A Funny Old Form: Double Dactyls

Of all the forms of poetry, the bizarre “double dactyl” has produced some of the most wonderfully bonkers poems. And for that, I love it.

Here are a couple of my double dactylic efforts. If you would like a go (and who wouldn’t?) the rather odd rules are provided below. I’ve also added some links so you can read some more examples.

Queen of the Dancefloor

Ooyakah Booyakah!
Dear Queen Elizabeth’s
ninety third birthday
turned into a rave.

She did the running man
extraordinarily,
crafting a move from her
famed royal wave.

It’s been a blast

Agedly sagedly
David F Attenborough
said we were doomed
with a very sad face.

We dragged our knuckles round
uncomprehendingly,
wrapped him in plastic
and launched him to space.

And Here Be The Rules

  • A double dactyl has 8 lines divided into two stanzas.
  • Each line should consist of two dactyls. A dactyl is a rhythmical foot with a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables like this: “YOM-pa-pa”
  • Lines 4 and 8 are the exception to this, rounding off each stanza with a “YOM-pa-pa YOM.”
  • Line 1 should consist of a pair of slightly nonsensical rhyming words. These can be relevant to the theme, or not. They might simply be there as a little oral warm-up. Flonkington plonkington.
  • Line 2 should consist of a single name. Now, some people’s names are simply MADE for double dactyls, (Gillian Anderson, Christopher Ecclestone, Edward Jehazaphat*) but many are not. A middle initial (“David F Attenborough) or slightly illegal adjective, (“Dear Queen Elizabeth”) can help, but some names, alas, are just beyond the reach of the double dactyl.
  • Line 6 should ideally consist of a single, six-syllable word. Quite a lot of double dactyl writers gently ignore this rule however. Why? Because it’s REALLY awkward.

And there you go. Simple. Right?!?

 

If you’re loving the double dactyl, by the way (and what’s not to love), Snakeskin Poetry recently did a rather marvellous DD special feature, which you can find here.

And if you’d like to find out more about the origins of the form (ie who on earth thought this was all a good idea and why), take a look here. There are some more examples to enjoy too.

And finally, if you’d like some lovely, or fun, or slightly odd poetry to pop up on your newsfeed now and again, all you have to do is follow the itallrhymes Facebook page.

*At the time of writing, Edward Jehazaphat does not exist. But should. 
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The Exhalations of Stones

Many of the poems I write are on the lighter side, and they are quite obvious in their meaning – deliberately so. But where I write less clear-cut poems, I try to avoid explaining what they mean to me, unless asked. This is partly because I don’t want to be a spoilsport. But it’s also because I know that each reader may take something completely new away from a poem – different to what I intended, yes, but nevertheless equally valid.  And that is a glorious thing.

Now, I have carefully explained that rule because… I am now going to break it. This poem featured in this post is an attempt to convey something that I have tried to get across to people in “ordinary” words, but cannot. Poems can be good at throwing a light on things that we don’t have decent everyday language for. It’s one of the things they’re “for”, after all.

So does this poem convey what I wanted? Well, judge for yourself. The explanation is below the poem. And if you don’t want me to be a spoilsport, then stop reading at the end of the poem!

The Exhalations of Stones

We are the exhalations of stones, they said.
We know it because we know.
Tell your children of the cool breath
that fashioned their bones.

We are the sense of senseless things, they said.
We feel it because we feel.
Let the faithful shape the new law
from their imaginings.

You who blow doubt across creation, they said,
should quiet your tawdry lies.
Ours is the rock the air the spirit the peace the world.
Yours the damnation.

 

This poem was first published at The Hypertexts.

So what’s it about?

As an atheist, I find it difficult to explain to people with religious faith how their beliefs sound to me. It is really hard to explain this without tripping over language that may seem dismissive or insulting, or any of those things I don’t want to be. Even writing this paragraph is fraught with pitfalls!

