The Blog of John Hewitt

Write a poem using syllabic verse – 31p31d

Day 12 of 31 Poems in 31 days

A simple form

A Sugar Skull bell from Ben's Bells, sporting their slogan. "Be Kind"

A sugar skull bell from Ben’s Bells, sporting their slogan. “Be Kind”

There are many types of poetic meters and forms. One of the most straightforward is syllabic verse. Syllabic verse sets a specific number of syllables per line or per stanza, but does not focus on stressed or unstressed feet. This type of meter has been more popular in languages with less of a focus on stressed syllables, such as Japanese and Spanish. Haiku, with its pattern of five, seven and five syllables, is one of the most common examples of syllabic meter.

The benefit of syllabic meter in English language poetry is that it is less restrictive than meters that focus on stressed and unstressed feet. Syllabic verse gives a poem structure, but avoids the patterned, sometimes singsong qualities of popular English meters such as iambic or dactyl. Syllabic meters can be as simple as ten syllables per line and can grow quickly in complexity from there.

A poetic compromise

Those who dislike syllabic meter feel that it doesn’t provide real structure, that the English language is far more focused on stressed and unstressed syllables than on the number of syllables. Their contention is that most people don’t notice the number of syllables in a line, only the number of stresses, therefore, determining line length solely by the number of syllables is meaningless.

In my opinion, syllabic meter is a reasonable poetic compromise between image-based lines and metered poetry. While length-based word choice still enters into consideration when writing syllabic verse, you don’t have to torture yourself trying to replace the most appropriate word with one that fits the meter. Syllabic verse “looks” like poetry because the line length is patterned, but it allows you the freedom to experiment within the line.

Poetry Assignment

Write a poem using syllabic verse. You can assign length ether by line or stanza. If you are stuck for a way to begin, start with this two-word ten-syllable line:

Historically Antithetical