Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fibonacci Day for 2014!


Fibonacci Day – 2014

Guess what?  It’s Fibonacci Day.  I like to give a toast to Fibonacci poetry on this day because it is November 23rd.  Numerically that is 11/23, and 1-1-2-3 is the syllable count for the first four lines of a Fibonacci poem.  Kind of neat how that works out.

The Fibonacci form has an exuberant feeling to me.  With its irregular count it communicates a kind of spontaneity.  The overall shape of the poem is to open up as each line become longer and longer.  It is a playful form.

Here is a Fibonacci I wrote recently:

Piercing the Veil

Warmth
Fall
No mist
October
Yet summer lingers
An old song on the radio
While I am having a scone and a cup of coffee
Slowly I wade into the stream of time to visit someone I danced with long ago.

Take a moment to compose a Fibonacci.  Here is the line count: 1-1-2-3-5-8-13-21-34, etc.  Most Fibonacci poems I have seen are six or seven lines; but a few have gone into the longer count lines. 
 
I like to use the opening very short lines, the first four lines with the count 1-1-2-3, to give the seasonal and/or temporal setting.  You can use words of time and words that mark the seasons; many of these are very short.  Months, for example, like ‘March’, ‘May’, and ‘June’, are good.  Some months are two syllables; April, July, and August.  Some are three count words; September through December.  You can also use terms like ‘First Month’, instead of ‘January’, so that you can set the time in the opening lines if the time is January. 

Other simple markers are things like ‘cold’, ‘hot’, ‘warm’.  Time of day is also a good topic for the opening lines; like ‘dusk’, ‘dawn’, ‘afternoon’, ‘mid-day’, ‘night’, etc.

You get the idea, which is basically to use the opening lines as seasonal and temporal designators.  With the longer lines you can then move into the more specific topic and specific focus of the poem you are writing.  In this way the poem’s focus moves from broad general strokes to the more specific.  I like the flow that such a Fibonacci produces.

Of course this is only one approach to the Fibonacci and it is in some ways linked to the esthetic I have imbibed from the Japanese poetic tradition where seasonal designation plays such a significant role.  The Fibonacci is a new form and has no weight of history behind it; there is no official Fibonacci Poetry Society or designated keeper of the Fibonacci true esthetic.  This means that when we write in the Fibonacci form we can take it whatever direction we like without feeling like we have violated an inherited tradition.  Personally, I enjoy applying some of the esthetic principles from other traditions to the Fibonacci, including the use of rhyme and seasonal or temporal placement.  Transferring these approaches from a form like haiku and tanka to the Fibonacci seem to me a viable strategy; at least it works for me.  Perhaps you might also find it efficacious. 

Just a few thoughts to share on Fibonacci Day.  

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Beak Open, Feet Relaxed, by Patricia Lignori -- A Review



Beak Open, Feet Relaxed – 108 Haiku
By Priscilla Lignori
A Review

I was not familiar with the haiku of Priscilla Lignori until coming across this collection of her haiku.  It is a small book at 100 pages, with about 80 pages of haiku.  In the back of the book are ‘Credits’ for many of the haiku which were previously printed in numerous haiku publications.  And doing a google search for her came up with a lot of references.  Somehow, though, I missed her presence in the haiku world.  It is a pleasure to make her acquaintance through this book.

The book is divided into 7 short haiku sequences.  The sequences are not titled, only numbered; one through seven, using roman numerals.  The number of haiku in each sequence varies from the shortest, sequence II, which has 11 haiku; to the longest, sequence V, which has 22 haiku.

The haiku in each sequence are seasonally arranged; that is to say the sequence of the haiku follow the flow of the seasons.  However, each sequence has a slightly different arrangement of the seasons as follows:

I        Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
II       Spring, Summer, Fall
III      Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
IV      Spring, Summer, Fall
V       Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring
VI      Summer, Fall, Winter
VII    Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

The seasonal element is central to Lignori’s haiku and this emphasis is traditional.  Also traditional is Lignori’s adherence to the 5-7-5 syllabic count.  I’m not sure, but I suspect that Lignori uses a Saijiki, or is attuned to the basic idea of a Saijiki.  Most of the seasonal haiku use key words to indicate the season, including the names of various flowers and plants, natural phenomena like icicles, and holiday references.

