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Friday, August 21, 2009

Forms of Poetry: Blank Form

William Shakespeare wrote most of his poems in Blank Verse also known as Blank Form. This structure allows poems to be unrhymed with the rhythmic power of the meter. In order to write top quality blank form, one must pay close attention to syllables and word count. The meter most commonly used with blank form is the iambic pentameter with end stops. Opinion would have it that the Earl of Surrey, Henry Howard was the first to use blank form having been inspired by classical Latin verse and others of similar orientation that did not use rhyme. Of the romantic poets, the true believers of this poetic form rested on the shoulders of William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelly, and John Keats; also, Alfred Lord Tennyson whose long narrative poems are crafted with the blank form structure.

When free verse was hitting the top of the charts, as it were; Hart Crane and William Wallace Stevens, poets of immense respectability, held on to blank form. My opinion is that some poets of the old school found it hard to part familiar ways; but sought to solve the dilemma by lounging with meter, hugging the arms and legs of iambic pentameter and at the same time romping with free verse; some sort of a hoodwink comes to mind. Samuel Johnson voiced his concern that John Milton wrote bad blank form. On that I have no opinion, but I do accept what the records have said that Milton’s blank form became very popular so much so that it was referred to as the Miltonic blank Verse. It became the standard for those attempting to write English epics for centuries following Milton’s publication of Paradise Lost and poems he wrote later in his life.

Blank form is often misunderstood as free verse. A good way to remember the difference is to think of the word “blank” as meaning no rhymes at the end of verses and “free” meaning the freedom from fixed patterns of traditional versification. There is an anomaly with respect to the use of the iambic pentameter verses in blank form structure. When the scansion process is applied to poems written in blank verse, we tend to see that the strict standard iambic pentameter advocated is jaded as a result of it being peppered at times by the trochee, anapest, spondee and dactyl. The landing of these invaders in iambic pentameter verses gives off a delightful soothing effect; they break up the monotonous rhythm that dogs standard iambic pentameter verses. This is not a problem per se if we remember rightly that the definition for blank form has allowed for any other type of unrhymed metered verse but must be five feet exactly. This is where the “inversion technique” is used. This technique allows iambic pentameter verses to retain their dominance in spite of being invaded by other foot types. The “inversion technique” imposes strict compliance in that there must be no compromising on the five feet and the second foot must always be an iamb. The first foot of the verse measuring five iambic feet is the one most likely to change; most inversions tend to fall on the trochee.

Wherever the inversion technique occurs in iambic pentameter verses it changes the standard iambic pentameter verses into non-standard iambic pentameter verses; but it is okay to drop the prefix and simply call such verses iambic pentameter verses because majority holds the sway in any civilized environment or platform. The iamb, anapest, trochee, dactyl and spondee are the most common poetic foot used in English verse. Their profiles look like this

Iamb: one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable
Anapest: two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable
Trochee: one stressed syllable followed by one unstressed syllable
Dactyl: one stressed syllable followed two unstressed syllables
Spondee: two stressed syllables

When the scansion process is applied to poetry the stressed syllable is shown with a symbol that looks like this / and the unstressed syllable is shown with this symbol v, so the symbolic representation of the English poetic foot is listed as follows:

Iamb /v
Anapest vv/
Trochee /v
Dactyl /vv
Spondee //

Anglo Saxon (Old English) poems are written in accentual meter often referred to as the strong-stress meter; alliterative-stress meter or accentual verse. Anglo Saxon accentual verse is based on alliteration and stress. It was usually done with four-stressed lines with a caesura (a pause in the middle). The stressed lines always alliterate with the first stress, the second stress or both. Alliteration held lines of the poem together rather than the rhyme. All vowels were considered to alliterate with each other, but compound consonants would alliterate with themselves. The Anglo Saxons were more likely to use enjambment and not the end stop on their lines.

Most Modern English poems are written in accentual-syllabic meter. Accentual-syllabic meter counts both the stressed and unstressed syllables. It uses specific patterns, such as iambic pentameter or the classical hendecasyllable: a metrical line of eleven syllables. Every syllable counts to create the proper rhythm and flow of the meter. It is conceived as one of the tighter methods of measuring meter. Most of the verse forms that the English created based on French or Italian forms are Accentual-syllabic. Geoffrey Chaucer and his contemporary of poets are credited for the fusion of the accentual of English and the syllabic of French into modern English accentual-syllabic forms.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Forms of Poetry: The Ballad















The ballad form must not to be confused with the ballade.

The ballade typically consists of three eight-verse stanzas, each with a consistent meter, and a particular rhyme scheme. The last verse in the stanza is a refrain, and the stanzas are followed by a four-verse concluding envoi usually addressed to a prince. The rhyme scheme is usually ababbcbC ababbcbC ababbcbC, bcbC, the upper-case C is the refrain. The ballade is particularly associated with French poetry of the 14th and 15th Centuries.

The ballad is a narrative poem with a stanza of four verses. Of necessity it has a refrain, burden or chorus. The story line for the ballad can originate from a wide range of subject matter but frequently deals with folklore or popular legends. The ballads by the Barbadian group, The Merry Men incorporate folklore and legends. ‘Sam Lord’ is a popular Bajan legend being sung by the Merry Men. The earliest recognition of the ballad form in England goes back to the poem ‘Judas’ in the thirteenth Century. This ancient ballad explains the expulsion from the ‘Garden of Eden’ and the ‘crucifixion of Christ’ due to the dishonesty of women. Hmm! The sexist movement would probably have a field day on this and who could blame them. The plot is a dominant feature of the ballad, dealing with a single crucial episode, narrated impersonally with frequent repetition and that’s where the refrain verses come into the picture. The ballad is written in straight forward verse seldom with detail but always with graphic simplicity and force.

