Iambic Pentameter

And now, at last, the blog is here for you:
It’s feet are light, and look! It’s rhyming, too.

“Enough doggerel! And ‘take arms against a sea of troubles’ is a mixed metaphor.”
(Pic: Doctor Who Magazine)

I think I’ve mentioned that one of the pleasures of being back in Edinburgh is getting to use the city’s libraries, whether the National Library or the city’s own Central Lending Library on on George IV Bridge, the MacDonald Road Library near the top of Leith Walk, or the local Blackhall Library. Edinburgh Council’s library app even lets you scan a book’s bar code on your phone, check if it’s in stock, and reserve it for pick-up.

In this year of the centenary of the First World War (I think that’s the most appropriate term for it), leading literary light of Leith Kevin Williamson mentioned @TalesOfOneCity when recommending Chrisopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914. Not knowing much of the details, I promptly got the app and reserved the book.

Franz Ferdinand, blah blah blah, gun, blah blah blah

Given @williamsonkev‘s position as the founder of Edinburgh’s epochal and much-missed transgressive literary magazine Rebel Inc. and curator of the city’s poetry-showcasing Neu! Reekie nights it seemed both appropriate and inapt that in my visit to pick up The Sleepwalkers, I should pick up a copy of Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking The Poet Within.

The book is intended to be an introduction to the workings of English-language poetry that will allow the amateur enthusiast to enjoy the hobbying production of her own work. In this, a number of observations are recorded that reverberate with me. Not least of these concern why a poet would submit herself to restrictions of metre (and possibly, rhyme), rather than expressing her thoughts in the most direct manner possible.

Back in the days of proper Mitre.

Quoting Wordsworth (In truth the prison, into which we doom/Ourselves, no prison is), Fry reflects both that “[i]t is often the feeling of the human spirit trying to break free of constrictions that gives art its power and its correspondence to our live,” and “[p]oets sometimes squeeze their forms to breaking point, this is what energizes much verse.”

Yesterday, I sat mulling over one of the book’s exercises and the view out of the bus window. I was to create a non-rhyming couplet in iambic pentameter “in which the first line is end-stopped and there are no caesuras” regarding “precisely what [I] see and hear outside your window.” Then a second couplet with the same meaning, but incorporating enjambment and at least one caesura.

1. The buses line the street and grumble on. / While red lights cease their rumbling journey on.
2. Now look! A traffic jam halts the flow / Of traffic needing ways to take us home.

It wasn’t meant to be good, OK? Just meet the technical requirements. And there was a time limit. But as I contemplated the words and the scene outside the window, I became aware of how much of the language around me naturally adopted the flowing form of the iambic pentameter; how much more closely I was looking at my surroundings; how squeezing the meaning of a thought into a strict structure requires closer consideration of that meaning. A very Zen exercise. And, perhaps, a reason why I return to Alan Spence’s Glasgow Zen a quarter of a century after I first read it.

I hope Mrs Stroke Bloke won’t mind me relating some details of our early courtship. Walking along Brooklyn’s Court Street, appropriately enough, she suggested that we get into the habit of writing haiku for each other. Flush with the ardour of new love, I committed to a haiku a week. Years later, I’m still ardently amorous, and although my haiku don’t arrive like buses, I like to think the average frequency is pretty close to where it’s meant to be.

ways to love. the discipline
of restricted form.
(March 7, 2014)

It’s a brilliant exercise that keeps love fresh and multi-faceted, and creates an awareness of the enjoyable effort involved in that maintenance. And Mrs Stroke Bloke tells me she came up with it herself, clever thing. No wonder I like her, like her.

Once I get through The Ode Less Travelled, I think I’ll have to dig out George Nelson’s How To See, in which the epochal American designer writes about “how to recognize, evaluate, and understand the objects and landscape of the man-made world.” Even if I need about as much help with seeing things as describing buses.

Insert your joke here.

The upside of arranging ideas in metre. Reorganising the things we see. The discipline of roiling passion. Where does this fervor for extracting value from adjustment and examination come from, I ask myself?

I like to think that some of the seeds were sown by my personal brush with Alan Spence as a kid, but It’s certainly been encouraged by the experiences of autumn 2012 and after.

French for “autumn”.

The aftermath of stroke has been a year-and-a-half of coping strategies and adjustment. Cramming unfeeling feet into shoes with fingers, like shoehorning words into iambic pentameter with a troachic substitution. Forcing structure onto life. Daybeforeblogday. Blogday. Dayafterblogday. And a lot of stroke survivors have it a lot worse than me, but squeezing the tasks of life to breaking point across this new frame has created something I like.

Bloody head

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6 thoughts on “Iambic Pentameter

  1. Gah! More comment fiascory this week, as a result of apoplectic.me having to squat elsewhere at the time of first posting. But the comments received during the first couple of days this page was up were of exceptional quality, and are set forth below….

  2. From friend of the blog, first-time commenter and proud owner of Steadihand(TM), Myra — hope you’re feeling better, Myra:

    “1. Beautiful Scottish words. I’m rolling them around in my mind unsure if my pronunciation would be correct.
    2. I’m craving a cheeseburger, but my tummy wasn’t up for lunch thus I’m not sure grease would be well received.
    3. I was at my Mom’s house in South Dakota. My Dad (divorced from Mom for over 20 years) was mowing the back lawn, but it was a mess. The grass was too high, there were large sticks everywhere, snakes were plentiful, and all of my clothing and shoes were scattered across the lawn.
    4. Until last night, it was posting my trip pictures. Now it’s captioning the adventure.
    5. I hate my susceptibility. In so many ways. My immune system hates me, my emotions are too trusting and open, and my will is too breaks to easily to temptation.

    I know these aren’t iambic pentameter, but I felt a desire to share today.”

    1. I can’t tell you how glad I am you chose to share, Myra. At least not without going even more sincere and new-agey than usual, and my cold grey granite Scottish heart wouldn’t allow that. I hope that as you read that back you’ll see that you’ve, maybe inadvertently, created some poetry. And if you think so, then it is so.

      I’m also very happy to have an opportunity to salute you once again and use my favourite new made-up word, “Steadihand(TM)”. Check out Myra’s fantastic Steadihand(TM) work, everyone: Nerd Bait Comes Alive! — Ricky

      1. Folks, if you don’t know why Myra’s written this lovely stuff, then you’re not getting apoplectic.me‘s TinyLetter distributions. It’s more a personal and informal take on this blog. (Yeah, it’s possible.) Here’s the subscribe link. Be part of a more communal part of this little thing we’ve got going here. Every week, there are some suggested comment prompts to encourage people to join in.

        This week the comment prompts were prompts lifted from The Ode Less Travelled that people could respond to in verse, prose, or just a couple of words:

        1. Precisely what you see and hear 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 unfinished chores are niggling at you.
        5. Precisely what you hate about your body.
        — Ricky

  3. From friend of the blog Friendoftheblogpaul:

    “So if that’s the five part form, then how about this.

    The moon, some ships, and I wonder what they bring.
    Can I taste it? Do they bring asian pears? I love asian pears and
    the juice which drips down my chin, but
    I need to chop the fruit I have ready for the morning, so I can make a fruit salad
    otherwise Ill have eggs, and divert from the abs of my departed namesake

    Hows that?”

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