13 May 2005

Iambic Frustrations

Last week, my Advanced Poetry Writing professor, Kasey Mohammad, assigned us an experiment: take some everyday piece of text and convert it to iambic pentameter. For those unfamiliar with the term, iambic pentameter relates to a classic poetic structure most commonly found in Shakespearean sonnets. The pattern consists of a ten-syllable line with an unstressed syllable(u) followed by a stressed syllable(l), looking like this: u l u l u l u l u l and sounding like a heartbeat daDUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM.

Here's an example from William Shakespeare and a prose example from Thomas Jefferson:

"I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought"

"We hold these truths to be self-evident"

Unlike me, these writers had all of language at their disposal. I, on the other hand, was limited to the words within the text I chose to convert. My first attempt failed utterly as every word was monosyllabic and mostly stressed. So much for altering the directions for Stove Top Stuffing. Then I grabbed the back of a book on writing fiction scenes. The words were much longer and I cut them up into individual words for easier manipulation.

I grew impatient. Then an idea struck me. What about my poeticphobic wife, the statistical mathematician? She loves puzzles, so she took the bait. She worked for two days, first arranging based on stresses alone, then trying to make it make sense. Here is the result of her work:

Create ability your writing scenes
Believable rock-solid fiction page
Dynamic scenes depend on conflict goals
Be turning readers forward, baiting them
Obtained with characters and structures both
With difference energy crackles scenes
Momentum makes a story good not flat

She used 40 out of 61 words and even went to her Complete Shakespeare to learn more about the style. Sure, I didn't do the work, but my experiment succeeded. If not for but a brief moment, my love learned a love of poetry.

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