Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday Poetry Stretch - Double Dactyl

A few weeks ago at my poetry workshop I was challenged to write a double dactyl. I still haven't managed to do it, so now I'm giving myself a deadline in the hopes that I'll think of something.

A double dactyl consists of two quatrains in this form:
1 - double dactyl nonsense phrase (like Higgeldy Piggeldy)
2 - double dactyl of a person's name
3 - double dactyl
4 - one dactyl plus a stressed syllable (/ _ _ / )

5 - double dactyl
6 - double dactyl
7 - double dactyl
8 - one dactyl plus a stressed syllable (/ _ _ / )
Here are some other helpful notes.
  • A dactyl contains three syllables, one stressed followed by two unstressed (/ _ _ ).
  • Somewhere in the second stanza is a double dactyl formed by a single word (usually).
  • The last lines of the quatrains (4 and 8) must rhyme.
  • Like the clerihew, these are generally written about famous people and are meant to be humorous.
Phew! I hope this makes sense to you. Writing it in this way helps me to see what the poem should sound like. Here is an example.
Hans Christian Andersen
Wrote of a mermaid who
Swam up on shore.

There she became somewhat
Less than amphibious;
Drowned in the sea-foam 'mid
Morals galore.
If my notes aren't helpful, you can find a description of double dactyls at Poetry Base and

So, there's your challenge. Write a double dactyl (or two) and leave me a note about your poem. I'll post the results here later this week.


  1. A Midsummer Night's Press published a murder mystery told in 66 consecutive double dactyls:



  2. Knowledge, Ltd.

    A slight diversion from your rules, Tricia, but here's a double dactyl:

    Physicist Heisenberg
    Wrote a new Planck,

    Constantly stressed the Un-
    Certainty Principle,
    Leaving some scientists
    Drawing a blank.

  3. Tricia,

    I posted two double dactyls over at Political Verses last week--one written by me and another written by Julie Larios. Neither includes the name of a famous individual. Here are the URLs:

  4. Several years ago, at the 50th annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology, someone got up and read an entire history of the society in a chain of double dactyls. After a long day of serious academic papers, it caused uproarious laughter. I'll get to work on this!

  5. Well, it's true, my double dactyl over at Political Verses doesn't have the name of a famous individual, but it does have the name of a crazy football team...does that count? And I'm proud to say that I came up with a tortured dactylic six-syllable single word ("Fort-Oglethorpishly"?)that pleased me. When I was learning about double dactyls, the six-syllable single word was always the shining light of the poem (and John Hollander, who promoted this form, said that once a six-syllable word had been used, it was off the table - couldn't be used again. So those words can get very creative....)

    Okay - here is another, though it can't hold a candle to Pat Lewis's example (above) which is pure genius.

    Diggery Dockery
    Emily Dickinson
    wrote about Nobody,
    frigates and fame.

    Flies in most poetry
    buzz us, but Emily's
    flies aren't the same.

    (I'll try to come up with some others...) Fun, Tricia! Thanks.

  6. Oops - I made an assumption that the "Pat" who contributed earlier was Pat Lewis, but I take that back. Pat-Whoever - that is a brilliant contribution/ I love the "quantumechanically" line.

    About the last lines of each quatrain - a double spondee would mean four stressed syllables in a row. That's not what's happening. It's a dactyl plus a single stressed syllable to cap it off, no?

  7. Okay, this is really fun! Here are my experiments with double dactyls:

    Daisies and daffodils
    Eleanor Roosevelt
    Rode on a bicycle
    Down to the lake.

    Sixty-four suffragettes
    Galloped behind her as
    Eleanor taught them to
    Make no mistake.


    Jefferson Cavendish
    Fiddled and faddled and
    Loitered and whined.

    Ravenous tigers came
    Leaping to eat him, so
    Jefferson learned how to
    Move his behind.


    Benjamin Rosenbaum
    Lounges in Switzerland
    Writing a book.

    Characters circle him
    Tugging at strangenesses,
    Whispering, "Look!"

    --Kate Coombs (Book Aunt)

    That last is about a writer of speculative fiction. He calls himself a sophophage, among other things. And yes, I varied the form here and there!

  8. Kate, those are fabulous! Love "polymorphetically" and the galloping suffragettes!

  9. Thanks, Julie! I have to tell you that I thought about writing one on Emily Dickinson, so I was pleased to see yours--and amazed you were able to address her fly poem in this particular poetic structure!