By a frozen lake –
I sit on a bench wearing
the afternoon sun 

On the other hand, Lignori is willing also to simply name the season:

Shaking their rattles
cicada calls come and go
with the summer breeze

Not all of Lignori’s haiku are seasonal:

They can’t be erased –
the past and my father’s name
engraved in hard stone

This haiku is placed both after and before fall haiku and it has the feeling, or tone, of fall.  This placement gives the reader a sense of seasonal continuity even in haiku where the seasonal element is not explicit. 

Lignori uses two methods for the overall construction of her haiku.  Many of her haiku are of the single sentence type.  A significant number are also in the two-part style.  The list method does not seem to be an approach Lignori finds congenial.

There is a free use of the repertoire of common poetic techniques.  Here is an example of shaping her line through a common sonic ending:

Chapped palms in winter –
a roadmap that leads nowhere
in particular

This is a nicely done two-part haiku.  The opening image of the chapped palms is juxtaposed to a ‘roadmap’, but then the image of the roadmap is undermined when its function of leading or guiding is put aside.  The overall impact is a kind of static stillness. 

Notice how the last words of each line (winter, nowhere, particular) all end in an ‘r’ sound.  Lines 1 and 3 close with prepositional phrases (in winter, in particular) and there is an understated rhyme between ‘winter’ and ‘particular’.  The overall sonic resonance adds a dimension of beauty to this haiku which I find attractive.

Here is another haiku that uses juxtaposition effectively:

The pink rose petal
placed in a sealed envelope –
a cloud in the sky

I find this haiku offers me a lot of space; I am wondering why the petal is placed in an envelope (to mark an occasion?, for a botanical study?, etc.).  The shift to the skyscape is effective; there is a movement from a sharp, detailed focus, to a much wider context.  It is also possible to interpret the cloud in the sky as resembling the petal in the envelope.  I think this is beautifully crafted.

Lignori takes advantage of metaphor and simile:

Falling icicle
shatters like a crystal glass
dropped by a waiter

This single sentence haiku is striking in its weaving together the natural and human dimensions.  The reader gets to feel the precise sound the author is referring to.

Lignori has a way of highlighting moments and beautifully shaping them for the reader:

At home in the dark –
the pale moon and the horned owl
watching from the tree

This two-part haiku has a unity of mood.  It begins inside, but in the dark.  It then moves outside, giving us a landscape rich with psychic energy.  The moon is personified in this haiku as ‘watching’ in the same way that the horned owl is watching.  This, incidentally, is a winter haiku; at least I read it that way even though the moon is traditionally fall.  I get the winter feeling when I read it in sequence with the previous haiku:

Chanting a sutra –
from the corner of my eye
the silence of snow

At home in the dark –
the pale moon and the horned owl
watching from the tree

In other words, I think the seven sequences are genuine sequences and the full meaning of each haiku, as previously noted, becomes apparent by their placement in the haiku that surround a particular haiku.  Each haiku can stand on its own, but the meaning of any particular haiku is enhanced, clarified, and enriched by its placement in the sequence.  This is skillfully done and I found it a pleasing and enriching experience.

The book contains an informative ‘Introduction’ by Clark Strand who has been Lignori’s mentor and guide for both the art of haiku composition and for spiritual practice from the Zen tradition.  (As an aside, I found the print size of the ‘Introduction’ to be a little small; it is significantly smaller than the haiku.  Not a big deal, but it would have been helpful to me to have had a type size more agreeable to the eye.)  Strand has been an advocate for syllabic haiku for a long time.  Strand is the author of the haiku manual Seeds from a Birch Tree, a book that I have found rewarding and helpful for my own haiku practice.

Lignori has gone on to found her own haiku group, ‘The Hudson Valley Haiku-kai’.  Lignori’s view about haiku is presented in a brief ‘Afterword’.  It is gratifying to see this approach to haiku being passed on to another generation.

These are classical, traditional, haiku; seasonal, syllabic, lyrical, thoughtful and insightful.  I look forward to further publications by Lignori, hopeuflly in the near future.

A winter sunset –
the day’s unanswered questions
simply disappear



Beak Open, Feet Relaxed
108 Haiku
Priscilla Lignori

$12.95
ISBN: 9781493549597


Monday, November 3, 2014

The Tenth Anniversary of the Death of Father Neal Henry Lawrence


Good Morning:

Today is the tenth anniversary of the death of Father Neal Henry Lawrence.  He passed away on November 3, 2004.

