Z is for Zeugma


No X or Y poetry terms, but there’s one that starts with Z?! I’m as shocked as you.


“A figure of speech in which one verb or preposition joins two objects within the same phrase, often with different meanings. For example, ‘I left my heart—and my suitcase—in San Francisco.’ ”

Source: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/glossary-terms

Zeugma is a Greek word meaning “bonding.” It’s said to be an interesting device that can cause confusion while adding flavor. Here are a few more examples:

“His boat and his dreams sank.”

“The addict kicked the habit and then the bucket.”

“Our teeth and ambitions are bared.” (Scar from Disney’s The Lion King)

Tread lightly into zeugma usage. You’ll want to have a good reason for using them, and to make them as clear as possible to avoid creating dangling modifiers (when it isn’t clear to which subject a modifier applies).

And with that, I bid 2016’s A to Z challenge a fond zàijiàn – Chinese for goodbye!

Y is for Yeats


Yup, no poetry terms starting with Y either. So let’s check out a taste from a famous Irish poet whose name starts with Y – William Butler Yeats.

The Balloon of the Mind

Hands, do what you're bid:
Bring the balloon of the mind
That bellies and drags in the wind
Into its narrow shed.


W is for When in Doubt


I may be limping to the finish line, but let’s get this A to Z challenge done!

W is for when in doubt, use a rhyming dictionary.

As I mentioned earlier, the end of the alphabet means we have to get exotic and/or creative.

If the poetry you’re writing has a rhyme scheme, and you’re either a. uncertain if your word pair actually rhymes, or b. recognize that the word pair you’ve selected makes for some awkward sentences so it’s time to rewrite, be sure to have a good rhyming dictionary on hand to help.

A good web resource is Rhymer, which lets you search by end rhymes, last syllable, double, or triple rhymes, beginning rhymes, and first syllable rhymes!

Another good one is Rhymezone, which has additional fun search options (like “search in Shakespeare”), and includes thesaurus functions (find antonyms, synonyms, etc).

Happy writing!

V is for Volta


I still remember this one from my Shakespeare classes in college. Huzzah! I haven’t forgotten everything!


“Italian word for ‘turn.’ In a sonnet, the volta is the turn of thought or argument: in Petrarchan or Italian sonnets it occurs between the octave and the sestet, and in Shakespearean or English before the final couplet.”

Source: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/glossary-terms

Can you find the volta in Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet?

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st;
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

In other words, it’s sad that you’ll grow old and die, but (volta!) through my words you get to be immortal.

This is an oft quoted sonnet by folks trying to get fancy with their wooing. Though, personally, I don’t find being told I have an expiration date terribly romantic.

I also know that the theme of the sonnets that precede number 18 is similar, but in those, the narrator encourages the pretty young subject hurry up and have children. So they can go on being pretty for her when she started to wither.

What are ya gonna do? Political correctness didn’t exist in the 16th century. Sweet talk had (and in some contemporary cases, still has) some evolving to do.

U is for Ubi sunt (whaaa?)


You know you’ve got to get exotic when you reach the end of the alphabet.

Ubi sunt

“A number of medieval European poems begin with this Latin phrase meaning ‘Where are they?’ By posing a series of questions about the fate of the strong, beautiful, or virtuous, these poems meditate on the transitory nature of life and the inevitability of death. The phrase can now refer to any poetry that treats these themes.”

Source: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/glossary-terms

A contemporary example given is Mark Strand’s “Where are the Waters of Childhood?”

“See where the windows are boarded up,
where the gray siding shines in the sun and salt air
and the asphalt shingles on the roof have peeled or fallen off,
where tiers of oxeye daisies float on a sea of grass?
That’s the place to begin.”

And I suggest checking out the rest. Certainly not the stuff of kid lit, but an arresting meditation on what has happened to the childhood of an adult.

T is for Trochee


I’m going to need to make up for lost time with a few A to Z quick posts. So here goes! Today’s term is Iamb’s evil twin (AKA, it’s exact opposite).


“A metrical foot consisting of an accented syllable followed by an unaccented syllable. Examples of trochaic words include “garden” and “highway.” William Blake opens ‘The Tyger’ with a predominantly trochaic line.”

Source: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/glossary-terms

Another example said to be mostly trochaic is a personal favorite – “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe.