People’s religious beliefs baffle me, to be honest. And I do get so frustrated by assertions such as “Ah, but you should have faith.” But why? Why should I have faith in this particular out-there suggestion, rather than any other out-there suggestion? What possible reason would I have to “give faith a go”, as has been suggested to me previously, when the thing you suggest I have faith in is so utterly unbelievable to me?

So, I decided to fabricate my own out-there suggestion and present it in the way mainstream religions are presented, to hold a gentle mirror up to faith and say, look. This is how it looks to me, and you saying “We know it because we know” isn’t really helping me out.

That’s a pretty long explanation for a pretty short poem. If you still don’t get it, well, that’s probably down to me. I’ll get my coat.

 

If you enjoy poetry, you can find poems from me, poems from people who are not me, and other poetry stuff at my Facebook page www.facebook.com/itallrhymes. Why not give it a follow?

Image by Frank Winkler from Pixabay

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Living on Mars in a Lava Tube

I’m fascinated by the possibilities of the universe, and by space exploration. But it always strikes me as odd that we get so excited about possible places which are “fit for human habitation” on other planets. These “habitable” places are, of course, still fraught with the most horrific challenges.

It was recently suggested, for instance, that humans could live in the massive ancient lava tubes which snake beneath the surface of Mars. Which initially sounds like some kind of permanent funfair lifestyle in a jazzy Martian flume. But what kind of existence would it be really? Dark, airless, hostile – and probably hundreds of other depressing adjectives.

Could we not perhaps try cleaning up our act, limiting our population growth, and staying on lovely, LOVELY Earth? Would that be SO mad??

Living on Mars in a Lava Tube

Living on Mars in a lava tube?
What fun, my dears, what fun!
We’ll surf on the flows, and then maybe – who knows –
we will gather when day is done
to remember the sea and the sun.

Living on Mars in a lava tube –
no actual lava, you say?
Just vacuum and dust in the cold of the crust
and the dark? Still, a great place to stay
as we cower from cancer all day.

Living on Mars in a lava tube –
it’s so smashing to know that we could!
If we poison our sky—never mind! We’ll just fly
to this welcoming new neighbourhood.
Hooray! It’s a plan then. Sounds good.

First published by Light Magazine in its Poems of the Week feature. www.lightpoetrymagazine.com

 

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I Just Don’t Like Walt Whitman Much


I Just Don’t Like Walt Whitman Much

I just don’t like Walt Whitman much.
I’ve said it now. Such heresy!
I mean, his stuff’s not bad as such,
but wordy Walt is not for me.

He penned some killer lines but still,
I don’t enjoy Walt Whitman much.
Just say, it Walt, then stop! Don’t fill
three pages up with double Dutch!

Americans! Condemn me! Clutch
your hearts and seize my boorish pen.
She doesn’t like Walt Whitman much?
What kind of poet IS she then?”

My cousins, you may seethe and tut,
but face it. He goes on a touch.
Perhaps I’m way too British but…
I just don’t like Walt Whitman much.

 

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Miss Riggs

My Gran, Rosalie Riggs (later Rosalie Wither) worked as a nurse on hospital train from 1940 – 1942. The hospital trains transported injured soldiers who had come home from the front to hospitals all over rural Britain. The carriages were converted to hold two layers of beds on each side, with the nurses working in between. Journeys were often long with track bombings, diversions and long waits in sidings to allow armaments trains through.

In 1942, Gran was discharged from the Red Cross on health grounds. In photos from that time, we can see she had lost a considerable amount of weight. Three weeks later she signed up for the Women’s Royal Air Force. She served at a base in North Wales for most of the rest of the war.

She married in 1943. My Grandad’s father had connections with the mill trade and worked for the Ministry of Supply, and managed to source some velvet fabric for her dress. – a real rarity in wartime.

Gran on the train in 1940

Miss Riggs

She was a white-toothed woman
bound to the run of the rails and the times
yet sharp as her hospital corners.