I have a great admiration for Father Lawrence and his books of tanka.  As far as I have been able to determine, Father Lawrence was the first English speaker to compose tanka syllabically.  I think of Father Lawrence as breaking new ground for syllabic verse in English.  And in a way, I think of Father Lawrence as the Patron Saint of those composing syllabic tanka in English.

I believe Father Lawrence published four books.  The first is The Soul’s Inner Sparkle, published in 1978 in Japan by Eichosa Publishing.  This first book was reissued in a bilingual edition, Japanese and English, but I am not sure of the date as I cannot find a publisher’s page for this reissue.  The used copy I was able to purchase has the signature of Father Lawrence; the writing says ‘To Brother Benedict’, and is dated April 8, 1999.  The volume looks to me like it was done for some kind of festival or anniversary, or perhaps as a volume to be made available at Father Lawrence’s Abby in Japan; I’m not sure.  But this reissue contains an additional essay by Father Lawrence, ‘Why I Write English Tanka!’ which gives us insight into the poetic world of Father Lawrence and his motivations for adhering to a syllabic count of 5-7-5-7-7.

The second book of Father Lawrence is Rushing Amid Tears, published in 1983, again by Eichosa.

The third is Shining Moments, published by Jane Reichhold’s Aha Books in 1993.

The fourth is Blossoms in Time, published by Suemori in Japan, in 2000.  Blossoms is an anthology of the tanka of Father Lawrence, containing selections from his three previous books, plus new tanka that he wrote between 1991 and 1998.  The book has an introduction, About the Poet, by Edward G. Seidensticker, the great translator and scholar of Japanese literature.  The book is bilingual; all the tanka, as well as the prefatory material, are translated into Japanese.  I believe that Father Lawrence was the first English language tanka poet to have his tanka translated into Japanese; both in the reissue of Soul’s Inner Sparkle and for Blossoms of Time.

There is a muted, or rather, quiet quality to the tanka of Father Lawrence.  It is rare to find a tanka in his output that uses juxtaposition; most of his tanka follow the single sentence format.  And his observations tend to be unspectacular.  For this reason, it takes awhile to perceive the lucidity and care that Father Lawrence used in shaping his tanka.  We tend to be immediately attracted to the brilliant flash of a surprising metaphor or juxtaposition.  So if you are looking for this kind of flash, you will only rarely find it in the output of Father Lawrence.

I believe that behind the tanka Father Lawrence wrote are, primarily, the steady rhythm of the Psalter, the Book of Psalms, which as a Benedictine, Father Lawrence would have recited daily.  I sense in his phrasing some of the same usages that appear in the Psalms.  Juxtaposition is not a primary tool for the Psalms, but things like parallelism are.  It is this kind of shaping that one finds in his tanka.  Father Lawrence speaks to this point in his essay, ‘Why I Write English Tanka!’, published in the re-issue of Soul’s Inner Sparkle, “I think another reason why I write tanka in English is that members of the Order of St. Benedict, which is over 1,500 years old and worldwide, are often poets and all living in a poetic atmosphere.  Every day, four times a day at prayers, we chant the psalms of the Bible and also hear them at every Mass.”  In other words, the tanka of Father Lawrence are embedded in that most influential collection of western poetry, the Book of Psalms and their esthetic is shaped primarily by that collection.

Over the years my appreciation for the tanka of Father Lawrence has increased.  They have a way of quietly growing in one’s heart and mind.   Seidensticker wrote of these tanka, “His language is graceful and imaginative . . .”  I have found this to be true.  Most of his books are available as used books online.  If you have a chance, and particularly if you are interested in syllabic tanka in English, spend some time with these contemplative gems.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Police Blotter Haiku: A Review


Police Blotter Haiku: A Review

I am fascinated by popular haiku and how widespread it has become.  From my perspective, as focused as I am on the possibilities for syllabic verse in English, the widespread acceptance of a poetic form that is defined by its syllable count is a very encouraging sign.  It means that the cultural ground is being tilled for a broader acceptance of syllabic verse in English. 