“Once upon a midnight dreary,

While I pondered, weak and weary”

With all the catching up I need to do, I feel ya, Ed.

S is for Scansion


Today’s word is something that is easy to explain but difficult in practice – at least for me!


“The analysis of the metrical patterns of a poem by organizing its lines into feet of stressed and unstressed syllables and showing the major pauses, if any. Scansion also involves the classification of a poem’s stanza, structure, and rhyme scheme.”

Source: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/glossary-terms

What does it look like when we scan a line of verse? Check out this sample form Shakespeare’s Hamlet:


Here, the syllables have been marked as either stressed (/) or unstressed (u). The initial pattern of unstressed/stressed syllables tells us that we have a series of iambic feet. Most of the play is written in iambic pentameter (groups of five iambic feet), but here we see a break in that pattern. Following the semicolon, the iambs are interrupted by a dactyl (stressed, unstressed, unstressed) and a trochee (stressed, unstressed). This interruption to the normal meter must underscore the fact that Hamlet is about to chew on some serious stuff.

While I have no trouble counting beats, pauses, and identifying rhyme scheme (when it exists), where I’ve always struggled in scansion is knowing when a syllable should be stressed or unstressed. Sometimes, it’s obvious. But sometimes it depends on context.

For those who practice scansion, how have you sharpened your skills?

R is for Rhyme


Did you know that there are nine different kinds of rhyme? Today, we’re going to cover all of them. But first, let’s define rhyme (with a slant rhyme, but more on that later).

“The repetition of syllables, typically at the end of a verse line. Rhymed words conventionally share all sounds following the word’s last stressed syllable…A rhyme scheme is usually the pattern of end rhymes in a stanza, with each rhyme encoded by a letter of the alphabet, from a onward (ABBA BCCB, for example). Rhymes are classified by the degree of similarity between sounds within words, and by their placement within the lines or stanzas.”

Source: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/glossary-terms

So what are the different kinds of rhyme?

1. End rhyme – which you’ll see most often, categorizes rhyming syllables at the end of a line. In an ABCB rhyme scheme, that might look like…

“Hey, I just met you

And this is crazy

But here’s my number

So call me maybe” 

Where the “ee” sounds in “crazy” and “maybe” rhyme.

2. Eye rhyme – consists of words that look like they might rhyme when spelled, but will not rhyme if actually pronounced (think rough and through).

If anyone knows a published example of eye rhyme, I’d love to see it (pun intended).

3. Feminine rhyme – when one or more of the rhyming syllables are unstressed. (apple and grapple, for example).

4. Half rhyme – where the ending consonants (but not the whole ending syllable) of words rhyme. Ex: In “tall” and “tell”, the ending “l” sound is the same, but the “all” sound differs form “ell.” Half rhyme is also known as off-rhyme and slant-rhyme.

5. Identical rhyme – use of the same word, identical in sound and meaning, to rhyme with itself in two different lines.

6. Internal rhyme – when a word in the middle of a line is used to rhyme with the word at the end of the same line. For example, “the man bought a Snapple with his apple.”

7. Masculine rhyme – the opposite of feminine rhyme, this describes the rhyming of ending syllables that are stressed. This is also the most common type of English rhyme.

8. Monorhyme – refers to the use of only one rhyme in a stanza (how lonely!).

9. Pararhyme – also double consonance, this describes end words that have identical consonant pairs but different vowels. Example: expend and expand.

Numbers 2, 4, and 9 aren’t rhymes in the strictest sense, but they’re good to know. You’ll find that examples of half or slant rhymes abound in American songs. But in writing, especially picture book writing, they’re not typically tolerated.

Phew, that’s a lot to remember. Good luck!

Q is for Quantitative Meter


Sure, I could have gone with something easier like the quatrain (a four line rhyming stanza a la ABAC or ABCB), but I selected something more challenging.

Quantitative Meter

“The dominant metrical system in Classical Greek and Italian poetry, in which the rhythm depends not on the number of stresses, but on the length of time it takes to utter a line. That duration depends on whether a syllable is long or short—a distinction that is harder to hear in English pronunciation.”

Source – http://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/glossary-terms

There aren’t many English equivalents of this form to share, but I have to wonder, wouldn’t the length of time it takes to read a line vary from reader to reader?

If quantitative meter ever became a competitive sport, I think this guy would have an awfully unfair advantage.

My 80’s childhood.