Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday Poetry Stretch - Ottava Rima

I keep going back to form when I need some structure for my writing. It actually helps me when I have constraints to work within. Ottava rima is an Italian form that consists of a stanza of eight lines with the rhyme scheme abababcc. In English, the lines are usually written in iambic pentameter. Ottava rima is generally associated with epic poems (like Don Juan), but can be used for shorter poems.

An example of ottava rima can be found in the poem Sailing to Byzantium. Here are the first two stanzas of the poem.

Sailing to Byzantium
by William Butler Yeats

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

So, your challenge for the week is to write a poem in the form of ottava rima. Leave me a note about your work and I'll post the results here later this week.


  1. Waiting for Summer

    My desk is dry and angular and gray.
    I know I need to write another line.
    Up on the wall, the clock insists it's May,
    but June sails through me like a brigantine.
    And though my teacher takes us out to play,
    the asphalt's dead. I need the taste of brine,
    the sand inside my socks, then socks no more,
    I need sun on my shoulders, need the shore.

    My clothes seem stiff, as if they're made of stone.
    Today I am a statue, I'm not real.
    I should be swimming far away, alone,
    a dolphin or a swordfish or a seal,
    where jellyfish haunt currents, where the moan
    of sea wind speaks to water. I should feel
    the cutting through the blue, the turn and dive—
    but here I sit and wait to be alive.

    --Kate Coombs, 2010, all rights reserved

  2. Kate - I love "the asphalt's dead", "jellyfish haunt currents", "the moan of sea wind speaks to water"...heck, I love all of it. A.


    The strawberries are ripe! Come out with me!
    Bring lots of baskets. We'll sit in the dirt
    to work. I'll tell you my mom's recipe
    for freezer jam. We'll talk and juice will squirt,
    staining our chins. We'll eat all day for free.
    So grab your baskets. Wear your reddest shirt.
    Prepare yourself to pick a heavy load
    of strawberries. I'll meet you down the road.

    Next winter when Jack Frost is blowing cold,
    when snow has hidden every plant from view,
    when berries in the stores aren't even sold,
    I dream about an afternoon with you.
    We'll sit in sweaters, eating summer's gold,
    remembering today and how we knew
    that winter, like a wheel, would come around,
    and how we found sweet rubies on the ground.

    © Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

  3. Only the Women Can Hear

    And this is no country for old women.
    The internet chats, the movies, songs,
    All sing of youth and time. Forgotten,
    Challenged by gravity, by memory, we long
    For the past, though it is long past time when
    We can recall the splendors that once rang
    Through us like Old Tom’s mighty knell.
    We are in some strange notion of Hell.

    How did we get here? Step by step
    Along the unforgiving path of time.
    How do we leave here? Stop by stop,
    Along the train’s slip line, become
    Childish, childlike. inelegant, inept,
    Back to the beginning, back to the womb,
    To the heartbeat, the blood beat in the ear
    That only the fetus and the women can hear.

    ©Jane Yolen 2010 all rights reserved

  4. I hate yardwork. With a passion. So here are my thoughts after spending a few hours in the yard this weekend.


    I battled weeds with one small-handled spade
    and rubber gloves—ill-equipped and jealous
    of lawnless people, who don’t have to wade
    through dandelions to peeling trellis.
    People who know even the weeds have paid
    their dues, who listen to what they tell us:
    Retreat! Hunker down, relax—let us grow.
    Don’t bury us with what you do not know.

    --Laura Purdie Salas, all rights reserved

  5. Thanks, Amy! I like "wear your reddest shirt." Also Jane's "unforgiving path of time" and the fact that Laura chose "jealous" as a rhyming word and pulled it off!

  6. Though US students are out (I think - right?) kids are still in school in Canada, but dreaming of - or dreading - summer.

    Summer Plans

    My mom has signed me up for summer camp.
    That’s twenty-one meals in the dining hall.
    It’s shivering in a towel that’s always damp
    and taking dares to scale the climbing wall.
    It’s harnessing to be the zipline champ
    contests of shooting with the basketball.
    Can’t wait for campfire and those yummy ‘smores
    -- of course we earn them all with cabin chores.

    This summer I’m supposed to learn to swim
    I’m scared of getting water up my nose.
    Styrofoam kickboard helps me float and skim
    remember, breathe and stroke and kick your toes.
    The water in my eyes is nothing grim
    it’s just two weeks of crawl and backstroke woes.
    I’m dreading Friday when I take my test
    (I’ll simply die if I don’t earn my crest!)

    This holiday we’re traveling by car
    we’ll even spend a night in a motel.
    By daddy’s map it doesn’t look too far,
    but hours of driving make me want to yell.
    My sister and I get into a war
    I tease her and she answers that I smell.
    We eat some burgers and it’s on and on…
    Such a long drive isn’t a lot of fun!

    This summer I’m not going anywhere
    I’ll jump the trampoline and read a book.
    My dad said he might take me to the fair,
    Mom said she’d prob’ly teach me how to cook.
    I’ll treehouse sleep at night high in the air
    at noon fish in the creek with worms and hook
    on hot days water-park in my own yard
    I’ll fill my days with fun – it won’t be hard!

    © 2010 by Violet Nesdoly, all rights reserved.

  7. Abababcc Five Beats, Eight Lines – Let’s Go. We’ll See…

    by Liz Korba

    To write eight lines correctly as I should
    Ottava rima lines that is the goal
    I would compose such lines – yes, if I could
    And oh to make the sounds and words just role
    Along and have ONE person think them good
    (Forget the hope to reach within the soul!)
    Line five, I think, did not come out quite right
    If I have time I’ll try again tonight.

    The Economy, the War, BP, Korea, Gaza, MTV…
    by Liz Korba

    I know that there is trouble in the air
    And brace myself for what I do not know…
    I do not wish to choose what is despair
    Nor want to run – besides where would I go?
    There was a time when shelter came with prayer
    And many still call out like long ago
    To God, to man, to presidents and kings -
    And poets – we must listen to these things.
    As poets always have since words were sung
    Or said to mean more then what could be seen
    In cultures varied, ancient, old and young
    They called us mad or left us – The Unseen
    But still in every language, every tongue
    Some try to name the stuff that lies between
    Perhaps because they cannot choose despair
    Or sense a silent calling in the air.

  8. Okay, I know that I didn't attempt iambic pentameter, just the rhyme scheme. But here is what I came up with anyway.

    A Day in the Life of Preschoolers
    by Nicole Marie Schreiber

    Today is fireman day!
    A kitchen chair becomes a seat
    on a fire truck, raincoats lay
    over couches, with shoes at the feet,
    ready for the alarm to play,
    but soon tomorrow shall greet
    the little firemen, look them right in the eye
    and ask, “Now instead, what would it be like to fly?”