Learning Poetry: Exercise 5

This is the fifth entry in a series documenting my attempts at exercises in Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking The Poet Within. Since exercise one in the book did not require a post and because I did not really think about it, all my posts are one off, so this post corresponds to exercise six in the book1. For previous exercises, see my earlier posts:

The exercise

  1. Write some anapaestic2 hexameters3 describing how to get to your house
  2. And some dactylic4 pentameter5 on the subject of cows. For fun these should be in the classical manner: four dactyls and a spondee6, with the spondee as spondaic as English will allow7.

The results

From the road take a right by the charlatans office and stop at the sign,
Then straight on by the taxi and seventies house with the hedgerows in line.
You might find that we don't have a car in the drive but we're still there at home.
Try the doorbell and see if we answer, if not don't despair, try the phone.

Fenced in by the powered electrified wires that we stretched out
Far across pastures they stand and they chew upon green grass
Neighbours confused why the cows are all standing in straight lines.
Cattle unsure of the pain they receive if they touch it.


  1. If you want to follow along, you can get your own copy of the book from most book retailers, such as¬ Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor 

  2. The anapaestic meter is two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable, as in: ti-ti-tum 

  3. A line of verse containing six metrical feet 

  4. The dactylic meter is one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables, as in: tum-ti-ti 

  5. A line of verse containing five¬†metrical feet 

  6. two stressed syllables, as in tumtum 

  7. Unlike French, where each syllable is usually supposed to get equal stress, English does not tend to have words with two stressed syllables side-by-side – this is why English speakers often incorrectly add emphasis when speaking French 

Learning Poetry: Exercise 2

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

In the last post, I explained how I was learning to be a better poet. I also included my attempts from the first exercise in Stephen Fry's book, The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within. Now it is time for the fruits of the second exercise. I would love to hear your thoughts on my attempts – what works, what does not, where you think I've gone wrong. Perhaps you might get a copy of the book and have a go yourself. If you do, I'd really like to see your results.

The Exercise

Write five pairs of blank iambic pentameter in which the first line of each pair is end-stopped1 and there are no caesuras2, then write five pairs of blank iambic pentameter with the same meaning, but using enjambment3 and at least two caesuras.

The topics for each of the five pairs are:

  1. Precisely what you see outside your window.
  2. Precisely what you'd like to eat, right this minute.
  3. Precisely what you last remember dreaming about.
  4. Precisely what uncompleted chores are niggling at you.
  5. Precisely what you hate about your body.

The Results

End-stopped

  1. The blur of trees is racing out of sight,
    As speedily the train ploughs down the line.

  2. A pack of tasty chips from in my bag.
    The ones I bought last night inside the store.

  3. A crazed outlandish woman blocked my path,
    Demanding love and drinks from all my friends.

  4. I really must repair the door and step,
    And take the time to see the naked earth.

  5. My gut has grown from laziness and food,
    It hurts to walk upon my foot as well.

Using enjambment and caesuras

  1. The trees, in blurs of green that race beside
    the train, demark the path we travel on.

  2. Some chips, perhaps a drink of something, I bought
    selections from the store last night. Thank God.

  3. So drunk, the girl accosted me, she asked
    if anyone would like a kiss. We ran.

  4. The earth is bare, it waits for seeds, we might
    sew grass or herbs. And still the door needs work.

  5. From food, my gut has grown to fill the space
    beyond my pants. Yet still my foot, it aches.


  1. A single thought that finished with the line. 

  2. Pauses, which break up the flow. 

  3. Where the meaning runs on from one line to the next. 

I Am An Addict

As the first line states, I wrote this a couple of months after I stopped smoking. It's interesting to me (and perhaps, only me) that the style of this poem seems more accepting and resolute than that of An Ode to Smoking, which seemed more reluctant about letting go of the cancer sticks. Writing really helped me get over the nicotine addiction and gave me something to do with my hands other than hold a cigarette.

It's been two months since I stopped.
I still feel like the very first day,
Fighting every urge of my being to resist.
That sweet siren song of the cigarette.
Of course, back then I chewed the gum,
Now it just rests in my shirt pocket.
A comfort blanket, a placebo,
It's presence, just enough to keep me sane.

