Poetry Patterns

Poetry has acted as a window into deeper understanding of language for me. I have dyslexia, which radically changes the way I interpret information, specifically lingual information (written and spoken). But from a young age, poetry and the workings of poetics was a way I could read easily. The patterned setup of Iambic Pentameter, end rhymes, and metaphor somehow fit into my neuro-atypical psyche with greater ease than prose or spoken conversation ever did. Most of my personal journal entries are written in poetic stylings. Even many of my prose in novels and articles frequently employ poetic design elements. Poetry allows for greater passage of information in a contained piece of writing. And by employing these design elements not only in poems, but in all forms of storytelling, I believe a writer can transmit even greater impact to their readers.

I recently participated in a writing prompt based on the Missoula Monster Project, where artists take a monster created by a school age child and reinterpret it into another medium. As I explored the myriad monsters, I came across Monster #35 by Henrik. It was a ragged snake, dripping, with jagged stakes across the tail where a rattle might have been if it were a rattlesnake. I read the description given by young Henrik.

“My monster likes to eat sharks, fish, and chickens,” He wrote. “My monster used to be a rattlesnake. My monster gets slimey in the ocean.”

Figure 1. “Monster #35.” Missoula Monster Project, https://givergy.us/missoulamonsterproject/?controller=lots&action=showLot&id=69

The fact that the monster had once been normal creature like a rattlesnake captivated me. There was a transformation that occurred. Something happened that changed the rattlesnake to a monster. And that got me thinking, why would it stop there? If the creature had changed once before, was it not possible for it to change into something else, something greater? Like the fish nestled just behind the monster’s teeth in the drawing, I was hooked by the grimace of the beast. I had to know more. I had to create more. In my first few attempts at writing a poem about Monster #35, I had trouble deciding on a style. I didn’t want to do it in freeform. I wanted to fit it into a pattern that would reflect what I saw in the picture. It is a serpent. It changed form into something more than it was. That reminded me of something mythological: the Ouroboros.

The Ouroboros derives from Egyptian mythology. It is a snake that eats its own tail, and is generally seen as a symbol for eternity. Sometimes people will associate it with Jormungandr the World Eater, a creature from Norse mythology which was believed to be a harbinger of the end times. In both instances, the depictions of the serpent are of it eating its own tail, either in a circle or an infinity symbol.

Figure 2. “Ouroboros, The Infinity Symbol.” Mythologian.net. https://mythologian.net/ouroboros-symbol-of-infinity/

Infinity. The figure eight. That was it. I found my poetry pattern; I would write a sonnet in Iambic Tetrameter, a poetry form which employs fourteen stanzas, eight syllables per line within each stanza. I pulled together the imagery I found in Henrik’s monster, and created a first draft. It was okay. I titled it Changeling, since the monster had altered forms throughout the piece, and saved the document. But as I looked it over, I saw another place I could pull in a poetry pattern: whitespace. By pushing the lines apart intentionally in places, I could restructure the poem to resemble a figure eight, like so:

My crooked teeth and verdent scale
Revealed me time                    and time again.
A child’s toy                                               upon my tail
Gave warning of                                                           my mortal sin.
Through the reeds                                                           like emerald sheets
I ate, as was                                                                 my right, lost chicks.
But men within                                                       their strong retreats
Abhorred my great,                                              long rattling clicks.
So to the                                     viridescent sea
I roved. And let                             loose my sufferings.
The serpent                             of humanity
Went to greater          monstrous stings.
Upon the waves I grew so pale
And shed my skin forevermore.
And fed instead on shark and whale
And forsook                             the forgotten shore.
All that I was                                            before is gone,
I am all sleek,                                                as a snails gleam.
And eat, and eat,                                                     all that is wrong
Along this                                                          world’s oiled seam.
My size now dwarfs                                    all men’s fair ships
That sail upon my sea.                                  Poor souls.
I shall now stretch                     til the earth rips,
And become the Ouroboros.

Eight syllables per line, all organized into a figure eight. It looked nice, but it was only a first draft. I shared it with my peers, looking for ways to improve on the patterns in the poetry. As it was, there were places where the lines didn’t break evenly along the whitespace. With a little reworking, I could balance the word placement and improve the form. The title was also a sticking point. A changeling is a mythological creature, a fairy that replaces human children to torment their parents. Since the piece already dealt in myths, mixing in language referencing other myths seemed to undermine what I was going for. And the poem as it stood did not cover the concepts of eating, growing, or eternity in the ways an Ouroboros should. I took these pointers to heart and approached the poem once more.

As I considered the symbolism going into a piece like this, I thought more about the serpent. In biblical references, the serpent is synonymous with Satan, also known as the Beast. And the symbol of the Beast is a series of three sixes. That was when I noticed how a number of lines in the poem already had six words in them. It was at that moment that I decided to take on another challenge: to make every line of the poem have six words as well as eight syllables. I worked and reworked the language of the piece, including new references to color, hunger, and immortality. After a grueling twenty hours spent on the poem, I reviewed my work. The title of Changeling no longer fit. So I titled it instead, Serpent.

My crooked teeth and verdant scale
Revealed me time       and time again.
The clatter of                           my famished tail
Gave sign of                                        my gluttonous sin.
Through the reeds                                           like emerald sheets
I ate chickens                                                  and many things.
But men within                                   their strong retreats
Sought to end                                     my great rattling’s.
Escaped I to                            the azure sea
And gave in                            to my anguishes.
The sight eternal          I could see
A future out ‘mongst the fishes.
Upon the waves I became pale
My hunger grew          six times before.
Feeding anew on                     shark and whale
And remember not                              that far shore.
I am eternal                                                     on this dawn
And shimmer like                                a moray’s gleam.
I shall consume                       each mortal wrong
Along this world’s oil soaked seam.
Tail meets esophagus.
I am Ouroboros.

As I closed out the poem with a couplet, I made a decision to alter the number of words from six to three, and the number of syllables to six. To me, it felt like a natural continuation of the mathematical pattern I had employed, with a symbolic “coming to a head,” much like the tail and mouth of the Ouroboros itself. The poem is not only about the serpent. It is the serpent.

Poetry is all about patterns. Knowing which ones to use, and when, allow the poet to craft their work around particular symbols and feelings. To me, the Ouroboros is both the symbol of eternity and consumption. The simple painting of Henrik is in many ways an Ouroboros for me; it gave me a hunger to create, and fostered in my mind the sense that progression from one state to another is an eternal quest. One that Monster #35 was on.

One that I am on.


Published by AC Moore

My goal is to one day change the world in the same way Shakespeare did: by infusing the thoughts of the human race with such language and turn-of-phrase that they say them daily, and never even know it was I who wrote it.

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