Don’t Trip on Your Metrical Feet! Wednesday

Today is day 18 of RhyPiBoMo!

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We are midway between learning how to apply poetic devices to our picture book writing and how to write a rhyming picture book. There is one more week of poetry info and then we delve into picture book writing the last week and a half.

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I thank you all for hanging in here with me! It has been quite a journey so far but hang on…there is plenty more to learn!

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Today’s guest blogger has quite a repertoire of distinguished credits to go with her name…not to mention the twelve books she has written! She was honored with the E.B. White Read Aloud Award for A VISITOR FOR BEAR. I think I would just die and go to picture book heaven if I won that award! I can’t think of a better honor to bestow a picture book author than to honor the lyrical, flowing language that makes that particular book a joy to read aloud…that my friends, is what we should all aspire to write! Needless to say, I am thrilled to have her here!

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So, without further ado, I’m honored to present today’s

Golden Quill Guest Blogger

Bonny Becker!

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      Rhypibomo Guest Blogger Badge     Bonny Becker 1

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Tell It Slant

“Tell all the Truth but tell it slant–
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

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As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind–”

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Emily Dickinson

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Our first experience with rhyme was probably with nursery rhymes—simple perfect word matches—cat and hat, hog and jog, Horner and corner. But you can work with rhyme in subtler ways. One of my favorite approaches is to “tell it slant,” as Emily Dickinson was so fond of doing.

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Slant rhymes, also called near rhymes are rhymes created using words with similar but not identical sounds. Words like ground/down, play/stayed and even more tenuous matches like Dickinson’s delight/surprise and eased/gradually. In some near rhymes the vowels are similar; in some the consonants match.

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Why do I like to tell it slant? I love it for its rhythmic surprises. It can help you break away from the singsong, drumbeat that’s easy to fall into with perfect rhyme. But best of all, from a writer’s standpoint, it makes this whole business of writing in rhyme easier.

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It’s hard to tell a nuanced story in perfect rhyme—with near rhyme your word choices open up dramatically. It makes it a bit easier to do as Dickinson advices—to tell the truth but tell it slant. It can “ease” the telling–and the receiving—both literally and figuratively.

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Like Dickinson, I like to mix both near and perfect rhyme. Here are the first few stanzas of my very first book, “The Quiet Way Home.”

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“Let’s go the quiet way home.
Not by the dog who growls at the gate
But the way where the kittens play

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Hush. Can you hear it.

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Skittle. Skattle. Bat and claw
Kitten paw.

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Let’s go the quiet way home
Not by the lawn and the roar as John mows
But the way where Mr. Kay’s garden grows

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Hush. Can you hear it?

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Chip, chop, dig-a-row.
Garden hoe.

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There are a couple bits of advice embedded in these lines. For one thing, if you’re going to use slant rhyme establish early that this is what you’re going to do. With my first stanza, I’ve signaled immediately that I’m not going with perfect rhyme (gate/play). But as you can see from my second verse, I am promising a similar rhythm and pattern to each stanza. And perfect rhyme at times (mows/grows).

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Notice also that I use internal rhyme—that is rhyme within the line itself not just at the end, such as “growls” and “gate,” “roar” and “mows,” “way” and “Kay.” Internal rhyme like that is often slant rhyme and poets use it all the time.
(By the way “hush” is a magic word. I’ve never had a class– from kindergarteners to 6th graders–not hush at that moment and listen. I suspect it’s half the magic of “Good Night Moon.”)

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Also, with the important moment—when I identify the object making the noise—I consistently use perfect rhyme (claw/paw, row/hoe). It creates a punchy contrast to the near rhyme. Just as Dickinson uses her one moment of perfect rhyme, kind/blind, to such powerful effect in her poem.

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One challenge of slant rhyme is it can get away from you. You don’t have the control of perfect rhythm and rhyme. In my book, “Just a Minute” I go so slant at times that I think I come perilously close to going completely off the track.
It’s a tall tale about a boy whose minute of waiting for his mother gradually seems to balloon into eternity.

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Here’s how it starts:

“Now, don’t you move,”
said Johnny MacGuffin’s mother.
“Stay right here while I shop.
Auntie Mabel will watch.
I’ll be just a minute.”

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And she sailed away,
Past the purses and plates,
Up the up escalator
In Bindle’s Department Store.
“But you’ll take forever!” Johnny cried.
“When you get back I’ll be fossilized!”
But it was too late.
He was stuck in the basement of Bindle’s again.

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While Johnny’s mom is away he imagines that Christmas comes and goes, a year passes, then more. He grows up and grows old and Bindle’s crumbles to dust. Finally:
The sun shifted its course
And the seas rose and fell
And rose again…

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…[then] the tides came in
and the sun burned to a cinder of vermilion…

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All this by the time his mother returns. But this rather careening path of rhythm and rhyme works for a tall tale of time spinning out of control.

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Slant rhyme isn’t “cheating” and it can be a powerful tool for you for telling stories in rhyme. But when to use it depends, as it always does, on what’s right for your story. Don’t use it just to be lazy.

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As in the Dickinson poem, with or without perfect rhyme, your goal as an author is to “tell all the truth.” To tell a story as honestly as you can. One that is honest about its message and honest about its techniques, and sometimes the perfect choice will be to “tell it slant.”