Every day is like starting all over again,
Wiping the bad dreams of smoky fun,
From my over-active imagination,
and accepting the reality of a non-smoker.
The cravings come stronger now,
They burn like unrequited love,
For a stranger you meet every day.
Just one kiss and it would all be okay.

But I don't steal that kiss,
To do so would set me back so far,
I'd have to smoke just to beat,
the stress of failing to not smoke.
No, I take each day as it comes,
And it goes.
Knowing that it will always be this way,
I'm a smoker who doesn't smoke.

I don't smoke when I wake up,
And I don't smoke before I fall asleep.
I don't smoke when I'm driving,
and I don't smoke when out drinking.
I don't even smoke after a meal,
Or just before I go to see a movie.
Yet each of those times, I remember,
I remember the desire and the disease.

I also remember the smell of my clothes,
Or at least I remember discovering it,
When I stopped.
That's something new that I'm grateful for.
If I had never smoked, I would never know,
To the extent that I know now.
I would never appreciate the scent of fall,
my nephew's skin or fresh clean clothes.

So, I fight everyday, just as I did before,
But this time, I am armed more heavily,
With memories of what I gained,
And of failed attempts to gain them.
With the stench of smokey clothes,
And the stains on yellow teeth in the mirror.
With my nicotine gum and my will,
I will fight till the death, whoever may win.

It's been two months since I stopped.
I still feel like the very first day,
Fighting every urge of my being to resist.
That sweet siren song of the cigarette.
Writing this fought them off one more time,
Until the next, and there will be a next time.
I am an addict but I will not give in,
Not yet, but tomorrow, I might celebrate with a smoke.

October 2006

An Ode to Smoking

I can only presume this coincided with an attempt to stop smoking that lasted less than a month. I know this because just over a month after I wrote it, I actually stopped smoking and have been mostly smoke free for over 5 years now. The keen-eyed among you may notice this was written 3 months before Shattered – this may give you some insight into the emotional effects of nicotine withdrawal.

The smoking doesn't soothe me anymore,
It used to even out the bumps but now I just feel sore,
From burning air as I inhale,
Clothes that smell so stale.
What is it for? I can't take it anymore.

It used to feel good with a beer,
Having that fire in my hand but still the smoke would shed a tear.
I guess the novelty wore off,
Now all I have's this smoker's cough.
And death to fear. I hope the air will clear.

I know I've tried this all before,
Stopped smoking cigarettes and tried to fight the war,
Between my body and myself,
My pleasure and my health,
To find a cure and become a little pure.

I know it won't be an easy thing to do,
I'll need some help; a patch or just some gum to chew,
I'll need my friends to understand,
If things don't go just how I planned,
When I feel blue, not that it's something new.

With one last breath I've said goodbye,
To a two-faced friend that couldn't help itself but lie,
It won't be easy as we part,
But I know deep in my heart,
That I must try. One of us must die.

The months ahead will be my trial,
I know from times before how hard the final mile,
Can be to win the race,
I can't take second place,
I must maintain the pace,
And all the while, grit teeth and smile.

July 2006

Shattered

I go to sleep and dream of broken glass.
It sparkles in the sunslight like diamonds,
And dances across the floor like a million tiny bells.
Such beauty in something so painful.
Walking barefoot across it is like being close to you.
You're beauty is all devouring as you cut deeply,
With the words and actions you choose to employ.
Like a thousand tiny fragments of glass in my feet, you slice,
And I can't walk away.
Like the glass is stuck in my feet, you are stuck in my soul,
The pain following me no matter where I tread.
It's comforting to feel it, I should miss it if it were gone,
But oh, how it cuts, how I bleed.
I don't know how you came to be so broken, so shattered,
But like the glass, I don't think you can be repaired.
I wish I had the strength to turn and walk away,
But the pain would be too much, so like you, I stay;
Slaves to each others flaws and free only to do what we've always done,
Carry one another's scars as our own and dream.

October 2006