Some of the best examples of this acceptance are to be found in humorous collections of haiku in the 5-7-5 format.  Many people are aware of Haikus for Jews and Redneck Haiku: The Double-Wide Edition.  These two have had a wide appeal and are still in print.

Recently I have come across another collection which, I think, deserves to be added to its illustrious predecessors.  It is titled Police Blotter Haiku, by Jim Jones.  PBH has the same wry sense of humor as Haiku for Jews and Redneck Haiku; the same kind of commentary on the foibles of human life and its difficulties.

A tree collided
with a drunken motorist.
The tree was not hurt.

Jones writes, “A couple of years ago I spent the weekend in a small town of no great significance.  Out of boredom I picked up a copy of the local paper.  And discovered the Police Blotter column.  The stories were so short and pithy and human that they read like haiku.  Before long, I began converting them into actual haiku.  This seemed appropriate.”

Aflame with anger,
he set fire to the carport
of her new lover.

The collection is divided into 17 topics like ‘Men, Women and Wretched Exes’, ‘Bad Behavior’, ‘Much Outrage About Nothing’, etc.  Each section is roughly 6 to 10 pages long.  Included are really great illustrations of the suspect behavior, which add to the charm of the book.

Just to pass the time
he walked into traffic and
dared cars to hit him.

Most of the haiku are humorous, but now and then Jones observes some of the more poignant tales from the Police Blotter:

In her high-end home,
in the finest neighborhood,
she still died alone.

I am impressed by the ability Jones shows to distill a short news item down to 17 syllables.  That is not as easy as he makes it look.  Like RNH and HFJ, PBH explores areas of life normally not touched on by haiku poets.  Yet this is also a part of life and these aspects of life are all around us and, I think, are a rich source for haiku material if we will turn our attention to them.

Dew catches the sun
and floods the windshield with light.
Two-car accident.

Stylistically, the haiku in this collection are either single sentence haiku or in two parts; kind of like a juxtaposition, but not so self-consciously artful.  I don’t recall reading a list haiku.  The seasonal element is, for the most part, absent; I doubt that Jones considered it.  But there are a lot of non-seasonal haiku written these days even among the denizens of official haiku. 

Night of the Taggers.
Come the dawn, call after call
about defaced walls.

From my perspective, popular haiku accomplishes two things.  First, it broadens the subjects that are acceptable for haiku poets.  And second, popular haiku affirms the possibility of a syllabic approach to English language poetry slowly emerging. 

Get yourself a copy of Police Blotter Haiku.  I think you will enjoy it as much as I did.

Parolee Rule 1:
Put down your meth pipe BEFORE
answering the door.

 

Police Blotter Haiku
Jim Jones
ISBN: 9781500471163
$12.95

 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Short Essay on Syllabics by Elizabeth Daryush: Part 2

A Short Essay on Syllabics: Part 2

Continuing with the short essay that Daryush wrote about a syllabic approach to English language poetry, in the next paragraph Daryush focuses on lineation.  Daryush writes,

“First, . . . the line-ending, the highest point of emphasis and tension, being no longer led up to by steps of regular stress, must be established and maintained by other means.”

In metrical verse there are three means for indicating a line break: 1) the metrical beat, 2) grammar, and 3) rhyme.  Daryush points out that in a syllabic approach we cannot rely on ‘steps of regular stress’ to indicate a line break.  Therefore, the other two must carry the weight and be relied upon to tell us that there is a line break.

Here I would like to point out that the meaning of a line break is that there is a caesura, a pause, in the flow of words.  Often it is where one would take a brief breath before continuing.  It is this caesura which gives the reader/listener a sense of the shape of the poem. 

This is also why, I think, in traditional English poetry a line begins with a capital letter.  The capital letter functions in the way that a bar line in music functions.  Technically music does not need bar lines and there are forms of notation that do not use them.  When I briefly studied Japanese music I discovered that their traditional notational systems do not use them.  But the bar line assists the musician by letting the musician know where the beat will fall, it is an explicit assist.  Similarly, the beginning capital letter of a line of poetry reminds the reader that this is the beginning of a poetic unit; in the case of syllabics it signals the reader that this is the beginning of a group of syllables.  It is simply helpful and considerate of the reader to offer this kind of assistance.

Returning to the essay, Daryush continues,

“The first few lines of a syllabic poem should when possible be complete sentences or phrases.”

