Learning Poetry: Exercise 1

This is the first part in a series of posts documenting my efforts learning more about prosody:

If you've been following my blog at all, you may have noticed that I have posted a poem or two. These attempts at prosody are remnants of songwriting attempts – lyrics that never gained a tune. Though I enjoy writing lyrics and, on the odd occasion pretending they're real poems, I've never taken the time to learn about the art of poetry. Because of this, much of what I write lacks the structure and care that would indicate or more learned authorship and I expect to some I may just come across as nothing but a poetaster1.

With that in mind, a couple of years ago I bought a book by Stephen Fry while I was on vacation in San Francisco. It's called The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking The Poet Within. Allowing for the appropriate length of procrastination, I started reading it this weekend on my trip to Chicago for St.Patrick's Day and I've really been enjoying it. Each concept is introduced with examples and analysis before the reader is given an opportunity to put their newly acquired knowledge to work in simple exercises (Fry's view is that we're each capable of poetry if we only try).

I won't recreate the book here, it would be a poor facsimile, but I would like to present my attempts from each exercise. Whatever you think of my poetic prowess (or lack thereof), I hope it will be fun to follow along as I learn and improve my prosody. I'll begin with a brief explanation of the exercise and then provide my attempts2. As I don't intend to explain the terms in detail, you may want a copy of the book or a dictionary in order to understand the exercise.

The Exercise

Write 20 lines of blank3 verse in iambic pentameter4.

The Results

When Mrs. Wilson claimed she was a bitch,
Miss Chrissy said it was not really true.

Tonight, I slept inside an apple core.

The night is young and eager for some fun,
but what to do, I'm bored and losing time.

This exercise is rather dull for me.

The driver stopped to get another fare.

His face was low, without a look of love,
yet some might say he's clearly lost in thought.

I'm learning all about iambic lines.

My friends will all be quite impressed with this,
I know a term or two about the moon.

It burns to think she left me all alone.
Where will I find a girl as bright as her?

Another dog falls foul of Sergeant Crow.
The pound is where he locks them all away.

Tomorrow takes a darker turn for me.
The crows come home to roost and bury me.

A line or two of prosody to write.

I stole a pack of mints from Mrs. Brown.


  1. A word I learned from my new poetry professor, Stephen Fry. It means 'bad poet'. 

  2. Each exercise is actually introduced with some rather detailed instructions in the book that provide additional guidance and challenges than the summary I will provide. 

  3. Non-rhyming 

  4. Verse with the metre 'ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum', also known as the Heroic Line. 

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