From time to time I write poetry, though I wouldn’t want to encourage you to think I’m any sort of reliable guide. This blog post is about writing a type of verse called a wreath. Take from it what you can and disregard the rest.
How many senses?
A couple of weeks ago, my friend Kimberly Hirsch at Pens Around the World, shared a writing prompt about the five senses. I looked at it and thought, with hubris, I can write a poem about that. Except, being a bit of a contrarian, I decided I had to know exactly how many senses medical science currently believes we have.
There isn’t a definitive answer, but the consensus of all the webpages I looked at seems to be eight. Beyond the basic five, there is also our sense of balance (vestibular sense), the sense we have of our body in space (proprioception), and our sense of what is going on inside ourselves physically and mentally (interoception).
Okay, eight senses. So the next question was, could I make a poem out of that? Eight senses suggests an octave (an eight line verse). That could be a free-standing eight-line poem, or I could combine the octave with a sextet (six line verse) and write a sonnet. But I didn’t feel like writing a sonnet.
Since I was clearly on Formal Verse Structure Road (as opposed to Free Verse Lane), the next question was, how many beats to the line? Sticking with the number eight, an iambic tetrameter (an eight syllable line, four stressed) felt like something I should aim for.
Then came the question, should it be rhymed or not? And if rhymed, rhymed how? That was when another Internet search turned up the wreath.
An octave wreath poem has a basic rhyme scheme of abab cdcd. (Or variants of.) But with the added flourish of an internal rhyme inserted in the first part of each line subsequent to the first. Something like this, (where ‘–‘ is an unstressed syllable and ‘/‘ a stressed syllable and I’ve replaced ‘/‘ as appropriate with the rhyming pattern).
- / - / - / - a - a - / - / - b - / - b - / - a - / - a - / - b - b - / - / - c - c - / - / - d - d - / - / - c - / - c - / - d
Maybe it’ll make more sense if I share the acknowledged first wreath poem of English. This is “A Wreath” by George Herbert (1593-1633). Bear in mind this is in iambic pentameter (ten syllables, five stressed) and a twelve line poem, but read it aloud and you can clearly hear the woven rhyme.
A wreathèd garland of deservèd praise, Of praise deservèd, unto Thee I give, I give to Thee, who knowest all my ways, My crooked winding ways, wherein I live,— Wherein I die, not live ; for life is straight, Straight as a line, and ever tends to Thee, To Thee, who art more far above deceit, Than deceit seems above simplicity. Give me simplicity, that I may live, So live and like, that I may know Thy ways, Know them and practise them: then shall I give For this poor wreath, give Thee a crown of praise.
So, that was the rhyme scheme I was going to attempt.
Wreath on a trip
Back to the prompt. Kimberly presented the five common senses in the order: hearing, taste, smell, touch, sight. I tried working with that sequence, but getting the rhymes and rhythms to work in that order was beyond me. So I swapped them around till I found something that functioned and then started looking for the rhymes. Rather than simply repeat whole words (as Herbert does) I opted to go for rhyming stressed vowel sounds (and accepting some near rhymes).
Rhyming wasn’t easy. In fact, the more I struggled the more desperate I felt they were becoming. Fortunately help came in the form of the pictures Kimberly had shared in her prompts. A man bites into a lemon. Flat fish swim in a touching tank at an aquarium.
One of the image cues in particular took my fancy. It was the one included to represent sight, and it was surreal and weird and called Trippy. So I decided to put that at the centre of the poem and hope the generous reader would understand the desperate rhymes and sense of the latter lines were all down to magic mushrooms.
I count my senses, make them eight, My taste, my hearing, touch, smell, sight. I bite the lemon, stroke the skate, and celebrate this spaced-out light. My nose ignites, my ear’s acute, the fruit of space – oh whither? Whence? My sense of balance in dispute, my self reboots, I’m all pretence.
Have you ever tried to write a wreath? Leave me a link in the comments and I’ll take a look!
If the above seems too flippant as an explanation of the wreath octet, have a look instead at this page on the website of the Poets Collective: https://poetscollective.org/poetryforms/tag/8-lines/