Cynful Poetics

Detractors going out of their way for things to presume the worst about, they I’ll find me pretentious to be acting as though I have any right to have my own ideas about the poetry I write. I don’t claim to have any training or knowledge or experience that ought be given weight when it comes to any poetry, all the less so my own. Still, “Cynful Poetics” is what I’ll call this, if but to poke fun at my muse.

In no particular order, haphazardly being jotted down.


Muses & MentorsPrompts
Verse Form ClassificationVerse Form Castes

Muses & Mentors

Denise is my love and my spouse. We met in a night school lit class. She egged me into working up the courage to start a weblog for posting some of my poetry online and has been a constant and consistent encouragement to my writing ever since.

Maggie never ceases to find new dreams for my poetry to dream. If my own muse were to try a little incarnation, she would take on the face and voice of Maggie.

I barely knew Sara before she was gone, but her chats and her ideas, her essays and her new creations, and her poetry will remain one of the strongest influences on my writing for the rest of my life.


Other than lit class homework assignments, I didn’t begin writing poetry in response to prompts until privately early in 2013. Maggie set me up: she challenged me to help her work on a few poems she said she wanted to collaborate with me on, coincidentally got busy so invited me to take the lead, then pointed to my early drafts as evidence that my previous adverse attitude against prompts was unwarranted.

We all write to prompts. Which prompts we choose, that’s the only difference between whether we think we don’t use any prompt other than our inner voice, versus whether we’re using the people or things or events around us as our prompt, versus whether we respond to a regular prompt given to us by a poetry community.

After Maggie’s sly lesson, I wrote to daily prompts each day in April 2013 I wrote to prompts for Poetry Month. Since then, in addition to my other poetry efforts, I’ve not skipped a day without writing at least one poem to a prompt from Maggie or one of my other close friends, together with at least one poem written to an external prompt. So now I’m totally addicted! Prompts are as much a part of my daily poetry diet as veggies are to my eating.

Verse Form Classification

I don’t adhere to the strictest pedantic taxonomies for classification of verse forms. Some have been known to completely overlook the magic of a great villanelle because it introduced variations into its repeating lines. Even one of the recognized authorities on verse form undercuts his authority by too severely restricting what he acknowledges to be a sonnet (seemingly unconcerned that Shakespeare himself varied his own version of the form; and apparently ignoring that had this authority lived in Shakespeare’s day, by the same reasoning the bard’s poems would have been dismissed as not being sonnets by virtue of not being Petrarchan).

Conversely, I do study to know the elements of any verse form I read or write. To my mind, for instance, a sonnet need not have a volta. But I also recognize that a volta can be effective – even essential – to communicating the moment and movement in the poem. And I recognize that a poem with a volta speaks and works differently than one without a volta, just as a traditional door works differently than a traditional window although both are holes between inside and outside. So to me a sonnet isn’t exempt from being a sonnet if it is missing or hiding a volta; to me it’s merely a different kind of sonnet.

Similarly any element of any verse form, new or old. I acknowledge the classical structure of limericks as identifying a person and place in the initial line, but I appreciate many a good limerick that does not do so. Don’t come preaching to me that English can’t call our short poems haiku because our syllables aren’t the same as the classical oriental form was based on. I know my college lit well enough to know all that, better than my college lit prof and his books ever taught. If I have to, I’ll call it haikù or haikû or hæïkoo or whatever, lay down the elements the way we do for what by and large all but the most snobbish know and love as English haiku, and move on with actually getting some poetry reading and writing done.

So, for me verse form classification is more a matter of general convenience for recognizing the particular structure and elements used in any given poem. Like, even any non-standard limerick I were to write is going to be a lot closer to the way a normal limerick would be expected to work than, say, even my most wildly straying mutation of a sestina… although it might be an interesting challenge to cross-pollinate those two different verse forms.

Verse Form Castes

Just my personal opinion, but I don’t consider any particular verse form to be superior or inferior to any other. For instance, I don’t think sonnets are better than any other verse form, nor do I dismiss couplets or limericks as any less worthy of my time to read or to write.

Similarly, I don’t regard a poet who has written any particular verse form as better or worse a poet as any other. A poet who writes only haiku can be as effective if not more so than a writer of a sestina. If anything, if I resorts to a lengthy form for what is best expressed as haiku, I do my words an injustice. A poet who uses a structured verse form is not any less truthful than one writing “free verse.” If anything, consciously avoiding classical elements like rhyme and meter and stanzaic structure in any of my poems would be against nature, since those elements only reflect nature itself.

So to me, there are no castes of verse form or of poets working with any particular verse form.


I take limericks seriously as a verse form and as poetry, of no less noble a literary social status than any other verse form or poetry.

I may never feel as comfortable writing limericks as does a friend of mine, who poetry is almost exclusively done in that form. But my own shortcomings will never make me turn down the opportunity to write a limerick.


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