Category Archives: double dactyl

Sorry for my absence!

It  has been a tumultuous few weeks. My editor abandoned me, which may be a good thing. The leader of my writers workshop, who’s virtues I have extolled frequently in this blog, has taken a job out of state and we have been transitioning leadership in the workshop. As if this were not enough, our landlord told us that our workshop did not fit his vision for his facility since we were not “fine” artists and not suitable tenants.

We had to find a new space, which was quite a search but ultimately partially successful. We have found a wonderful  classy place with one major drawback. And a few minor ones. The major drawback is that it is a third floor walk-up, and the two flights are each horrors in their own ways. As we are trying to obtain federal recognition as a non-profit (the state has already so recognized us), we must make reasonable accommodations for the disabled. we have two easy ways of accommodating individuals, since both the library and the UU Church will be willing to allow us use of rooms for workshops when disabled persons wish to attend. We only ask for  five days’ notice so we can make the arrangements.

The new place has a dishwasher, which was part of its attraction. Writers drink a lot of coffee. First load and we soaked the hall below us. Luckily we have a wonderful new landlord. The dishwasher may be replaced by a full sized refrigerator! I am intentionally eliding over the many trips up and down those stairs in the moving process.

Last Friday we launched the Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2015, and I was one of the writers who got to read. But my buddy Peter set me up. He had a box into which people could put potential topics for one of my double dactyls. After I read my poems, he pulled a suggestion from the box, and I was given one hour to compose a double dactyl on that subject. It was “Putin’s War,” about which I have written before. I produced an appropriate offering, and was inundated with requests to write on all of the subjects given me.

Scummily bummily
Putin is fighting a
War with Ukraine, you see,
Without remorse

Shirtless upon a horse
Like a big hit man; his
Morals are worse

was the one for that night, but I have already written the first seven of the new ones. I have about 25 more to go. And after the launch, I was challenged to write one on the subject of groceries at our local Hannaford, a local grocery chain.

Grocely procely
Burlington Hannaford
Cookies and sauerkraut
Are there for sale

Cat food and moist wipes have
Seafood and scallops but
They don’t have whale.

Sorry, it was silly but the best I could do on the spur of the moment.

And then to top off the insanity, I helped Peter pack up to move away on Saturday. And I’ve spent last night and tonight working the phones at the UU Church for our pledge drive. So now, I’m writing this, so you won’t think I’ve just been lolling around in the balmy weather we’ve been having. Why, we’ve even broken 40 degrees a few times!

A new gig

I have been informed that there will be a bucket for people to put ideas in at the launch party for the 2015 Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop. The plan is for me to read my double dactyls as the first entry in the readings. People will then watch as one of their ideas is pulled out of the bucket, and I will be given one hour to write a double dactyl on that subject. I have a feeling I’m going to regret this. On the other hand, when the poems get started they keep on coming, so I may produce more than one. Who knows?

For any of you in the Burlington, VT, area on Friday, April 3, come to ArtsRiot on Pine Street at 7 pm. We’ll have a blast.

And here, for your delectation, is my most recent attempt:

Cruz Announces

Presidy drezidy
Cruz has announced for the
Ticket republicans
Hope will win big

Green eggs and ham won’t be
Cruz filibuster zags
When he should zig

Let It Snow

This is just going to be babbling, so ignore it if you choose. The snow that came up the east coast on Wednesday into Thursday was joined by some unpredicted snow over Thursday night. That meant I had more snow than I had counted on to clean off my car this morning. And what this has all led me to is the conclusion that the primary reason for my isolation and being a hermit is not indeed because of my depression, but because of the damn weather. There is very little incentive to go out in frigid weather, freezing one’s fingers off trying to clear snow from a car, just to go run errands. With the miracle of the internet, one can easily stay home and have everything delivered.

