Double-Dactyl : Mindful Poetry’s Form-of-the-Month May, 2012


Ah, the double-dactyl. I didn’t know about this form last week. Veronica Hosking used it and submitted the poem to Mindful Poetry. Its main feature is my poetic nemesis.

Several of you have a strong grasp on meter and rhythm in poetry. I don’t. I have been able to write complicated meter only by singing the poem as I write it. A rubaiyat would be a good example of a heavily metered form. The song I sang when I wrote my long one is Hernando’s Hideaway, Ole! 


From The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux:  Every poem has rhythm, but when the rhythm is highly organized into a pattern where the number of syllables is important, as well as whether those syllables are stressed or not then we have meter. (p. 141)

This month we will look closely at meter in poetry. Our Form-of-the-Month requires  two stanzas of four lines each, that is, two quatrains. The first three lines are double-dactyls. The fourth line of the stanza is a dactyl-spondee. The spondee in each quatrain rhyme.

I’m betting I’ve used words many of you find shocking. Well, if not that then unfamiliar. Don’t let the terminology put you off. Be brave! You can learn this along with me. I’ve heard of these various descriptive words for years and have been intimidated. But over time, I’ve manned up and am now tackling the subject.

I have known that an iamb is a specific unit of measure used to describe a foot. A foot is how we measure a line of poetry.

Let’s take an easy one: One foot, two foot, red foot, blue foot. This line of poetry measures four feet. Each foot is a trochee. That is, it has a stressed and then unstressed syllable.

Imagine clapping your hands to it. You’d clap on the “one” and the “two” and on each of the colors. When you clap, that is the stressed syllable. When your hands rest, but you feel the move to the next stressed syllable, that is the unstressed syllable. In this specific case, it is the word “foot.”

Now you know that a trochee is a foot with a stressed and then an unstressed syllable like elbow, hold ‘em, Susan.

An iamb is a foot with an unstressed and a stressed syllable like create, jump up, tonight.

And a dactyl is a foot with a stressed, unstressed, unstressed syllable like miracle, honesty, popcorn dish.

And a spondee is a foot with two stressed syllables such as hot pot, cuckcoo, door post.

The last basic rhythm pattern is the anapest with unstressed, unstressed, stressed syllables like intertwine, Galilee, on the sea.

Returning to our Form-of-the-Month, double-dactyl.

The form is whimsical along the lines of a limerick or even Little Willie. To accomplish this light-heartedness, each poem begins with a nonsensical pair of words such as Grumpity Bumpity or Crustable Crestible. The second line is a proper or place name such as Tupelo or Albert Lea. And one more line in this form is a one-word double-dactyl that has never been used in a Double-Dactyl before. (Although how this will be determined, I have not figured out, but it’s in the Official Rules.)

Here is my example of double-dactyl:

Hocus-me, Pocus-me
Library Boulevard
This is where I’m at home
No one can stop me!

When you write forms for me
Let the words flow from you
Messages to see!


It’ll be your challenge this month to write a Double-Dactyl and post it to Mindful Poetry. It’s my challenge this month to write a teaching double-dactyl. I’ve found someone has already written one and it’s quite wonderful. I’m aiming to write something like this.

A recap of April’s contest will appear soon!

Susan Budig




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"Always try to add a little fizz and ginger to everything you write." --Matthew Stibbe

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