A Question For Stephen Fry

Like pretty much all of us, I just love Stephen Fry. And no, I am not going to attempt to laud him in verse or song—that’s been done, and wonderfully, and in person—but rather, am hoping to use his expertise. You see, he wrote the book. And some day soon, I am going to have a long post (or series) here singing its praises.

I heard Susan Blackmore, at some conference, say something to the effect of “if you want to learn all about something, write a book on it.” She was speaking of consciousness, and her journey led her to write, now, several books on it. But that’s not what I need help with. I need to know if I have, as I suspect, come up with a brand-new verse form worthy of its own name and everything. It has structure. It has rules. It has examples. What I don’t know is, has it already been done? And who better to ask than Stephen Fry, the man who wrote the book?

Dear sir: I am not a real poet, and know it,
I read lots of stuff, and I comment in verse;
It’s not that my words are much sweeter in meter
And rhyme, but the truth is they can’t be much worse.
Because my obsession’s impassioned, I’ve fashioned
A form that, as far as I know, is unique;
I missed, though, some critical knowledge from college,
So yours is the expert opinion I seek.

I hope that a simple example is ample
To show you the structure, to help you decide;
I’ve other ones, too, that I’m thinking of linking
In lieu of some sort of a technical guide
The scansion is simple, both rhyming and timing
With eight lines per stanza, two stanzas in all;
But that’s all I’ve got; it’s still nameless—but, shameless,
I’m hoping you’ll help me, and answer my call.

(by the way, this is probably the clunkiest example of the form, but once I decided to ask Mr. Fry, I couldn’t help myself… nor could I wait and edit it until I got it just right.)

A bit more, and links to many more examples, after the jump:

Ok, I know that Stephen Fry is amongst the busiest people you’ve heard of, so I have no huge expectation that this question of mine will even show up on his radar. But my pal Kylie knows that Mr. Fry is tremendously gracious–she interviewed him for her podcast–so… who knows? And it is true that the very first example of my verse form was inspired by Fry’s friend Douglas Adams, so… ok, so there is still not a lot of reason to get my hopes up. But just in case, I’ll include examples from politics, public opinion research, ghost-hunting, the recent Catholic whining about having to follow the laws… I strongly suspect there are more, but I’m already (even assuming this works) taking too much of a busy man’s time.

So anyway, if you happen to be one of Mr. Fry’s estimated seven billion twitter followers, or are a member of his social circles, or are, say, a hobbit, if you could point out my question to him, I’d be most grateful. Failing that, if you know anyone else who could actually answer my question, that would be a poor but welcome second.

And if you do read this, Mr. Fry, thank you for, well, pretty much everything your career thus far has encompassed.


  1. Jackson says

    I’d call this meter amphibrachic tetrameter. Googling that turned up this poem, The Exile of Erin:


    THERE came to the beach a poor exile of Erin,
    The dew on his thin robe was heavy and chill;
    For his country he sighed, when at twilight repairing,
    To wander alone by the winds beaten hill.
    But the day-star attracted his eyes sad devotion,
    For it rose o’er his own native isle of the ocean,
    When once in the fire of his youthful emotion,
    He sang the loud anthem of Erin-go-Bragh.

    It’s apparently common in Russian poetry.

  2. Cuttlefish says

    Cool, Jackson!

    That’s the closest thing I have yet seen, but even that does not include the internal end-rhyme on odd-numbered lines of mine. Gives me hope that mine is indeed unique!

  3. Jackson says

    Oh, I forgot about the rhyming. I don’t really know much about poetry terminology except what I can look up on Wikipedia.

    That said, having done some Wikipedia-ing, here are my thoughts on your rhyme scheme:

    The pattern for the rhymes between the ends of various lines is ABCB DEFE GHIH… which I think is called Simple 4-line. Your even lines (which are the ones that rhyme with one another) all replace the final amphibrach with an iamb, whereas none of your odd lines do. The last two feet on your odd-numbered lines rhyme with each other, and since they’re both amphibrachs, they’re all two-syllable (feminine) rhymes, while your end-line rhymes are one-syllable (masculine) rhymes, as dictated by the meter.

    I never realized how interesting this was. You do realize that I’m now going to be stuck on Wikipedia all day reading articles about rhyme schemes and meters, right?

  4. Cuttlefish says

    Well, Jackson, lemme blow your mind a little bit more–

    The defining (to me) feature of my form is not the abcb, but the internal rhymes on a and c, so it’s more a case of (a)ab(c)cb(d)de(f)fe for each stanza (or would that be “aABcCBdDEfFE”, with the feminine rhymes repeating at the ends of the odd-numbered lines. That is what makes it fun to write, and fun to read. You have to look for an internal rhyme to end those lines with, in just a few syllables, like “abracadabra” or “seven-eleven” (neither of which, come to think of it, I have used yet).

  5. echidna says

    Although he shirks being called “Poet”, I know it,
    The Cuttlefish has what is known as a gift
    For churning out verse where the meter won’t teeter,
    Each rhyme that he writes gives my day quite a lift.

  6. says

    It’s not unlikely that you’re already aware of this, but just on the off chance it’s new to you: There’s a Guide to Verse Forms at the URL [ http://volecentral.co.uk/vf/ ]. This website is a catalog of dozens of verse forms from all over the planet, and its author, Bob Newman, has gone to the trouble of writing a new example of most/all of the forms he catalogs. A cursory trawl thru it doesn’t turn up any ‘prior art’ for your new form, but it’s possible that I just didn’t find the needle in the haystack…

  7. brucegee1962 says

    I can think of one other example that’s almost the same:

    The Puffin
    by florence jacques

    There once was a puffin just the shape of a muffin,
    And he lived on an island in the deep blue sea,
    He ate little fishes, which were most delicious,
    And he ate them for breakfast and he ate them for tea.

    But this poor little puffin, he couldn’t play nothin’,
    ‘Cause he didn’t have no-one to play with at all.
    So he sat on his island and he cried for a while, and
    He felt very lonesome and he felt very small.

    Then along came the fishes and they said, “If you wishes,
    You can have us for playmates, instead of for tea.”
    Now they all play together in all kinds of weather,
    And the puffin eats pancakes, like you and like me.

    The only difference between this and your form is that you rhyme the last two feet of each odd line, and this poem rhymes the second and fourth feet.

    I like your verse!

  8. Cuttlefish says

    That’s cute–thanks for sharing it! But yeah, it has a much more traditional use of the internal rhyme, nearly like two two-footed lines instead of one four-footed. The B and D lines being tetrameter also is what really makes it work (if those were, say, trimeter, you’d have a common nursery rhyme scheme, like Little Miss Muffet/Sat on her tuffet/Eating her curds and whey).

  9. Badland, delurking for a bit says

    Earendil springs immediately to mind:

    Earendil was a mariner
    that tarried in Arvernien;
    he built a boat of timber felled
    in Nimbrethil to journey in;
    her sails he wove of silver fair,
    of silver were her lanterns made,
    her prow was fashioned like a swan
    and light upon her banners laid.

    … etc. You’re in good company


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