Ahem, this is pure sophistry. I have workshops and physical therapy to attend to. I must go to the bank on occasion. And there is church, though it is not quite as attractive now that the labyrinth is under enough snow that its trail is harder to discern. The woe is caused by the misery of getting to all these places after the carefree summer. It’s like going to a very strict boarding school after a wild vacation. It’s like having to eat liver cooked to death with onions and mushrooms after having the world’s best hot fudge sundae over the world’s best cookies and cream ice cream. This simile thing is fun. I wonder how many others I can come up with. This is one of the amusing parts of staying at home. One can play with words and symbols and poetical forms with wild abandon. I should tell you that I managed to write a double dactyl that was not snarky or sarcastic but laudatory. Of course the subject was Gandhi, so it wasn’t that hard.


Wunditly, punditly
Gandhi, enlightened one,
Made salt at seaside and
People felt strife

Never religious dis-
Hunger strike sickened him
Gun took his life.

So some good can come from snow after all. Unless of course you all hate the poem.

Strange exercise in class

I’m sitting in my  creative writing class and we have just watched the episode from the Twilight Zone of An Occurrence at Owl Bridge, based on an Ambrose Bierce short story. Set, as many of Bierce’s are, in the civil war, it shows a hanging of a rebel by Union soldiers. If you haven’t read the story or seen the short film (maybe half an hour) I strongly commend it. The interesting thing is that we are using it as a prompt of sorts.

If you’ve been following my blog, you will not be surprised to learn that I have written a double dactyl in response. I am writing this as the professor is waiting for us to finish up, and I will tell you the poem and his reaction after they have happened.

Well, he wasn’t surprised I wrote a double dactyl and saved it until last to be read. Which I suppose is an honor, but who knows. Here it is:

Wisherly, fisherly
Payton was hanging there
Union men planned to kill
Rebel with cause

Rope was all broken up
Payton ran home again
Rope gives him pause

It will make sense if you look up either the story or the Twilight Zone episode. It won the Cannes Film Festival award for best short film in 1962.

My poetry

I have been writing poetry as a part of my creative writing course. It is quite a stretch. But I have found a way to be political and activist in certain poem types. There is a wonderful reasonably new form that is made for political satire and it is called the Double Dactyl. Think back to those days in high school when you learned that Shakespeare and Chaucer wrote in iambic pentameter and you knew what that meant. The iamb or the dactyl is a metric foot. The iamb can be represented as duh-DUH. The dactyl is DUH-duh-duh. So the iamb is a two beat foot and the dactyl and its reverse the anapest are three beat feet. The anapest is duh-duh-DUH.

I know this stuff seems boring, but if you want to understand poetry written before 1920 or thereabouts, meter is very important in poetry. Even today, reading some of the less exotic poets can be enhanced by seeking out and feeling the metrical impulses in the work. It informs the way the poem is to be read, although punctuation (or the lack thereof) is generally a bigger help (or hindrance).

The Double Dactyl was created by two or three modern poets in 1966, and who knows why they did so. The rules are arcane but easily absorbed after one or two attempts. The poem has two quatrains, each containing three double dactyl lines and each ending in a dactyl spondee pair. In all versions I have seen, the spondee pair is truncated to a single stressed syllable. The first line of the first quatrain must be nonsense, or gibberish. The second line of the first quatrain must contain a proper name or a place name. The second line of the second quatrain should include a word that is a double dactyl. Before you say that it is impossible, I offer you the following: bronchiopneumonia; cardiotherapy; hexasylabically. The list can go on for pages. The original creators of the form had one last constraint: that once a double dactyl word has been used in a double dactyl poem, it is off limits to any further such poem. That part seems crazy to me, because how could one know all the double dactyls scribbled late at night by sleep-deprived writers.

I cannot give you either of my best Double Dactyls since I have submitted them for publication to a print source that will not accept work previously  printed in a blog or social media. Sorry. I worked briefly on a new one today, and it is by no means polished. But I will give it to you with that proviso so that you can get a sense of the form. It is political, as many are, though it is a form also given to frivolity. At the rate I am going, I may be publishing a chapbook of Double Dactyls before my novel ever gets published!

Boehner and Cruz

Jonegin, gonegin
Boehner the Speaker or
hopes he is, first of year
Hating Ted Cruz

Texan disturbing the
donor class capit’lists
paying their dues