The reason for this is that when grammatical structure and syllable count are coordinated the reader/listener is assisted in accessing the shape of the poem.  When the two are divergent, it is difficult for the reader or listener to perceive a shape with any clarity.  The effect of this is that the work drifts into ordinary speech, the essay, the diary, etc.; and the poetic effect is simply lost.

Daryush seems, as mentioned in part 1, to have in mind syllabic poetry where all the lines are the same length.  And her observation about grammar and line would apply strongly to that kind of poetry; say the syllabic sonnet.  Daryush, as far as I know, never wrote in forms that use a very short line.  I define a very short line as four syllables or less.  A remarkable number of popular syllabic forms use very short lines, including the lanterne, the tetractys, the fibonacci, and the cinquain.  How would Daryush’s advice function for a very short line?

Personally, I have taken the approach of writing a list, usually of nouns, when writing very short lines.  I believe this is consistent with the overall advice given by Daryush, though she does not mention it.  Each item on a list has its own integrity, a wholeness; but when combined with the other items creates an overall collage of meaning.  I found this especially helpful with the opening lines of the fibonacci (1-1-2-3 . . .).  I have, in general, found it unsatisfying when a sentence is chopped up and distributed among very short lines.  It feels forced and the specific shape of the form feels lost.  There are exceptions.  Dabydeen’s approach to the tetractys often takes a sentence and chops it up.  But Dabydeen is careful to distribute the sentence so that it falls into clear grammatical units or phrases, so that one can still feel the sense of the shape of the tetractys.  However, when, for example, a prepositional phrase is split among lines, this undermines the shape of the specific form and it is difficult for the listener/reader to comprehend what form the poem is in.  I have often observed this kind of writing in short syllabic forms and in general I think poets attracted to these forms might consider adhering more closely to Daryush's advice in this matter.  

“Rhyme is almost indispensable . . . “

Rhyme is the most powerful marker for communicating a line break in the English language.  I think that Daryush makes an excellent point here.  Personally, it was my study of Emily Dickinson that opened my understanding to the power and scope of rhyme.  For the syllabic poet rhyme is an indispensable tool.  A consistent use of rhyme will communicate to the reader/listener that shape of a poem.  In addition, rhyme is pleasing to the ear, people enjoy its presence, and it gives the poem a musical feeling.  Finally, rhyme makes the poem more memorable.

I wish I had read Darrush’s essay years ago.  Perhaps the long route I took to some of these same conclusions would have been shortened.  On the other hand, it is pleasing to discover that similar conclusions are reached regarding lineation when pursued independently.  My own journey started out in free verse and it was a slow process to a syllabic approach.  And that slow process was a gradual discovery that in order to write syllabic poetry it was necessary to put aside the norms of today’s free verse lineation. 

Modern free verse typically ignores grammar in a process that is referred to as radical enjambment.  This means that there is no coordination between grammatical structure and line breaks.  This is not an inherent quality of free verse.  For example, Whitman almost always breaks a line at a grammatical unit.  But it is a very widespread usage among today’s free verse poets.  I find it puzzling; it strikes me as fickle and arbitrary.  In addition, it seems to be thumbing its nose at the reader, refusing to offer even minimal assistance in the communication of meaning.  I’m not sure why radical enjambment is so widespread or how it started.  But I have become convinced that in order to write effective syllabic verse such an approach needs to be put aside.

This short little essay by Daryush reveals a very thoughtful poet who must have spent a lot of time pondering the subtleties of English language prosody.  It is filled with insight and tips which syllabic poets can apply to their own work.  It is my hope that Daryush’s poetry will be reprinted and that syllabic poets will find in her work both fine poetry and a rich resource for their own efforts.



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Elizabeth Daryush on Syllabics: Part 1



A Short Essay on Syllabics by Elizabeth Darush

I have had a fondness for the poetry of Elizabeth Daryush for a long time.  However, my reading of her poetry has been from anthologies and the occasional poem I found on the web.  My interest in Daryush was first stimulated by coming across some of her syllabic sonnets.  I found them very attractive.  So, now and then, I would do a web search for her poems and was never disappointed with what I found.