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Bio:
Bonny Becker is author of the best-selling Mouse and Bear books, including A Visitor for Bear, New York Times bestseller, winner of the E.B. White Read Aloud Award and Amazon’s Picture Book of the Year. Her latest in the series is A Library Book for Bear coming in September 2014. Her middle-grade novel, The Magical Ms. Plum won the 2010 Washington State Children’s Book Award. In all, she’s published 12 books for children. She is also an instructor for the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, an accredited program for a Masters of Fine Arts in Writing.

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bonnybecker.com

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bjb@site7000.com

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Bonny Becker 2

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Bonny Becker 3

Thank you Bonny Becker!

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RhyPiBoMo Daily Lesson: Wednesday, April 16th
By Angie Karcher © 2014
Lesson 18

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Metrical Feet…Don’t Trip!

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feet

Okay…so what the H-E Double Hockey Stick are we talking about all this meter, foot, feet nonsense for again anyway? Haven’t we talked about this already? Right?

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Fair questions!

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This is all review.

Now that more of this poetry stuff is making sense, I hope that you can take it a step at a time and grasp the understanding of it all. You should feel more confident with the language so the concepts should be easier to grasp.

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Here’s the deal…
We should have a basic understanding of this meter stuff but honestly, we don’t have to remember everything. You should know enough that you could carry on a conversation with someone who asks you, the writer, “So, what is meter anyway?”
Now that you have all these resources at your fingertips, you can refer back to anything that you are foggy about.

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What we are really studying is called Prosody!

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Prosody – is the study of meters and forms of versification. (write this down)
Prosody includes not only poetic meter but also the rhythmic aspects of prose.

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I don’t plan on ever walking around telling anyone what type of feet my picture book has and you shouldn’t either. I think that’s where we’ve gotten some flack from some who say that rhyming picture book writers aren’t poets and that we don’t need to know this stuff. I firmly disagree. We must understand enough about poetry to write it purposefully in our work. We must be able to edit and revise it when an editor says to “fix the meter in the third stanza.” I want to be able to have that conversation and be respected as a professional…and then actually know how to do it!

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That is why we are studying poetry.

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Meter – is what brings the poem to life and is the internal beat or rhythm with which it is read. Meter in poetry is a rhythm of accented and unaccented syllables arranged into feet. The meter of a verse can be described as a sequence of feet. (write this down)

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Should you know what a poetic foot is?

Yes.

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Feet – a specific sequence of syllable types – such as relatively unstressed/stressed or long/short sounds. (write this down)

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Poetry is meant to be recited! That’s why we talk so much about the rhythm of the poem because it should sound like music with words when being said out loud.

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The number of beats per line of spoken poetry determines the name of the rhythm.
Here is a little chart you can print and leave close to your desk for quick reference.

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Feet Chart

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These are the different types of feet:

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Foot Type                          Style Stress pattern                 Syllable Count

Iamb/Iambic                                             Unstressed + Stressed                                                         Two
Trochee/Trochaic                                   Stressed + Unstressed                                                         Two
Spondee/Spondaic                                  Stressed + Stressed                                                               Two
Anapest/Anapestic                                Unstressed + Unstressed + Stressed                            Three
Dactyl/Dactylic                                       Stressed + Unstressed + Unstressed                             Three
Amphibrach/Amphibrachic            Unstressed + Stressed + Unstressed                             Three
Pyrrhic/Pyrrhic                                      Unstressed + Unstressed                                                    Two

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For example:
Suppose a line contains ten syllables (set length) in which the first syllable is unstressed, the second is stressed, the third is unstressed, the fourth is stressed, and so on until the line reaches the tenth syllable. The line would look like the following one

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The opening line of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 contains a pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables.

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/Shall I /com PARE/ thee TO/ a SUM/mers DAY/
1                   2                      3               4              5                        = 5 feet

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Each pair of unstressed and stressed syllables makes up a unit called a foot. This line contains five feet in all.

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A foot containing an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (as above) is called an iamb. Because there are five feet in the line, all iambic, the meter of the line is iambic pentameter. The prefix pent in pentameter means five
Thus, poetry lines with five feet are in pentameter. Iambic Pentameter

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So, that’s it for today as we will break down the foot types even further tomorrow and Friday. Let this digest…read it over a few times, look at this example below that I found and then read this all again.

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Another Good Link:
This goes into much more detail than I have but it is explained very well.
http://www.winthrop.edu/uploadedFiles/cas/english/SnappyScansion.pdf

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A few good poetry resource books…

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The Ode less Traveled
http://www.amazon.com/The-Ode-Less-Travelled-Unlocking/dp/1592403115/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1397542977&sr=8-1&keywords=ode+less+traveled

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Rhyme’s Reason
http://www.amazon.com/Rhymes-Reason-Guide-English-Verse/dp/0300088329

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I don’t have these books but I keep seeing them recommended as poetry resources!

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Writing Prompt: Write a poem in Iambic Pentameter

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Okay, now do everything else on the pledge for today and don’t forget to comment on today’s blog post!

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75 thoughts on “Don’t Trip on Your Metrical Feet! Wednesday

  1. Thank you Bonny and of course Angie. I was like, haven’t we talked about all this before? *wink* REVIEW is cool. I’d lie to read those books. I wonder if my library has them. Off to work on homework.

  2. So much information, Angie. Seeing the seven types of feet listed with the foot type, style stress pattern and syllable count is excellent. Thank you Bonnie for explaining slant rhyming and how it it is full of rhythmic surprises.
    ~Suzy Leopold

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