In this 21st Century there is much variation in the ballad form as seen in the various ballad styles with respect to length, number of verses and rhyming scheme. Most ballads are narrative with a self-contained story, often concise and relying on imagery. The classification of ballads falls into such categories as the Traditional ballad, Broadside ballad, Literary ballad or Lyrical ballad, Blues ballad, Bush ballad, Sentimental ballad, Jazz blues and traditional pop, Pop and Rock ballads.

Traditional (classical or popular) ballads: Robin Hood is a classic example Scholarly attempts have assorted traditional ballads into themes commonly identified as religious, supernatural, tragic, love ballads, historic, legendary and humorous. Their structure uses what is known as the Ballad meter and the Common meter.

The Common meter is a poetic meter consisting of four verses which alternate between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter and uses a rhyme scheme abab. The Scottish folkloric legend Tam Lin is in Common meter as well as the hymn, Amazing Grace and the carol, O Little town of Bethlehem.

The variant of the Common meter is the Ballad meter. Like Common meter, it has stanzas of four iambic verses. The difference is that the Ballad meter is less regular and more conversational than Common meter and does not necessarily rhyme both sets of verses. Only the second and fourth verses must rhyme in Ballad meter in the pattern xbyb. It can be accentual-syllabic, as iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, or it can be Podia with variable numbers of unaccented syllables. The rhyme scheme is often approximations, with assonance and consonance frequently appearing.

Iambic tetrameter consists of four metrical feet per verse, with each foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.

The iambic trimeter consists of three metrical feet per verse, with each foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.

In English poetry, the unit of meter is the foot. Metrical verses are named for the constituent foot and for the number of feet in the verse. So we have got a listing that looks like this:

Monometer is one foot
Dimeter is two feet
Trimeter is three feet
Tetrameter is four feet
Pentameter is five feet
Hexameter is six feet
Heptameter is seven feet
Octameter is eight feet
Nonameter is nine feet
Decameter is ten feet

Iambic comes from the word, Iamb and is the most common metrical foot in English and other languages as well. It is made up of a short or unstressed (unaccented) syllable followed by a long or stressed (accented) syllable. Take these two examples: attack; the mind.

There are two syllables in attack. The first syllable (at/) is short and the second syllable (tack) is long hence attack measures one iambic foot.

In the phrase, the mind there is one syllable in the word, the; one syllable in the word, mind. The first word in the phrase is short and the second word in the phrase is long therefore the phrase measures one iambic foot.

A phrase is a group of words that does not have both a subject and a predicate and therefore cannot stand as a clause or sentence.

A sentence is a group of words that makes complete sense, contains a main verb, and begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop; or the equivalent such as a question mark (?) or an exclamation mark (!)

In metered poetry a stanza is made up of verses. Four verses making a stanza is called a quatrain. The quatrain is most popular in English poetry. In unmetered poetry, unit is used instead of stanza, and a Unit is made up of lines not verses.

Broadside ballads are usually associated with chapbooks

Literary ballads or Lyrical ballads are easily associated with the Romantic Movement from the later eighteenth century. Poets like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Rudyard Kipling and Oscar Wilde easily fit into this category.

Ballad Operas do include Gilbert and Sullivan light operas

Native American ballads are many but as an exemplar let’s stay with Jesse James

Blue ballads derived from fusing Anglo-American and Afro-American styles. Casey Jones is a good example.

Bush ballads from “in the land down under” are transplants from Britain and Ireland. Their ballads nowadays tend to focus on trucking stories more so than ballads about the wide open lands of Australia where class conflict between landless folks, squatters and outlaws were the norm.

Sentimental ballads were generally sentimental, narrative, strophic, songs as part of the opera. My favorite from this category is Danny Boy.

Jazz blues and traditional pop bring to my mind, Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood and Always by Irving Berlin.

Pop and Rock ballads are mostly associated with love songs. A popular one in this grouping from 1984 is I want to know what love is by the band Foreigner’s and 2008 hit Umbrella by Rihanna the Barbadian pop singer.

The ballad poems below show their poetical structure and style. To read them just double-click on the title.

Bajan Conkies
Poetic Form: Traditional Ballad
Style: Ballad Meter
Rhyme Scheme: abcb

Cou Cou
Poetic Form: Traditional Ballad
Style: Ballad Meter
Rhyme Scheme: abcb


Indian Corn
Poetic Form: Traditional Ballad
Style: Ballad Meter
Rhyme Scheme: abcb


Sea Eggs
Poetic Form: Traditional Ballad
Style: Ballad Meter
Rhyme Scheme: abcb


The Christmas Candle Tree
Poetic Form: Traditional Ballad
Style: Ballad Meter
Rhyme Scheme: abcb


The White House Ballad
Poetic Form: Traditional Ballad
Style: Ballad Meter
Rhyme Scheme: abcb

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Haiti Under Rubble from 7.0 Earthquake

Natural disasters whenever and wherever they occur impact on all of our lives. The Good Book says we are our brothers and sisters keepers lead by the Holy Spirit. Hence, we must do our part when disaster shows its ugly face. Any assistance, great or small, given from generous and loving hearts has equal weight. I'm passing on this information I received that Barbadians can go to First Caribbean Bank to donate to the Disaster Relief Fund for Haiti. The banking information is shown below:

First Caribbean Bank Account--2645374-- Cheques can be written to: HELP #2645374

For more information click on this link

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Reading Poetry