Now that everyone’s familiar with the couplet, let’s take February’s post to the next level. For this month’s poetry slam we’ll be taking everything we learned about writing in tight spaces and applying it to the four-line memoriam stanza.
Before I dive in, y’all, I’m going to warn you that this post is mostly links and that you’ll benefit from following all of them. Most poetry is built from a few basic blocks, and we’ve dealt with those pretty extensively before, so this post is going to assume you know them. Don’t worry: I’ll link to instructional posts you need to write your memoriam stanza.
Why is it called a memoriam stanza?
If you’ll recall, a stanza, or verse, is a building block of poetry too. The form we’ll be playing with this month is taken from Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam AHH. Take a minute and read through the poem, or at least part of it. See how each verse is almost a self-contained poetic unit? That’s our form.
What are the elements of this form?
I’ll give you some reminders in a second, but for those of you who remember how scansion and rhyme are described, a memoriam stanza is a four line poem in iambic tetrameter with the rhyme scheme ABBA.
Now that everyone’s singing Dancing Queen, let’s go back through what all that means.
Iambic tetrameter. Here’s a quick refresher on scansion for you. Which, hilariously, links to another refresher on scansion. Leave those tabs open in your browser, you’ll want them in a second for the rhyme scheme.
So iambs, as you now know, are two-beat pairs that match an unstressed and stressed syllable. Tetrameter, if you recall any of your Latin, starts with a root that means four. So each line has four iambs: u/ u/ u/ u/
Let’s grab a line from that rondeau, shall we?
In Flanders Field the poppies grow.
There’s a line in iambic tetrameter. See how easy it was? Three more of those and you’ve got yourself a stanza.
it can’t be that easy.
OK, I confess. There’s a rhyme scheme too. Still got your rondeau and sonnet tabs open? Then you know that rhyme schemes are annotated by assigning a letter to the terminal sound in each line. The first sound gets an A, as does any sound matching it. The next gets a B, as does any sound matching it, and so on.
Let’s grab a Tennyson stanza:
Let Love clasp Grief lest both be drown’d,
Let darkness keep her raven gloss:
Ah, sweeter to be drunk with loss,
To dance with death, to beat the ground,
So drown’d is our A sound. The next line ends in gloss so that’s our B. Loss is the same end sound as gloss, so it’s a B as well, and the last line, ground, sounds like drown’d, so it’s an A.
So the rhyme scheme for this stanza is ABBA.
Wait, that’s it?
Well, technically yes. That’s it. Four lines, iambic tetrameter, ABBA. But there’s so much more than that to writing a good memoriam stanza. Reread the Tennyson poem and note how there’s a lot of both natural and supernatural imagery. Emotion is at the forefront of this poem, which makes it a great fit for February (also I confess I really hate sonnets and I’ve done them two years in a row for Valentine’s Day and I just can’t anymore, forgive me).
Using the skills you developed working with the couplet, you should be able to pack a lot into these four lines, even though the strictures of length and rhyme will make you work for it. Let’s see what you come up with!
What about the other three weeks in February, though?
Personally I think there’s enough in the memoriam stanza to keep you working. Use the Prompt Up or the picture in the fiction|poetry opening post to give you a jumping-off point if you need a little inspiration. Or you can try one of these forms:
It’s Black History Month, so why not revisit the bop?
Or if you’re taking another dive into world history as you protest the bans on immigration, the asefru is a great place to start.
Whatever you do this month, good luck and happy writing!