Thursday, August 8, 2013

Stephen Fry's "The Ode Less Travelled"

I was perusing the library the other day when I came across this gem, "The Ode Less Travelled" by Stephen Fry. Fry is a wit, brilliant, knowledgable and easy to read. This is a superb introduction to poetic form.

Interestingly, I know lots of poets, slam poets and page poets and poets who don't share their material, to poets who share almost everything they write. I have not really, to my knowledge, discussed poetic form beyond haiku and limerick forms. Of course, I've heard of sonnets and even had a go at writing one, but they just seem like an archaic, dusty old form that most people don't bother learning about.

Fry, on the other hand, digs in right away, into different types of meter. The iamb and trochee, spondee and phyric meters, as well as the longer, like anapaest, dactyl etc...

While these aren't really commonly used with purpose, even for most poets I know, Fry makes them accessible and interesting and fun and he is so very excited about all of it that it's infectious. I can't help but be interested in his many examples of pure form and the small variations employed by the masters.

If you want to be a better poet, then knowing these things and how to use them can only help.

I'm about half way through and am loving this book. I will certainly buy a copy in the near future, since I only have the library's copy.

I am sure there are friends of mine who are reading this who say, "Awww... that's adorable, Travis doesn't know about meter.", but as I said, I've not really discussed these things before.

The joy of understanding iambic pentameter to the point where I can actually compose it (badly, I must say) cannot be overstated. I feel like I've learned quite a lot in the last week or so. 2013 is my year of learning poetry.

Some examples of my iambic pentameter:

if we were likely to affect our lives
in such a simple way, then never can
it be again except perhaps today
and strictly speaking can't be worth a lot

some homemade seafood chowder hits the spot
a piece of pumpkin pie for dessert please

Miramar peninsula sitting there,
a house or three under our window too.

with only breath I fill my life with song
so less a self and more a beat, we shout
a tune to fill the air with sounds so loud
the air will shake and move and litter notes.

Haha... those are so awful, but fun to write. As Fry states, they are more like doing scales on the piano. It's not real poetry, but gives the feeling of what it must be like. It is fun and finishing a line or couplet in iambic pentameter is satisfying.


  1. Finished this and love it! Brilliant book and I've bought a copy.

    My favourite poetry form is now the villanelle. I don't know why, but it really stuck with me. Probably because of Dylan Thomas's brilliant villanelle, "Do not go gentle into that good night".

    Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
    Because their words had forked no lightning they
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
    Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
    And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
    Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    And you, my father, there on the sad height,
    Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
    Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.