Friday, September 21, 2007


From the Archives

(March 2005) Listening to Marilyn Hacker, a dyke master of formal verse and sonnet sequences, describe her writing process made me hyperaware of meter (even though I only occasionally write formalist poetry).

So here’s a brief poetry lesson to introduce a couple of excellent dactyls by Olga Broumas:

To write metrically is to measure and you can measure 4 different kinds of meter: accentual, syllabic, accentual-syllabic, and quantitative.

Dactyls fall into the accentual-syllabic category, the most common type of meter in English.

Poets measure the number of accents and the number of syllables using the basic unit of a foot, or, a rhythmical pattern that generally contains one accented syllable and one or more unaccented syllables.

A dactyl is one of 4 feet mostly widely used in accentual-syllabic meter—iamb, trochee, anapest, and dactyl.

Poets also use substitute feet—spondee or pyrrhic—to vary rhythm.

Note the following diacritical marks: ‘ , or the acute accent, represents an accented syllable, and X represents an unaccented syllable.

A dactyl is ‘XX, as in “faithfully.”

That’s all very technical and distancing, but let’s go for the stomach now and read two of Olga Broumas from Beginning with O.


Up the long hill, the earth rut steamed in the strange sun.
We, walking between its labia, loverlike, palm to palm.


The branch splits in two: I will eat both the male
and the female fruit. Gnaw back the fork to its simple crotch.

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