Most of the poetry of Daryush is currently available only in used editions.  Recently I decided to buy her Collected Poems which was published in 1976.  It is a surprisingly slim volume; only 198 pages.  But that has its advantages as the collection gives the reader a good overview of her poetry.  I will have more to say about the poems in a future post, but what I want to highlight here is a short ‘Note on Syllabic Metres’, written by Daryush, found on pages 24 and 25.  I found it to be insightful and one of the clearest presentations of syllabics in an English language context that I have run across.  Here it is:

Note On Syllabic Metres

Some of the poems here re-printed are written on a syllabic system, and I should like to comment on what seems to be a wide-spread misunderstanding and under-estimate of what the principle implies: a strict syllable-count, although of course essential, is, in my view, merely the lifeless shell of its more vital requirements.

Accepting that not only a work of art but every aspect of its medium is intrinsically a contrived relation between the known and the uncomprehended, the fixed and the unpredictable, recalling, too, that in accentual verse, as in barred music, the fixed element is that of time, and the unfixed that of number (of syllables or notes) we can assess what part should be played by these factors in a truly syllabic system.  Here the position is reversed: the fixed element is no longer time but number; the integrity of line and syllable is challenged by the stress-demands of sense or syntax.  The aim of the artist will be so to balance these incommensurables as to reflect his own predicament of thought or feeling, thereby enhancing his consciousness of an imagined relation with the unattainable.  The rules for achieving this are by their very nature unwritten ones, but a few guide-lines can be laid down.

In general, meaning should make the greatest possible use of time-variety without losing sight of the number-pattern.  First, therefore, the line-ending, the highest point of emphasis and tension, being no longer led up to by steps of regular stress, must be established and maintained by other means.  The first few lines of a syllabic poem should when possible be complete sentences or phrases.  Rhyme is almost indispensable, but since it can be unaccented need be neither over-obvious nor monotonous.  The integrity of the syllable must be ensured by the avoidance of all dubious elisions.  Stress-variations are more effective in fairly short lines, and more easily obtained from those with an odd syllable-count, since here there is a choice of two equally accessible stress-counts.  Full advantage should of course be taken of the release from stress-restrictions, with their often unavoidable distortions of the natural speech-rhythm.  Inversions should now be used only for meaningful emphasis.

With these main principles in mind, the writer replaces the usual regular stress-waves by such other currents and cross-currents, such expectations and disappointments, as may further his purpose.  He may, for instance, introduce the same irregularities into the corresponding lines of a lyric’s every stanza; or he may repeat, often with great effect, in the last line of a poem, some startling upheaval in the first; or, again, he may use a similar break in a previously established pattern to express some violent change of mood or thought.  These and many similar devices will with practice become the instinctively chosen instruments of the poet whose ear is attuned to their possibilities.

Without them, there will be no poem.

E. D.

**

Here are some comments on the essay:

“. . . a strict syllable-count, although of course essential, is, in my view, merely the lifeless shell of its more vital requirements.”

I understand this to mean that Daryush is pointing out that a method of poetic construction does not guarantee attractive, or profound, results.  There is a dialectical dance between the learned constructive elements and the unpredictable elements; both of them are combined in a poem.  This is true for all artistic, or craft, methods: they do not guarantee beauty, insight, or depth.

“ . . . in accentual verse, as in barred music, the fixed element is that of time, and the unfixed that of number (of syllables or notes) we can assess what part should be played by these factors in a truly syllabic system.  Here the position is reversed: the fixed element is no longer time but number; the integrity of line and syllable is challenged by the stress-demands of sense or syntax.”

This is insightful and a useful analog to music.  Daryush is suggesting that accentual verse resembles the regular meter of music.  In a song that is in 4-4 time, the number of notes in a bar of four beats will vary: one bar might contain four notes, the next six notes, the next ten notes, etc.  But each bar will contain four beats.

Similarly, in metrical verse, each line will contain the same number of beats, but the number of syllables can vary.  For example, a poem written with four beats per line might have eight syllables if each beat consists of an iamb, or a combination of iambs and trochees.  If, however, one of the beats contains an anapest, the line will have nine syllables.  If one of the beats is a strong, single-syllable word, the line will contain seven syllables.  Even though the syllable count may vary, the four beats remains constant, just like in a song written in 4-4 time.

