By Sibyl, From The Enigma, May 1989
We have chapters to go - lots by Qaqaq, ho ho; lots by Brillig and Treesong and Hudu:
We’ve a list: “Where to Send It,” and tips: ways to mend all the flats, forms, and extras the Krewe do.
But for now, you’ve got me. May my subject not be the occasion for shrugging or curses:
I have just a notandum or two - sundry, random remarks on the subject of verses.
When the lines just won’t come, you feel eerily dumb, and the work cancels study and leisure,
And it seems even worse, even mildly perverse, that you’re taking such pains to give pleasure;
Or some critic on high casts a cold yellow eye on the wordplay you thought was employable.
Don’t despair, don’t feel hateful. Believe me, we’re grateful you’re there to make solving enjoyable.
You’ll discover a slew of your fine fellow Krewe will respond with delight to your humor,*
And will eagerly praise a felicitous phrase - if its scansion is more than a rumor.
So let verse have its say in a natural way. Put the stress where it goes. (And it’s neater
If no word you include has a suddenly skewed change of pronunciation for meter.)
Now extend that technique: read aloud as you’d speak any phrases with meaning that’s sensible.
Then discover the rhythm compatible withm. The beat will become comprehensible.
Ogden Nash is a strain, but a ballad quatrain (abcb) has everyone’s blessing,
Just as long as the b’s aren’t “curtsies” and “wheeze”: put the rhyme on the part that gets stressing.
And I hope you’ll be spurred to include the whole word at the end of each line. I’d adore so
Never seeing, say, “cart” rhymed with only a part-icle, parted from part of its torso.
“’Twill” and “ ’twas,” aye, forsooth, may ring deeply of truth if King Arthur thou hast in thy versery;
Likewise, “ ’cause” (pronounced “cuz”) makes a cute little buzz in a Cwistopher Wobinish nursery.
Well then, Pooh. Call it quits: use the diction that fits what you’re talking about. Keep it free
Of archaic incursions and King James inversions: “Thou wilt,” “He did say” - those, let be.*
Does it give you the blues when a verse without clues makes your eyes feel like pinwheels revolving?
Then, dear sisters and brothers, please do unto others when yours is the flat they’ll be solving:
Say you curry each line, braid its mane, make it shine head to hoof (caviare to the mob);
If the verse is unclued, then the creature’s unshoed, and it’s back to the gate with a sob.
(What was that? Equine roe? I just wanted to know if you puzzlers were paying attention.
I’ve seen metaphors mixed with abandon - and fixed two or three that I don’t care to mention.)
*Footnote one: To debase any gender or race or persuasion - you just wouldn’t care to,
Nor to linger - oh, please - on dysfunction, disease that our mutable flesh may be heir to.
*Footnote two: Cockney “’E” is intriguing to me: is the h-dropping author a bobby?
Thanks for hearing me out. Now let’s shout a great shout: “Hallelujah, it’s only a hobby!”
“I weep for you,” the Walrus said:
“I deeply sympathize.”
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.
Read your verse out loud, with completely natural phrasing. Don’t try to make it fit the meter, just read it and see where the stresses naturally fall. (Remember, to write verse does not mean to lose the ability to make sense or to speak English.)
If the verse doesn’t have a regular pattern (stresses every second or third syllable, most often), rewrite for a more satisfying thump.
Change: HAPpy BIRTHday to you, GUYS to: HAPpy BIRTHday, GUYS, to YOU Change: a CAStle is at the TOP of the HILL to: a CAStle stands TALL at the TOP of the HILL or: at the TOP of the HILL is a CAStle
Some variation in the regular stress pattern is likely (see verse above): “THOSE of the LARgest SIZE,” or “HOLDing his POCKet HANDkerchief”-in light verse, like ours, only once in a while. Don’t vary the pattern so that the line reads awkwardly; don’t use two variations in a row-you’ll get prose.
Keep the same number of beats in each line. (Or alternate odd lines with even ones a stress shorter.)
Enigma verse almost always rhymes. Most common are couplets (aa bb), quatrains with alternately rhyming lines (abab), or quatrains with even-line rhyme only (abcb). Rhyme depends on stressed sounds (never on spelling) that match except for their first consonant (actually the first phoneme: all/fall).
These are rhymes: hard/card; word/deferred; doggerel/hoggerel; or (see above) sympathize/size, using the secondary stress of the three-syllable word. These are not rhymes: card/diehard (LIE hard rhymes with DIE hard); howler/bowler (spelling doesn’t count); beaut/swimsuit (no “secondary stress” in a two-syllable word); male/female.
If you’re willing to read (aloud, of course) a lot of verse, you’ll write better stuff. If you’re willing to read just a little, try The New Oxford Book of Light Verse, edited by Kingsley Amis; or try some other light-verse anthology. Or look in the library for verse by Dorothy Parker, W. H. Auden, Samuel Hoffenstein, Phyllis McGinley, Felicia Lamport, or someone else you like. Verse is to be enjoyed. Enjoy!