  10. This one is inspired by the latest dinosaur book I'm reading with my 8-year old (just shoot me now ...)

    Scarety Rarity
    Quetzalcoatlus the
    Mexican dinosaur
    what a surprise!

    Pterosaur terrible
    wings unbelievable
    king of the skies!

    Okay, I'll admit I cheated after the name with the word the. Just in case you need the pronunciation, it's KET-sahl-koh-AHT-lus.

    I need to work on this... thinking... thinking...

  11. Great double dactyls, everyone!

    I decided to write a couple of double dactyls about characters from children's books.

    Higgeldy piggeldy
    Max was a "wild thing,"
    Got into mischief,
    Was sent to his room,

    Kicked up a rumpus
    With like-minded wild things.
    Some kiddies go crazy
    Once they leave the womb.

    Hickory dickory
    Charlotte Arachnid--
    A writer, a weaver--
    Spun tales for her friend,

    Wilbur, the runt pig,
    She nurtured and cherished.
    That spider was loyal
    And true to the end.

  12. Well, I chose Emily before reading the comments.

    Emily Dickinson
    Dressed all in white while she
    Eschewed all prose.

    Scribbling poems that
    Nobody would publish
    That all could be sung to
    The song “Yellow Rose.”

  13. Internet Spinternet
    Tricia the blogerette
    poses her poem posts
    into the sky.

    Teachers, librarians,
    mothers, grammarians
    gather words gratefully.
    “This one I’ll try.”

  14. I love these! Here are a few more, inspired by Halloween reading, teaching my undergrads music history, and my son's favorite book on inventions, respectively.

    Tippety Typety
    Poe (Edgar Allen)
    Sat down at his desk
    At a quarter past four.

    Moaning and groaning
    And clutching his stomach
    “Oh WHY did I eat so much
    crow? NEVERMORE!”


    Knickety Knockety
    Ludwig von Beethoven
    Wanted to write just one
    Symphony more

    In want of ideas, he
    Sat down to ponder,
    When “Dum dum dum DUM”
    Came a rap at the door.


    Flippety Flappety
    Orville and Wilbur, they
    Wanted to ride a bike
    Into the sky.

    They fiddled and tinkered,
    Fell over and over.
    They made some mistakes, sure.
    But now we can fly!

  15. Hi Tricia ~ First foray into double dactyl and first post on your blog. Double challenge! This was inspired by a Poetry Alive! post on Facebook about Coleridge.

    Xanadu Shmanadu
    Samuel Coleridge
    created his Kubla
    throughout the night.

    But oh! the intruder
    a damsel from Porlock
    who found the poor poet
    high as a kite.

  16. Tricia,

    Here's another double dactyl for you:

    Gravity savity
    Isaac, Sir, Newton,
    Math’matical genius
    And physicist too,

    Got into alchemy…
    Tried making gold
    From a base metal brew.

  17. Tricia,

    I'm ba-a-a-a-a-ck...with another double dactyl over at Political Verses:

    Better Duck...It's Dick: A Poem about Dick Cheney's Hunting Prowess

  18. Elaine: "Better Duck...It's Dick" has got to be one of the best poem titles of the new millenium.

  19. Thanks, Julie. I'm a sucker for a catchy title--or one with a play on words.

  20. Love these! I actually wrote one, didn't think I could.

    holy guacamole
    author Judy Schachner
    Siamese, not chihuahua
    Skippyjon plots

    he bounces big boy bed
    closet is planet Mars
    perritos amigos
    books checked out lots

  21. Revised:
    holy guacamole
    Siamese, not chihuahua
    author Judy Schachner
    Skippyjon plots

    he bounces big boy bed
    closet is planet Mars
    perritos amigos
    books checked out lots

  22. Third time's the charm...more revisions. Here's the link:

  23. sadly I remember only the first verse of the following, which I read in college:

    Higgledy piggledy
    Physicist Heisenberg
    Dotted his theories with
    H-bars and q's [pronounced "cues"]

  24. I'm a bit (two years) late to this thread, but I wrote one even longer ago than that:

    Tremolo, Shlemolo
    Vladimir Horowitz
    What a pianist he
    Turned out to be!

    Even when he was an
    Few on this earth could play
    Better than he.

  25. This comment has been removed by the author.