Daryush points out that syllabic verse reverses what is constant in a line.  In syllabic verse the number of syllables is constant, or determined, but the number of beats in the line can vary.  Musically, this resembles a melody in which the meter changes.  For example, a melody might have two measures of 4-4 time, followed by a measure of 3-4 time, then conclude with a measure of 6-4 time.  However, each measure would have the same number of notes.  For example, each measure could have three notes as follows: the two measures of 4-4 time would be quarter note, quarter note, half note; the measure of 3-4 time would be three quarter notes; and the 6-4 measure would be three half notes. 

Music like this is not very common.  But a few composers have, and do use, this kind of procedure now and then; Stravinsky and Prokofiev are two examples.  I am not aware of popular songs that use this procedure, but there might be some.  Musically you do hear this kind of flow, sometimes, in improvisational passages, where the musician is left to riff on a theme.

It should be pointed out that this analysis by Daryush only applies to syllabic forms that have lines that all share the same count.  Her analysis would apply to my quatrain poems, the ones were the syllable count is the same for all four lines.  But her analysis does not apply as well to those syllabic forms where the line count varies.  In my reading of Daryush’s poetry, I have come across few poems with varied syllable count.  As far as I know she did not write any cinquain or syllabic haiku; both of these forms vary the syllable count and the application of Daryush’s perspective here is more complicated.

Take, for example, the cinquain; a five-line form with a syllable count of 2-4-6-8-2.  It would be possible to compose a syllabic cinquain in which the first three lines all had the same number of beats.  You could do this by varying the metrics: line 1 would have two strong single syllables (something like ‘Stop!  Look!’), line two could be two iambs, and line three could be two anapests.  In this way you would have a steady rhythm moving from line to line, but it would apply to a varying syllabic count.  This is a possibility that syllabic verse can nourish or account for, one that would not be available to a cinquain understood as a metrical form with a gradually ascending number of beats (1 beat, 2 beats, 3 beats, 4 beats, 1 beat).

I have seen examples in the haiku of Hackett and Wright where the three lines all share the same number of beats, three beats, but I don’t know if this is conscious or simply a result of intuitive skill.  But again, there are examples found in a syllabic form, where the line count varies, in which the beats remain constant but the syllable count changes.

In spite of these limitations, I find the analysis Daryush offers to be useful and insightful.  It directly applies to syllabic forms in which the count of syllables is the same for each line.  This would mean forms like some syllabic quatrain forms (but not the Englyn Unodl Union, one of my favorite quatrain forms from Wales) and the syllabic sonnet.  Her analysis also applies to sequences of any syllabic form; and here I think the analysis is worth pondering.

When I read a syllabic form I prefer reading a group of them, rather than a single example.  My experience has been that there is a rhythm generated by the count that begins to emerge when reading a sequence of cinquain, or tetractys, or syllabic haiku, or syllabic tanka.  It is a kind of pulse that is unique to each syllabic form.

Yet there is also variety to the pulse; it isn’t always a simple repetition.  And Daryush’s analysis explains why that variation occurs.  If you read a sequence of cinquain, the syllabic count will be the same as you read one after the other, but the number of beats will change as one moves from one cinquain to another.  What I mean is, if you take line 3 of a cinquain, you will always have six syllables in the line.  One cinquain might have three beats (say 3 iambs), and the next cinquain might have two beats (say 2 anapests), and other variations are possible.  Thus when reading a sequence of cinquain (or syllabic haiku, syllabic tanka, or etc.) there is a constant in the number of syllables, but variation in the number of beats as one moves from poem to poem in the sequence. 

The effect of this, to my mind, mimics certain natural experiences.  I am thinking of watching the flow of a river as one example, where certain pulses in the stream reappear but with intriguing variations.  A sequence of syllabic verse offers the listener this opportunity to experience a kind of contrapuntal effect, where variation is experienced above the constant of the syllabic count.  I think this is a pleasing aspect of short syllabic forms when they are spoken aloud to an audience in sequence.  I first experienced this by reading such sequences myself in collections such as the old ‘Amaze’ journal devoted to the cinquain.  I also found it one of the more pleasing features of the haiku of Wright and Hackett.  And, of course, syllabic tanka also has this effect.  It was syllabic tanka, in translation, that really opened up this aspect of syllabic verse to me.  I think that is one reason why the classic anthologies of Japanese tanka have proven so durable.

More to follow in Part 2.