Poetry exercises

The following is my work, based on the exercises found in Stephen Fry’s poetry manual, The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within.

Exercise 2 (first written exercise) – simple iambic pentameter

Write 20 lines of iambic pentameter – some single, some pairs, no rhyming.

1. Alone I wander, spouting poetry.
2. “Now, die!”, she cried, and thrust the dagger home.
3. And one, and two, and… oh, to hell with it.
4. The angels flew and buzzed inside my ears.
5. I’m feeling dry – perhaps I need a drink?
6. Too many books, and far too little time.
7. This is a line of sample poetry;
8. A second line, no better than the first.
9. My daughter sits, and thinks, and draws, and dreams.
10. I see a tummy – I must tickle it!
11. Indignantly she folds her arms and glares.
12. The ants are marching one by one – hurrah.
13. I sit upon the “throne” and meditate.
14. It seems I’m getting fatter by the day.
15. The tub is full of toys; no room for me.
16. Between the pages of a book I find
17. A princess, and a dragon, and a dream.
18. I’m growing tired of this exercise.
19. These are the rooms where my devoted aunt
20. Till recently maintained her residence.

Exercise 3 – iambic pentameter – caesura and enjambment

Write five pairs of lines in simple end-stopped IP; then recast those lines so that they include at least one caesura in each line, and enjambment between them. (Topics provided.)

1a. Beyond the Bradford pear that is in bloom,
I see the neighbor’s house across the street.

1b. The tree’s in bloom; its blossoms, full and white
And fragrant, do the neighbor’s house obscure.

2a. Right now I’m craving pain au chocolat,
Although I’d also settle for ice cream.

2b. Dessert’s the thing – some pain au chocolat
Would do, or else a strawberry ice cream.

3a. Two nights ago I dreamed about a trip;
Used bookstores played the central, starring role.

3b. I dreamed a voyage, then – it was two nights
Agone – wherein I for used books did shop.

4a. It’s time to clean the goddamn house again;
Why can’t we keep our crap up off the floor?

4b. Our stuff is piling up again, in mute
Accusatory drifts; it’s time to clean.

5a. I hate the fat that hangs about my gut.
It makes it hard to stretch and touch my toes.

5b. My toes, that as a baby I could pull
And even suck – they seem so distant now.

Exercise 4 – iambic pentameter – trochaic and pyrrhic substitutions, weak endings

Write sixteen unrhymed lines. Any subject, any arrangement.

Watching the world go by, and wondering
What it might take to make it stop a while,
I sip my tea and practice composition.

I think that I am spending far too much
Time and energy pondering religion;
Considering that we can never know the
Answers, perhaps I’d better give it up
And stick to languages and poetry.

Four thousand dead – a very large, round number,
That somehow is supposed to make the war
Seem even worse. Of course, that only counts
Americans; the others just don’t count.

Can’t pray, can’t meditate, can barely think
In a straight line; at least, that’s how I feel
These days. I don’t know what is wrong with me.

This is the last line of this exercise.

Exercise 5 – iambic tetrameter – shorter measures and trochees

Two quatrains standard iambic tetrameter, two quatrains alternating iambic tetrameter and trimeter, and two quatrains of trochaic tetrameter (one full trochee, one with the 2nd and 4th lines “docked”).

Subject: television.

This exercise is very hard
Because I rarely watch TV;
I sometimes used to turn it on,
But never cared for what I’d see.

Eight simple iambs – not so hard…
But what a topic I must use!
To write eight lines about the “tube”
And not come off like Dr. Seuss.

Each time I’d watch the evening news
I’d only grow depressed;
So now I just watch DVDs
And give my fears a rest.

Chris Eccleston as Doctor Who
Completely blew my mind,
But now I see that Tennant, too,
Can make the Doctor shine.

“Television rots our brain cells”,
Gerry Mander’s new book tells us –
“All it really aims to do is
Hypnotize and blind and sell us.”

Television robs us of the
Power to discriminate.
I suppose that does explain the
Great success of shows I hate!

Exercise 6 – anapests and dactyls

Write a quatrain of anapestic hexameter giving directions to your house, and a quatrain of dactylic pentameter (in the classical manner, replacing the last foot with a spondee) on the subject of cows.

1. From the highway, expressway or freeway (whatever the damn thing is called) :
Take the highway marked twenty-nine, go past the college and shopping and all.
Past the center of town you will come to a turn-off for Shamrock (a road);
Take two rights, then a left, right again, on the left you will find our abode.

2. Wily Odysseus, trying to make his way back home,
Came on an island with cows of Apollo the Sun God.
“Steak!”, cried his sailors, and slaughtered the cattle (a bad move);
Zeus killed them all, left Ulysses alone on the broad sea.

Exercise 7 – Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse

Write 18-20 lines on the subject of what you want to eat right now.

1. Peanuts and pie already eaten and pancakes to follow.
2. Chicken soup, cheese on toast, or chips would also appease me.
3. Mangoes or melons, or marmalade on fresh bread.
4. Truffles would do, or trifle – a treat for the taste buds –
5. Or frog’s legs (fried), with fritters for afters.
6. Hard-boiled eggs and ham are a heavenly combination…
7. Or sushi of salmon made with seaweed and rice.
8. Sunflower seeds, lightly salted of course,
9. At mid-morning make an excellent snack.
10. Popcorn’s a personal fave – with parmesan cheese is my wife’s way.
11. I totally crave tuna now, after a trip to the grocery.
12. Beans with bacon on buttered toast –
13. That’s a thing I’ve thought to try.
14. I long for that luscious liquid – beer!
15. Leaves of lettuce, large and green
16. With crispy and crunchy croutons in a salad.
17. Cheddar cheese I would choose to add,
18. And a dab of delicious dressing also;
19. Bleu cheese is best, or balsamic vinaigrette.

Exercise 8 – syllabic verse

Write 2 stanzas of purely syllabic verse (no concern for rhythm) in the pattern 7-5-7-5, and two stanzas in the pattern 3-6-1-4-8-4-1-6-3.

Listen to the pattering
Of drops on wet leaves –
First gently falling, and then
Harder, faster, more.

A flash of lightning, day-bright,
Burns the dark away;
The hollow booming crash that
Follows brings the storm.

“It’s bath time!”
How those words used to cause
Fear –
Yes, and trembling –
In my three- or four-year-old heart.
Then as I grew
You couldn’t keep me out
of the bath.

Now I just
Wash as a matter of
Just to become
Clean; and I never think about the
Pleasure and the
In this complicated

7 thoughts on “Poetry exercises

  1. Feral Boy

    One of my friends, John Neumark, invented a poetic form called the Jenny.
    It is a verse with the pattern 8-6-7-5-3-0-9 :)

    — Feral Boy

  2. executivepagan Post author

    Yes! I’m up to the challenge. [makes “score” motion with arm]

    This verse form is called a “Jenny”;
    The pattern is quite odd.
    It lends itself to open
    verse, rather than rhyme.

    How to write a line with zero beats?!

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