SunWinks! Sunday Gather Writing Essential September 2, 2012: Tumbling Verse (SunWE)

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on September 1, 2012 0 Comments

My Dear Gather Cohorts:

The response to last week’s Caption Contest was fantastic!  Thank you, one and all!  The winners list is here.

It’s Poetry Week here at SunWinks! As I mentioned, I’ve got a couple more fun prompts designed to make you think a little bit about the sound of language. The first of those was neologisms (made-up words).

Today’s topic is Tumbling Verse a.k.a. Skeltonic Verse.

Named after John Skelton (1460-1529), the tutor of Prince Henry (later Henry VIII), Skeltonic verse is usually droll or satirical.  It consists of

  • An indeterminate number of lines
  • The lines are short, usually 3 to 6 words.
  • The lines rhyme, one with the next, an indeterminate number of times.  When you get tired of one rhyme, you switch to another and sustain that as many lines as you choose.
  • Each line may have a varying number of syllables.  The variation in the number of syllables from line to line is part of what gives Skeltonic verse its tumbling quality.  This is key.  The syllables per line isn’t just indeterminate.  Be conscious of varying the number of syllables from line to line so as to give the poem a feeling of momentum (test it by reading it aloud!)
  • That said, each line should have a regular pulse of two or three stressed syllables.

Here’s a famous example from the selfsame Mr. Skelton:

from  “Colin Clout”

And if ye stand in doubt

Who brought this rhyme about,

My name is Colin Clout.

I purpose to shake out

All my connying bag,

Like a clerkly hag;

For though my rhyme be ragged,

Tattered and jagged,

Rudely rain beaten,

Rusty and moth eaten,

If ye take well therewith,

It hath in it some pith.

And here is a sampling of Skelton’s verse.  It’s the article entitled “Homage To John Skelton,” and it runs from p.95 to 98.  Use the arrow key at the top right of the reader window to page through the article.

There’s a fine article on Skeltonic verse in Babette Deutsch’s book Poetry Handbook: A Dictionary of Terms which I highly recommend (its endorsers include W.H. Auden, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, and Richard Wilbur!).

I can’t find an article I like as much as Deutsch’s on the Web, but here are a few others:

  • “Skeltonic Verse / Tumbling Verse / Sprung Rhythm” from This is the best of the lot, but there’s a lot of arcane terminology.
  • Daniel Nester’s Teaching Blog: “Skeltonic Verse cites rap/hip-hop as a contemporary example of tumbling verse.  I don’t know if I’d want to go there, but there it is.
  • From, an approach to Skeltonic verse for young neophyte poets.

One last note: I see lots of poems on Gather that are much like Skeltonic verse.  The poems seem all about the rhymes, the lines are short, and the meter and number of syllables are haphazard.  For the purpose of this exercise (which is to grow as a poet), try to pay attention to the pulse of your writing.  Deliberately vary the number of syllables from line to line so the poem has the sense of tumbling along.  Test it by reading it out loud.  Add to the momentum by using alliteration and internal rhyme.  Repeat the current rhyme as long as it sings and amuses and makes the poem hurtle along, but switch to another rhyme when it starts to feel forced.

The Prompt:


Write a poem in Skeltonic (Tumbling) Verse.


See the August 19 edition of SunWinks!

Put SunWE in the title and tags.

  • Indicate in some way which devices or techniques I should be paying attention to.  (If responding to today’s prompt, put Tumbling Verse in the title field.)
  • This prompt does not turn into a pumpkin a week (or even two) from today.  If your piece isn’t done in the next week or two, get it in when you can.  This is supposed to be fun.
  • I will comment on every submission and include a link to it in the next column.
  • If you would like a little more academic critique–but still very friendly and positive–include the word “rigorous” in your post (e.g. “rigorous critique wanted”).

Responses to previous prompts are linked to below.  Please check out and comment on one or more.  Let me know if I missed yours.



Caption contest

Barbary Chaapel


You Can’t Take it with You….Whatever it Is… by Stacey Uffelman

Point of View

Blind Date by G.M. Jackson

The Patron Saint of Reckless Youth Nyles Wood


© 2012 Douglas J. Westberg. All Rights Reserved.  Please share this on, and elsewhere on the web by means of a link back to this page, but please do not copy.   Doug’s latest book is The Depressed Guy’s Book of Wisdom from Chipmunka Publishing.

Doug’s Gather Group is Depression and Creativity, devoted to creative writing about depression and related illnesses, and creative writing as therapy.  Please consider joining.  You can read more of Doug’s posts there, or here.


About the Author ()

57 year old musician, poet, father of 4 grown children, composer, recording artist, author, humorist, survivor. I'm thoughtful, introspective, introverted, open, scathingly honest about myself, creative, a Renaissance guy, willing to grow and change and

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