06 October 2011

Double Dactyl

The Double Dactyl - what a cool poetic form!  I was made aware of double dactyls by the lovely Cath at The Picket Fence, who admitted that it sounded like a strange sort of dinosaur, which is what I'd been secretly thinking myself.

The rules of a double dactyl were difficult for me to grasp:

  • dactylic meter, meaning that the 'feet' are made up of three syllables in a 'strong-weak-weak' pattern
  • two verses of four lines each, each line having two of these dactylic feet (although the fourth and eighth lines usually have one dactyl followed by a single stressed syllable ... once you've understood this pattern of syllables, it's a piece of cake, I promise)
  • the first line of the poem is a rhyming nonsense phrase - the hardest part for me, as I am just not that into writing nonsense phrases
  • the second line is a name
  • one of the lines in the second verse is a six-syllable word, and Cath kindly sent me a list of 1,500 six syllable words to choose from  Some poets add a rule that no single six-syllable word, once used in a double dactyl, should ever be knowingly used again.
  • the ends of each verse rhyme, and the whole thing is usually humourous.

That's a lot to take in, but once you've read a few double dactyls, you get an 'Aha!' moment and understand the structure.

My friend Cath posted a double dactyl written by her friend, poet Will Mackerras.  Will's poetry blog, The Banjo Bible, is well worth a read and it includes a few superb double dactyls.  Read Cath's own double dactyl, which came with a short lesson in art appreciation.  Both were brilliant!

I wrote my first double dactyl in the comments on my sister's blog in her recent poetry posts while I was sleeping in the dorm at the campsite where we had our recent beach holiday.  When I came home, I realised another whole double dactyl was needed to fully explain my plight (as if a 2kg gain on the scales wasn't explanation enough.)

Does this make it a Quadruple Dactyl?  I am not sure.

Camp Food – Two Double Dactyls
Holey Kamoley
At Seabreeze Apartments
The weather was wondrous,
The cabins were close.

But I'll be needing some
Anticoagulants -
Though they did feed us,
The food was quite gross.
 - - - - - - - - -
Yuckity Pyuckity!
“Week-long camp nourishment”:
Mass-produced, deep-fried stuff,
Battered or canned. 

Cholesterol-laden with
Oil spots on napkins! Such
This should be banned.
 - - - - - - - - -
(The name of the campsite, although dactylic, needed to be replaced with a fictitious campsite name.)

How much fun was that?  Not the eating the food, writing the poem!  I know you're itching to give it a try, so here is an A-Z of hopefullypromising six-syllable words, hand-picked from my list of 1,500.  This list is without an x-word.  A six-syllable dactylic x-word.  Sigh.  Clearly, that was too much to ask.


This poetic form is growing on me.  I particularly love feeling the cantering meter and then getting flattened with a six-syllable word of sheer brilliance!  I haven't mastered that yet, but I'm going to enjoy trying!


Tracy P. said...

You sisters! I so look forward to purchasing a copy of your poetry anthology. It will be spectacular!

Can you do a double dactyl using fantasmagoria by request? I need you to put it in context so I can figure out what it means. Or else yerwamaiduguri.

Cath said...

So impressed!
Anticoagulant is truly a six syllable word of sheer brilliance. And they are so very hard to find - thanks for your list! I like Germanophobia.

You HAVE masterered it. Indeed you have.

B said...

Oh you make my head hurt! I think I will stick to blogging about handbags, shoes and my cooky neighbours!!

You are too clever - you do know that, right?

Crazy Sister said...

Those are excellent words.

Surely a 6-letter X word could be created using Xenophobe as the root? Xenophobmatical, Xenophobistical... hmmm.

How about X-ratedsexappeal! That's one word, isn't it...?

Givinya De Elba said...

Hi Tracy, I'd sooner do extemporaneous, or its opposite contemporaneous! I think they are quite useable words, and would sound great in a DD!

Fantasmagoria is just a series of illusions (dream or imagination), and Yerwa-Maiduguri is a city in Nigeria, which would dictate the subject matter quite narrowly.

Hey Cath - it's you I have to thank, not only for teaching me about the form, but also your original list of 1500 words! I just picked one from each letter to put here :) Thanks again, and for linking Will's blog - there is some superb poetry there, reminding me I am a little fish in a big pond!

Hi B, thanks for reading! This little Double Dactyl is a fairly easy form to write, really. I am now trying to write a SESTINA and it is so hard! Oh goodness, it's tricky. It's in part because my genre is humour, I don't write any serious stuff - it's just not in me. And without a jaunty meter and clever rhyme structure, humour comes off quite poorly, even despite the cleverness of the repetitive lines. I am trying for a free-verse type of feel, within the constraints of a Sestina. I may give up. It's so hard.

CrazySister, I loved your ideas! Surely one of those should qualify for my list? The original list of 1500 contained silliness like Aliceinwonderland, so Xratedsexappeal should be okay.

Trivia: it would score 34 in Scrabble, if only there were 2 Xs. It would stretch along one entire row of the board, and if you got it on the top or bottom rows, it would qualify for three triple word scores and double letters on the 't' and one of the 'p's, bringing the total score to 1026.

Game Over.

Pity there are only 7 tiles in a rack.