched

The wind blew fierce and whipped the trees with might
Brown branches bent, cracked, and fell to sodden ground.
With rain, green grass grew slick, dove grey rock black.
The thunderbirds rode chariots of cloud

We hid under woolen blankets to watch.
The scent of pine, lightning’s ozone sharp tang,
And sweat scented the air. I watched the waves,
Relentless scour the shore. Thunderclaps boomed.

One strike from heaven turns sand into glass.
What once could flow unformed and ordinary,
becomes jagged and sharp with crystalline
knowledge too delicate and dangerous.

Writing in a structured meter is hard because you begin to force the meter in your thinking and after awhile you just simply cannot hear the stresses on the syllables. I posted the above poem just to give an example of what I mean. After working on this for the better part of a half an hour I am sure that if I were trying to talk to someone the way that I would say the word dangerous would sound as though I was not a native speaker of English. Also while writing this poem, I was convinced the second line was good iambic pentameter. Looking at it now the stresses are all wrong. I am going to let this activity rest for the day and come back to it tomorrow.

Try writing something in iambic pentameter! It makes you think about the word choice and offers a restriction that forces a bit of creativity.

The Ode Less Traveled

Next week I will post more six sentence stories!

Today I would like to recommend a fabulous book about poetry titled The Ode Less Traveled by Stephen Fry. Stephen Fry writes in the book:

“I have a dark and dreadful secret. I write poetry…. I believe poetry is a primal impulse within all of us. I believe we are all capable of it and furthermore that a small often ignored corner of us positively yearns to try it.”

In The Ode Less Traveled, Fry offers exercises so that the reader can learn about, explore, and write poetry. It is both a kind of workbook that he expects you to deface as well as a textbook to learn about poetry. He wrote the book and kind of operates on the assumption that most people don’t like poetry because it is mysterious and intimidating. He leads the reader through lessons that help them to not just write poetry but to read poetry with a new perspective.

I highly recommend this book. I write poetry to improve my fiction. I want my words to pull multiple duties and have muscle. Writing poetry helps, I believe, to strengthen prose. I am going to work my way through The Ode Less Traveled in the next few months. I will post about the book and what I discover as I work my through it.

The first lesson in the book is about iambic pentameter. The heroic line. It is about listening to the lines, savoring them, and finding where the stresses are that give the words rhythm.

Go forth and listen aptly for the beats in language!