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Poetry Exercises

Published at 16:01:28-0800 Updated
Tags: poetry

If you want real poems, go here instead.

This page collects my responses to the poetry-writing exercises set by Stephen Fry in his book The Ode Less Traveled.

The entries here are unfinished, unpolished, unvarnished, and unloved -- but they are important. They are not just the first step in the creative process: they are that process.

Exercise 1


I must remind you that these are not even drafts -- they are scraps, not even fit for animals to hear. Here are the results from Poetry Exercise 1: "Write ~20 lines of iambic pentameter."

  1. Today I have to buy a pair of pants
    I have to buy gray pants today — one pair
    The pair of pants I buy in gray today
    Will be the pair of gray pants that I wear
  2. "Traitor!" cried the traitor's handsome servant
  3. Seer:
        I see, in far-off Blaz, a pyre ablaze
        Could one of our informers be at stake?
        If so, in the disgrace you will not share
        For 'tis a risk that I have let us take
  4. If archery's your sport, then come along
  5. I smell potatoes every time it rains
  6. Ms. Buzzerbother is a boastful bore
  7. I cook — and yet, I cannot cook like Keith
    Who these last thirty years has cooked for kings
  8. At least a year spent biting at her neck
    And twice as long attending to her ear
  9. My dingus is a loyal hunting hound
    He never fails to point at pretty birds

(They were supposed to all be blank verse, but I couldn't resist a bit of rhyming.)

Exercise 2


Once again, these are less than drafts -- they are scrap, slag, odds and ends, nothing much -- but they might amuse you anyway.

  1. Not far from here, a generator whines
    A siren wails as others honk their horns
  2. The chocolate candy shell protects the goo
    The goo itself enrobes a cherry sweet
  3. Some girl unknown to me has awful teeth
    I'm in one piece, although I'm swallowed whole
  4. If I am ever gonna get a job
    I have to mail that thing to Joanie G
  5. My lips and nose and ears are singly fine
    The trouble starts when all of them combine
  6. A buzzing whine. From nearby comes the blare
    Of horns. The squad car passes all this by.
  7. A maraschino cherry, cuddled in
    A sticky sweet white liquid, half liqueur
  8. I haven't met this girl, and yet she says
    That I must hop into her mouth at once!
  9. I've while the hours away, as if my typing
    Will leave, upon someone, the needed mark
  10. The bits of me degraded by a longing
    To change my looks, are surely mine for good

Exercise 3


Yes, another round. Cease your blubbering! Watch out for "weak ending" endecameter! Steer clear of trochees and pyrrhic substitutions! Make way for the unfathomable, indefensible, much-malignable results of tackling Poetry Exercise 3:

  1. With fat cigar alight, I'm set for tasting
    The Nicaraguan smoke, my Sunday best
  2. A plane above me, roaring, going somewhere
    The backyard is for leisure and for thought
  3. The chair-shaped flowerbed, dilapidated,
    Sits forlorn 'gainst the fence, long out of use
  4. This thick cigar will not leave me enlightened
    Cigars, though lit, shed no illumination
  5. I wallow in a self-inflicted nothing
    My days are mine, but seconds slip away
    Too late, I've learned the foolishness of quitting
    An honest, worthwhile job with decent pay
  6. Cigar dogs me, half unsmoked
    By its fumes I am half-choked
    "Syllables!" it sings to me,
    "While I burn — write poetry!"

Exercise 4


Write sixteen lines of iambic pentameter, rhymed or blank. Focus on using pyrrhic and trochaic substitution, as well as enjambment. [I got caught up in versifying, and didn't much use the substitutions as much as I ought to have done.]

At first, the chocolate is not only sweet
But has a woody undertaste, to fete
Two simultaneous desires: to taste
The flavor of cacao, and yet not waste
The palate contribution from the mill
Where all the sugar, there upon the hill,
Which entered in this candy was created.
In this small piece, the two desires are sated.

The second piece, not only chocolatey,
Possesses, too, the odor term'd "smokey",
And with the smokey odor dissipating
Another flavor enters through the grating
That I call "lips." It was the marshmallow,
A puffy, sticky, sugary fellow,
Who followed on the heels of Mister Smoke
And left a message, though no word he spoke.

Exercise 5

2019-12-22, 19:23 to 19:49

  1. Iambic tetrameter, with no lines which are catalectic (missing a syllable.)
    A quatrain is a line quartet
    A foursome of word fellows met
    As each supports the verse entire—
    What starts at four, ends up much high'r.
  2. More iambic tetrameter.
    The yellow shade which sits upon
    My bedside lamp is embroidered
    With black-lined flow'rs, which hardly save
    A shade that barely blocks the light!
  3. Alternating iambic tetrameter and trimeter.
    For all of winter's beauty, I
    Have not yet gone outside
    To breathe the wind which comforts me
    And on which leaves may ride
  4. More alternating iambic tetrameter and trimeter.
    Chinese is my language of choice
    If foreign tongues are such
    That you would have me comment on
    My fav'rite of the bunch
  5. Trochaic tetrameter, no catalexis.
    Trochee, tell me: art thou friendly
    Or a foe who seeks to end me?
    If you will not be more lamb-y,
    I will have to get iamb-y.
  6. Trochaic tetrameter, with catalexis: even-numbered lines lack a final weak syllable.
    Laundry sitting in the basket
    Taunting me in dirtiness
    Churlish clothing! I will teach it
    Not to act a mighty mess

Exercise 6

2019-12-22, 20:20 to 20:36

Anapestic hexameter describing how to reach my former house.

If you're traveling east from the college, it's just off the road a short way 
The house where I reside with my roomie is visible, nighttime or nay.
You need only to look for the lights that shine blue in the window at front.
When you see them, walk upstairs to meet me; you've made it, you've finished your hunt.

Dactylic pentameter about cows, with an additional spondee at the end of each line.

Lowing, cud-chewing, they roam through the fields to find patches of sweet grass
Black-skinn'd, or spotted, or reddish: all flavors of bovine are here now
Udders hold promises, liquid and pendulous, waiting for milking
Rare is the drongo who suckles the milk from right under a live cow