She was a force of defiance
with a cross to smite the viscous dark
that skirted the oily sidings.

Was starch fit for resisting
the muddied blood of khaki men
made shocking pink by shrapnel?

And did her apron’s brightness
bleach darkness from their hungry cheeks
and tiredness from her sockets?

She was a white-toothed woman.
In April, nineteen forty three,
she married in snowy velvet.

 

By the way, I couldn’t tell you how white my Gran’s teeth actually were. “White-toothed” is not a direct reference to the state of her dentistry. I can tell you however that she was formidable.

A hilariously staged photo of the nurses jollying through an air raid. Gran is on the left. I rather think I can see her contempt for this whole photographic shenanigans in her eyes!

The interior of a typical hospital train

 

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Get Fit with Boris

I don’t really mind that the government are advising us to lose weight, although combining it with incentives to eat out seems not ENTIRELY joined up! Nonetheless, it’s a TERRIFIC opportunity to take the piss, and who am I to refuse.

Get Fit with Boris

Drop your chips and sausage patties,
get in shape for Covid, fatties!
Come on Maureen! Come on Doris!
Let’s get fit with beefy Boris!

OK, let’s start. To get us warm,
we’ll streeetch the truth. Feels good! Now form
a partnership with someone near –
aaand leave. NICE WORK! Next, let’s all veer

towards the right – and right again –
aaand right. Come on now! Feel the pain!
Now sink real low to please the press,
reach out and… take donations! Yes!

You’re doing great! Last thing – let’s weave –
AVOID those questions! Nice work, Steve,
and good job, Raj! Now, who’s with me?
It’s two for one at KFC.

 

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Image: Pixabay

 

 

 

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STUFF

I sometimes preface my free verse poems with ‘I was in a weird mood when I wrote this.’ I WAS in a weird mood when I wrote this, but it was pre-lockdown. Now we’ve all spent far too much time at home with our STUFF, I don’t think it’s weird at all.

Stuff

STUFF trailed its tarnish across the Orient
then braved the oceans in first world gladwrap
like delusional human traffic.

STUFF squatted in a whorehouse warehouse
waiting for empty shelf-space, and the footfall
of an empty passer-by.

STUFF showed ankle in an email,
shoved its tongue in my High Street ear,
seduced me with sweatshop promises.

STUFF demanded its keep in energy,
whined for drawer space
and then crawled, feckless, onto my table top,
cheap plastic legs akimbo.

I looked it fresh in the eye and asked:
What do you want of me?
STUFF shrugged.

 

First published by Snakeskin Poetry.

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Bummer

 

Bummer

My buttocks have grown little wings,
the result of a number of things,
but primarily my
predilection for pie
and the filthy fulfilment it brings.

I have side-bums that flap like a cape!
I’ve tried Spanx! I’ve tried packaging tape!
Oh, but hope ever springs
that these wings are the things
that my arse-fat will use to escape.

 

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The Lockdown Lament

This one needs no introduction…

The Lockdown Lament

“Oh to spend time with the family!
Freed from our offices! Freed from our schools!
Imagine the hours of harmony!”
That’s what we said, we ignorant fools.

Have you ever tried video-calling New York
to talk about trends in a businessy way
while your kids disembowel the cat with a fork
and your husband walks by with his goods on display?

Have you ever tried tempting the kids from their screens
to do papier-mâché or make lemonade
or have ‘fun with a workout’ (whatever THAT means)
while they pelt you with attitude, grunts or grenades?

Have you ever tried teaching a nine-year-old maths
and a five-year-old spelling whilst muffling a scream
as you realise you’re living with sociopaths?
‘Is this it?’ you enquire. ‘Am I living the dream?’

“Oh to spend time with the family!
Freed from our offices! Freed from our schools!
Imagine the hours of harmony!”
That’s what we said, we ignorant fools.

 

 

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Photo by John Salvino on Unsplash

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