Poetry mnemonics – singing up your iambics

I am just getting round to the idea that rhythm in prose is a thing and that poetry might hold some clues as to how best to apply it. The trouble is, iambic means nothing to me no matter how many times I look it up; trochaic – same thing, and don’t get me started on anapestic which I still think of as a kind of wallpaper. Whoever invented these monikers surely wanted to keep the whole business in-house like a kind of holy catechism that novitiates have to prove they have learned before being allowed to voice any opinion. But this doesn’t help if you need a kind of shorthand, a word that covers the bases and that you can use at least in your own head to bring to mind and flag up a rhythm so you can use knowledge and strategy in your writing instead of just instinct.

Well, I like music and although I can barely tell a three-four-time from a – ok, I’ve no idea what the others are called – I can play them in my head. So I found some tracks that seem to exemplify the impenetrable poetic terms that slide straight out of my brain the minute I’ve stopped reading the definition. Here we go, the sections of verse are from Rhythm and Meter in English Poetry:

Iambic: That time of year thou mayst in me behold. That’s the chorus of the Quartermaster’s Stores. Go on, try it, ‘My eyes are dim I cannot see ...’

Trochaic: Tell me not in mournful numbers. My Darlin’ Clementine, yes?

Spondaic (I kid you not): Break, break, break, On thy cold gray stones, O Sea! Try ‘Original’ by Leftfield.  It looks like it might leave ‘O Sea’ dangling a bit but let’s not get picky, we’re on a roll.

Anapestic: And the sound of a voice that is still. The Mexican Hat Dance, for sure.

Dactylic: This is the forest primeval, the murmuring pines and the hemlock (the last foot is a trochee, but then you knew that). I’m hearing Oompah band for this so I dug out an album of Tyrolean music (bought after a skiing holiday, as you do) and found a track. Right or wrong – and it’s a close thing – you’re not going to forget your dactylics once you’ve seen Your Man in the lederhosen dancing to Auerhahn-Plattler. 

So, that’s my list, what’s yours?

7 thoughts on “Poetry mnemonics – singing up your iambics

    1. I actually have that, Irena, but it drove me bonkers within a few pages and the reason, I think, is that I don’t really want to know about writing poetry, I just want to know some of the tricks it has up its sleeve. I know – piracy!

      1. Well, it’s my favorite on the topic.:) I’m already bonkers anyway.

  1. I struggle with all these terms and sadly the jargon can put people off reading poetry – which should be the whole point just to read and enjoy! But found this really helpful.
    How about you wear the Lederhosen for the next open mic?

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