Poetry Writing Exercise #1: Iambs

Discussion related to the topic Poetry Writing Exercise #1: Iambs

Forum : All About Writing : Poetry Writing Exercise #1: Iambs
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Douglas
Posted at: May 22, 2010 at 7:20 PM 
A metrical foot is the fundamental building block of the rhythm of poetry. Most forms of poetry make extensive use of rhythm, and getting comfortable with the rhythms of language is a key part of getting comfortable with writing poetry.

So let's talk about the simplest of metrical feet: the iamb. An iamb is a sequence of two syllables in which the first syllable is unaccented, and the second syllable is accented.

How do you know if a syllable is accented? Easy! Does it get emphasized more than the syllable next to it? If it does, it's accented.

So here are some iambs, with the accented (heavier) syllable written in upper case letters:

unDONE
reMOVE
beWITCH

You can also string iambs together:

by HOOK or CROOK
unTIL the CLOCK strikes ONE
the ROOSter CROWS beFORE the SUN aWAKES

See how nicely those lines flow off the tongue?

So here's your first exercise: think about something you would like to tell us all, but phrase it using only iambs. When you post it, you might want to try writing it with accented syllables upper case. Try to make it perfectly iambic. If there are mistakes, the moderators may give you some suggestions of different ways to word it, to make it iambic.

Post as many as you want. In fact, try to do one per day for the next week, and post one each day!

Douglas
Posted at: May 22, 2010 at 7:21 PM 
Here's mine for today:

my STUdents HATE those GEoMETric SEquenCES.

Laura
Posted at: May 22, 2010 at 7:40 PM 
misTAKES are MADE from CAREless OBserVAtions

Douglas
Posted at: May 23, 2010 at 3:29 AM 
toDAY i THINK i'll GO to SUNday SCHOOL and LISten TO my COUsin (ONCE reMOVED) disCUSS honDURas MISSions TRIPS...and THEN toNIGHT some FRIENDS are COMing OVer FOR the LOST fiNALe.

R. Wesley Lovil
Posted at: May 23, 2010 at 5:22 AM 
my POEMS reLIES on WORDS that RHYME

Douglas
Posted at: May 23, 2010 at 5:36 AM 
Yep, that works, as long as you're willing to treat "poems" as a one syllable word - which you can, with a little bit of poetic license. One easy way to avoid that, though, would be to change one word:

my POetRY reLIES on WORDS that RHYME

gabemay
Posted at: May 23, 2010 at 6:45 AM 
THIS is VERy DIffiCULT is that right?

Mathax
Posted at: May 23, 2010 at 8:52 AM 
POetRY comes DIFfiCULT to me

I THINK that FITS...

Douglas
Posted at: May 23, 2010 at 9:44 AM 
To both gabemay and mathax...yep, you've got it.

Strictly speaking, you should start with an unaccented syllable to be truly iambic...

Which is why in my most recent poem (Prince of Peace), several lines started with "Oh," - it wasn't JUST because I wanted an exclamation...it was also because it allowed me to start with an unaccented syllable.

So gabemay, you could do the same thing: "oh, THIS is VERy DIffiCULT" or "well, THIS is VERy DIffiCULT" or even, "my GOODness! THIS is VERy DIffiCULT"


Laura
Posted at: May 23, 2010 at 1:57 PM 
One thing to note is that little words like "oh", "and", "the", "a" are almost always UN-accented, so if you're trying to write in a specific meter, it can help to phrase your lines in a way that leaves those words in unaccented spaces.

In poetry class, my professor gave us many "scanning" exercises, which I think helped to train our ears a little bit for the rhythm of poetry. Scanning is basically marking the accented and unaccented syllables of a poem, so that if the poem is written in a specific meter, it's easier to pick up on it (although you usually have to get through at least one full line before you can figure it out).

