Monday, May 04, 2015

Monday Poetry Stretch - Burns Stanza

When I interviewed J. Patrick Lewis last month (read it here) he said in response to a question on forms he wanted to try, "I’m endlessly working my way through Robin Skelton’s indispensable The Shapes of Our Singing: A Comprehensive Guide to Verse Forms and Metres from Around the World. For any poet eager to experiment, there is a surprise on every page." That was endorsement enough for me, so I ran out and bought a copy. I am still reading my way through it, but I thought this was as good a time as any to try out something new.

Here's what Skelton says about the Burns Stanza.
The Burns Stanza is so called because Robert Burns made brilliant use of it and it was through his work that it became familiar. It is also called Standard Habbie, the Scots stanza and the six-line stave. Each stanza has six lines rhyming A A A B A B. The A lines are usually of eight or nine syllables and the B lines of four or five. 
To a Mouse by Robert Burns is a great example of this.

I hope you'll join me this week in writing a poem that uses the Burns Stanza. Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.


  1. Witch

    This morning she is tired of wearing black.
    It’s true the color represents her lack
    of goodness and shows off her crooked back,
    but something in the sudden days of spring
    makes her long for yellow. Well, in fact,
    for pink. Which is not the done thing.

    So Elda puts a flower in her hair,
    and all the women of the village stare.
    She puts a flower on the empty chair,
    and two or three upon the window sill,
    another on the scratched-up table where
    she mixes evil potions when she will.

    Tomorrow as the flowers start to fade
    she’ll turn again to witch’s marks and shades.
    She’ll open up her spell book and will aid
    the darkness, muttering fell words.
    But for today, her ancient heart has strayed
    into a place that’s full of sun and birds.

    —Kate Coombs, 2015
    all rights reserved

  2. Kate, you score again. I like everything, the little comic pink, her name, the flowers, "witch's marks and shades."

    Today a parent told me some details about a childhood activity. I asked her if I could write her poem -- The Scots stanza works pretty well.


    Indian Princess sits cross-legged in the ring
    next to Daddy. High and low they sing.
    Other girls are Grazing Deer and Feather Wing,
    but Julie's tall and cries: she's Weeping Willow.
    Daddy traps and tames the fretful things;
    Lays a furring pet beside her head upon the pillow.

    --HM 2015
    all rights reserved

    1. Thanks, Heidi! I find I like telling stories in poems--your girls with their all-important names are a good one!