Jumping off from last week’s limerick challenge, my project this week was to write a poem in quintains: that is, a poem with 5-line stanzas. I specifically challenged myself to write a poem using Sicilian quintains, which are five-line stanzas, like limericks, but written in iambic pentameter–that is, five two-syllable feet with an iambic stress pattern, viz: my MIS | tress’ EYES | are NOTH | ing LIKE | the SUN—and rhyming ABABA.
Last week, I offered Philip Larkin’s “Home Is So Sad” as an example of a poem using Sicilian quintains. Perhaps I had that poem on the brain when I wrote this. I’ve been thinking a lot about my friend Laura Tillotson, who just moved her parents out of the home in Windsor Heights, IA, where they’ve lived for more than 40 years (maybe more than 50??). Their backyard was a magical place to me. Laura’s father Drew built the patio out of his very own brick collection, and her mother Karla had an incredible garden. For a girl raised in barren, new suburban subdivisions (Dad wouldn’t have it any other way!), the idea that one would either collect old bricks or spend the afternoon weeding flowerbeds was revelatory. Looking back on it, I think it was Laura’s mom’s garden that first planted the seed (horrible pun, sorry) for my own future as a gardener.
I never smelled a rose until I went
Into the garden behind Laura’s house.
I’d tried in supermarkets, but the scent
Of roses there was faint, could not arouse
The slightest passion. Here, they bent
With weight of ruffled petals, redolent
Of spice, of wine, of longing, summer days,
Each one different, peach, or pink, or red,
A riotous mélange. Now Laura says
The house has sold. She said they’d always meant
To stay, but can no longer. Who will tend
It next? Who will find the time to play
At gardener, nurturing blooms for children’s friends?
At least the garden lives in memory—
And it will keep on growing, even when
It doesn’t have a caretaker to mend
Fences, to keep the hungry deer at bay,
To pick off caterpillars; it still will send
Forth shoots, spread seeds, and bloom.This way
Their leaving will not mean our loss, its end.
This was a difficult poem to write, not just because of its subject matter, but also because the form requires you to use only two rhymes: A and B. I found myself needing to use some slant rhymes in order to get my ideas (more or less) across, and then found myself liking these sort-of rhymes because they helped to mute the sing-songy-ness to which this form lends itself. Once I freed myself from exact rhyme, I also found myself using a lot of enjambment (where line breaks interrupt the sentence structure, rather than following natural pauses)– again, to help me convey my ideas, but I also think i, like the slant rhyme, makes the poem more conversational. It occurred to me when I was all finished that Philip Larkin had done many of the same things in “Home Is So Sad.” I hope, though, that this poem is less sad than his.
I didn’t have anyone who wanted to write quintains with me, but perhaps some of you will take a stab at next week’s challenge– the double-dactyl (also called the higgledy-piggledy), which was invented by 20th-century poets Anthony Hecht and Paul Pascal. Like the limerick, it’s light verse (i.e., intended to be humorous), but it’s a bit more structured in form. Rather than explain the whole thing, I’ll refer you to the Wikipedia entry, which was the clearest explanation I could find. But basically, it has two stanzas of 4 lines each, often beginning with a 2-word dactylic (TUM-tum-tum) nonsense word (like “higgledy-piggledy”), whose rhythm is repeated in lines two and three. The last line of each stanza is a “choriamb”: that is, it has 4 syllables, stressed TUM-ta | ta TUM. There are some other rules about what should happen in specific lines of the poem, but this is the basic structure.
It’s actually much more complex to explain that it actually is to read, so here’s an example (note: I did not write it!) to show you how fun this poem is:
wrote his concertos
for handspans like wings.
Play the damn things.
p style=”text-align:left;”>In my internet-based research on this poem, it looks like it’s quite popular among scientists, computer programmers, and the like. Wonder why. Anyway, have at it, and post what you come up with as a reply to this post. This should be fun! And, as a coda, Sue Lin Chong, who submitted that great limerick last week about being outré with bidets, forwarded me a link to the Omnificent English Dictionary in Limerick Form (OEDLIF). I enjoyed it– I hope you do as well!