Seeking distraction from a cold I delve into how to write a poem in one minute!
The Minute Poem
I have a stinker of a cold. I need something to distract me from my rasping cough, the sneezing, spluttering with streaming eyes, runny nose and throbbing headache! I have heard about the minute poem. Can I write it in a minute? I quite fancy writing a nice short poem that lasts only a minute. An activity that won’t involve too much effort for a person suffering from a cold such as I. It occurs to me that writing a short poem might help. You think?
It seems there is more to it. A minute poem is a rhyming verse comprising strict parameters of 12 lines in a format of 3 stanzas in quatrains of 8, 4, 4, 4, with a rhyme scheme aabb ccdd eeff with 60 syllables written in iambic metre. Iambic metre? I haven’t heard of that before.
What is it?
My red-rimmed eyes take on a glazed, puzzled expression. “What is the iambic metre?” I sneeze. I look it up in the dictionary. The definition reads: of or using iambuses iambic pentameters. Does that help me? Nope. What’s iambic? Now I’m feeling stupid.
Its all Greek to me!
I look up the Greek word iambus.
The dictionary reads: Late 16th century: Latin , from Greek iambos, iambus, lampoon, — ‘verbal attack’ (because the iambic trimeter was first used by Greek satirists).
I look up another reference dictionary which states that iambic is a genre of iambic verse. You don’t say! It states: Origin mid-16th century: from French iambique, via late Latin from Greek iambikos, from iambos (see iambus). I now feel the need to translate the French word iambique if I am to understand what the Minute Poem is all about! Wait a minute while I Google Translate.
Oh, guess what? The French word iambique means iambic! How about that? But what does it mean? It means iambic prosody of course. We all know that.
I refer once more to the dictionary: Iambic means iambic pentameters. Pentameters is something about the number five, isn’t it? My dictionary continues to explain: A line of verse comprising five metrical feet (does that seem long to you?).
A metre is longer than a yard… hmm. I ponder upon how long five metrical feet might be. My cold addled brain struggles to comprehend. I can’t cope with maths at the best of times (let alone when I’ve got an infection!). No matter, I will solve this. I am determined to write a short poem for one minute, even if it extends to five metrical lengths!
What is a metrical foot, anyway? I know an imperial foot is twelve inches, so how long is a metrical foot?
Okay. I don’t know.
However, I can understand the next point of information I gleaned from Googling. The Minute Poem is a rhyming verse form of 12 lines of 60 syllables (a syllable a second?) written in strict iambic (there’s that word again) metre. A Minute poem has just 60 iambic meter units in it—is this why it is named the Minute Poem? A syllable a second perhaps?
I’ve got a cold
It doesn’t help that I am suffering from a horrid cold and thought to distract myself from an aching head, runny nose, sore eyes, etc. by writing a short poem while I hug my hot water bottle.
Instead, I am embroiled in trying to work out how a minute poem can, in fact, be a poem that is two metres and a foot long! For my sanity and the need to nurse my cold, I shall forget about prosody and its patterns of rhythm and sound (btw did you know that the word rhythm is the only word in the English language that doesn’t have a vowel?).
I shall not dwell on the complexity of metric feet a minute longer! I have always been hopeless at maths and my brain is complaining and urging me to stop!
I give up. I have learnt that iambic means iambic. So there we are. Sorted.
But what about the metrical foot?
In a line of poetry the stressed and unstressed syllable are units and these units are, in poetry, referred to as the metrical foot. A metrical foot is a unit (shall we call it a word?) that contains two or three syllables. In musical terms I suppose they might be termed as crotchets or quavers?
- A metrical foot consisting of one short (or unstressed) syllable followed by one long (or stressed) syllable.
- Metre = measurement
- Iambic= two syllables, one weak and one strong. Such as in the word (or should I say foot?) ‘interred’ or ‘reprieved’ for example. Shakespeare, used this form in his plays. He used the iambic meter unit quite a lot. Well, if it’s good enough for Shakespeare it’s good enough for me.
- A good example of Shakespeare’s use of iambic pentameter is the famous line spoken by Romeo as Juliet appears on the balcony in Romeo and Juliet. The line “ But soft! what light through yonder window breaks?” consists of five metrical foots.
Here I have split the line up into the five foots of iambs to show where the soft and strong syllables are placed. ”But SOFT! | what LIGHT | through YON | der WIN | dow BREAKS?”
Now I get it! Metre in poetry means the measurement of syllables stressed and unstressed (the only thing stressed around here is me!—does that mean I am iambic?).
I’m going to stop analysing and trying to understand now, and get on with the fun of trying to write a Minute Poem. The whole thing might be too difficult for me as it involves rules! Nevertheless, my hero wordsmith Shakespeare did it—so I have to try!
I shall put one metrical foot in front of the other.
It will only take a minute.
I have a fever in my head And fear with dread My nose won’t stop Drip dripping drop The aches and pains and rasping cough Are quite enough To make me groan Sniff, sneeze and moan From a box I pull out tissues to wipe issues (if truth be told) of snot from cold. Lesley Scoble March 2022
My humble apologies to the Bard. Sniff.
A Little Bit of History
William Shakespeare (April 23 1564 – April 23 1616 (died on his birthday!)
Shakespeare used the iambic unit to supreme effect back in the day. However, it is the poetry pattern of Verna Lee Hinegardner 1919-2012 originator of The MINUTE Poem I have tried to follow here in my first attempt at writing my poem of one minute duration, THE COLD.
Somewhat tricky getting the iambs right! Never mind, I can’t be perfect when I’ve got a cold!
Verna Lee Hinegardner (1919-2012)
American poet Verna Lee Hinegardner was appointed Arkansas Poet Laureate by Governor Bill Clinton in 1991 and held the post until 2003.
During the 1960s, Hinegardner developed a new structure of a poem called the minute poem. A poetical form in which she composed 60 syllables in 12 lines of poetry in strict iambic meter.
Verna Lee Hinegardner’s recipe (or poetry pattern) for the MINUTE Poem
- Narrative poetry
- A 12 line poem comprising 3 quatrains (3 stanzas of 4 lines)
- The first line of each stanza has 8 syllables. The following 3 lines in each stanza have 4 syllables.
- Rhyme scheme aabb ccdd eeff
- Poem illustrates an event in real time of 60 seconds
(btw Did you know that in the UTC time standard on rare occasions the minute has 61 seconds? Does that mean on rare occasions the Minute Poem can relax its strictures and add an extra syllable?)
- Suited to light hearted humorous verse
“I have a fever in my head
And fear with dread
My nose won’t stop
Drip dripping drop”
I’m off now to get myself a hot toddy to soothe this beastly cold!
I wish you farewell with a wave of a good iambic foot,