We used marks to show this, which is hard to demonstrate on the computer, but if you consider an unaccented syllable to be represented by a "-" and accented by a "/" then an iamb is basically represented as "-/" Some people find it helpful to find the accented syllables first (with a word like "misTAKES" it's clear which is accented, so that makes it easier to deduce which syllables are unaccented by following the pattern)

Like I said, this works better on paper, so it can help to practice on a written/printed poem with a pencil - especially, at this point, something you know is supposed to be iambic, such as a sonnet.

Of course, there are other metrical feet as well, so this may make more sense once those are introduced. Just an idea if you feel that a visual/hands-on approach might be helpful!
~Edited by Laura, May 23, 2010 at 2:04 PM

Douglas
Posted at: May 23, 2010 at 2:29 PM 
Thanks, Laura. Also, when I'm writing iambic poetry, I tend to tap out the syllables with my forefinger and thumb. I alternate tapping, with the forefinger on the unaccented syllables, and the thumb on accented. If I ever end up with an accented syllable arriving when I'm supposed to tap my forefinger, I know I've made a mistake somewhere.

Douglas
Posted at: May 24, 2010 at 3:28 AM 
i HOPE that EV'ryONE'S enJOYing WRIting WITH iAMBic FEET. if NOT, just WAIT 'til SUNday WHEN we START with ANaPESTS!

R. Wesley Lovil
Posted at: May 24, 2010 at 3:36 AM 
don't YIELD to STRONG deSIRES she CRIED

Laura
Posted at: May 24, 2010 at 7:07 AM 
i HAVE so MUCH to DO toDAY

Douglas
Posted at: May 24, 2010 at 8:17 AM 
my DAY is GOING to BE a BIT more BORing NOW that I'M no LONGer TEACHing PHYsics TO the SENior CLASS.

(that one was harder to phrase as iambs...I kept coming up with two unaccented syllables together, until I figured out the right wording.)

to SUMMarIZE: i'm BORED.

Mathax
Posted at: May 24, 2010 at 9:39 AM 
I reQUIRE a STRATegy for LIFTing a SIEge.
Does this work?

Douglas
Posted at: May 24, 2010 at 10:18 AM 
almost, but not quite...

"I reQUIRE a STRATegy for LIFTing a SIEge."

First, notice that Siege is a one syllable word. Also, you have 2 unaccented syllables together "ing" and "a"

So one possible way of fixing that is:

"I reQUIRE a STRATegY for LIFTing SIEGes."

Or...

"I reQUIRE a STRATegY to LIFT a SIEGE."

Often you will find more than one "strategy" to fix the meter in a line.
~Edited by Douglas, May 24, 2010 at 10:22 AM

Douglas
Posted at: May 24, 2010 at 10:22 AM 
Also, notice that your first syllable is accented. Interestingly, we can turn that syllable into a non-accented syllable by the word we put next:

"i DO reQUIRE a STRATegY to LIFT a SIEGE."
~Edited by Douglas, May 24, 2010 at 10:22 AM

gabemay
Posted at: May 24, 2010 at 2:16 PM 
oh DEAR my FInals ARE such BOREing PROceDURES to ENdure, FOR i AM onLY takING one FInal, now I KNOW I messed up on that one! lol

Laura
Posted at: May 24, 2010 at 7:05 PM 
Gabemay - one important thing to note is that for a meter to be mostly smooth and rhythmic, it has to work with the natural accents of the words. For example, if you were to say the word "procedure" out loud, you'd probably find that you accent the middle syllable the most, as in proCEdure. You wrote it the opposite way in your sentence though. Granted, poetry often makes us accent words we won't normally, but not multi-syllable words like that.
Let's say you were writing a poem, and you really wanted a big word like "procedure" in it - if you wanted that in iambic meter, it might mean starting with the larger words and working outward to make sure things fit.
So that phrase would read "proCEdures TO enDURE" so it would keep with the alternating accents.

Sometimes I'll start trying to write in one meter and then decide that the words I want to use won't fit it, so I switch to anapestic - but that will come later!
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