A column created in preparation for Folded Word’s upcoming panel on short-form poems at the New Hampshire Poetry Festival.
As we mentioned last week, writing short form poetry can provide a self-contained place to experiment with poetic elements you’ve never used before. Sometimes, however, you might not be able to find a form that uses the specific element you’re looking to try. In those cases, why not have a little fun and invent your own form?
This week’s featured form is one I recently invented that I call trokeen.* I needed something that would help me practice the rhythm of the Icelandic braghenda — with its alliteration and beat patterns firmly rooted in Old Norse — before trying to tackle the additional complication of its rhyme scheme. And yes, before you ask, I will be challenging you to write a braghenda before the year is out;-)
The rules are a bit tricky, so major bonus points to anyone who tries this:
- 1 stanza of 3 lines
- Per-line metrical-foot pattern: 6 / 4 / 4 (in other words, line 1 = hexameter, lines 2 & 3 = tetrameter)
- Primary meter = trochee, however sparing substitutions of iambs & dactyls allowed
- Alliteration pattern: sound 1 = 1st, 3rd, & 5th beats of line 1; sound 2 = 1st & 3rd beats of line 2 + 1st beat of line 3
- No end-rhyme scheme
- No restrictions on titles
- No restrictions on content
Maybe This Will Help
Trochees | ring like | tower | bells, their | timbre | keen and
stout e|nough to | straddle | the hard
striding | beats of a|lliter|ation.
You’ll note in the above that I made two substitutions: an iamb in foot 4 of line 2, and a dactyl in foot 2 of line 3. Can you hear how those substitutions break the “sing-songy” quality of the poem? They definitely opened up more word choices and gave me the sonic control I needed to ensure the sound of the words matched the images they conveyed. I also noticed that when I wrote out the alliteration pattern (where the numbers are the alliterative feet and the X’s are non-alliterative feet) it mirrored the stress pattern of a trochee:
1 X 1 X 1 X
2 X 2 X
2 X X X
Here’s one more example, in which I had to make several substitutions for the exercise to even approach something that could be called a poem. The biggest thing to avoid when writing form poetry is putting words in just because they fit the rules, not because they’re the words needed to convey the intended image/thought. I don’t know if I really succeeded with this one, but maybe the video of the whale will make up for its short-comings…
*If you know of an existing form that contains identical rules, please let me know in the comments. I’d love to check it out.
Want to give it a go? If you try it and end up with something you’d like to share, please consider submitting it to our poetry zine unFold via the form below. Your entry will be automatically tagged with “trokeen” when you submit it, so we’ll know how to set the spacing if it’s chosen for publication.
JS Graustein is Folded Word’s Editor in Chief and book designer. She also serves as one of the artists and typographers for unFold‘s new format that creates graphic art with short poems (10 lines or less) and distributes it via social media. With Rose Auslander, she co-edited our anthology On a Narrow Windowsill: Fiction and Poetry Folded onto Twitter.