Category: Exercises from The Ode Less Travelled

Exercise #8 (pages 117-118)

This exercise was to write two stanzas of alternating seven- and five-line syllabic verse on the subject of Rain.  Also, two stanzas of verse running 3, 6, 1, 4, 8, 4, 1, 6, 3 on the subject of Hygiene.

I love rain’s varieties,
from the random drops
that drip unexpectedly
down from cloudless skies

to the angry storms that cow
even me and make
me run away and hide, like
the West’s wicked witch.

There’s something
To be said for living
Soap and hygiene,
As I found in college where my
Dorm’s squalor and
Made my immune system

Clean forks were
Only one hot water
Away and the
Frankly disgusting state of my
Sheets did not harm
Me –
I wasted little time
In sleeping.


Exercise #10 (pages 166-167)

This exercise was to find as many rhymes as possible for the words girl and martyr.  Also, wander around noting down at least 20 things as you can see, hear or smell, then thinking of rhymes for each word.

Rhymes with girl: curl, whirl, burl, furl, hurl, knurl, purl, merle, pearl, swirl, churl

Rhymes with martyr: garter, carter, barter, smarter, charter, darter, farter, tartar, harder, larder, bombarder, starter

Tea: spree, me, tree, free, carefree, fee, coffee, golly, Godfrey, bee, ski, gee, lee, tee, flea, flee, be, knee, pee, see, sea, whee, ye, Bree, brie, agree

Drinking: finking, stinking, kinking, linking, sinking, winking, blinking, plinking, clinking

Blackberry: very, sherry, hari-kari, fairy, tarry, solitary, military, contrary, parry, dysentery, ferry, carry, dairy, merry, nary, hairy, vary, wary, February

Salt: halt, fault, malt gestalt, alt vault, assault

Drying: frying, crying, prying, scrying, trying


Oven: coven, woven, joven, cloven

Snot: hot, shot, thought, bought, taught, caught, knot, not, wrought, fought, bot, cot, dot, got, jot, lot, bon mot, ought, pot, rot, sot, tot, haute

Wheeze: sneeze, freeze, cheese, bees, trees, fleas, tease, please, geez, keys, knees, peas, seize, frieze, breeze

Listen: christen, glisten

Phone: tone, bone, cone, hone, lone, moan, pone, roan, zone, loan, stone, grown, thrown, groan, sown, blown, flown

Rustle: hustle, bustle, muscle, tussle

Hem: gem, mayhem, stem

Magnetic: barbaric, prosodic, prophetic

Napkin: mannikin

Television: fission, mission, incision

Comic: atomic, chronic, cosmic

Relax: axe, tarmacs, Big Macs, tracks, backs, fax, wax, stacks, knacks, wracks, racks, cracks, hacks, lax, Ajax, max, pax, quacks, sax, sacks, tacks, tax, yacks

Screen: ween, wean, green preen

Games: maims, tames, frames, dames, James, lames, names

A Thought Experiment

This exercise was to imagine yourself a Victorian poet and write four or five couplets on the Tay bridge disaster.  Next, write a tribute to the charge of the Light Brigade.

A mighty bridge, until the day
A wind whipped up the River Tay –
Tay Railway Bridge was built to last
But couldn’t stand the wintery blast.

The engineers had a mighty lapse
The upper girders all collapsed.
A train with 80 souls aboard
Fell and took them to the Lord.

A sadder decision no one ever made
Than Nolan’s, a captain of our Light Brigade.
He ordered straight into the enemy’s guns
Six hundred, all fathers and brothers and sons.
Their deaths were assured when this order was made
The flame of their courage will not ever fade.

Exercise #11 (page 190)

This exercise was to use stanza forms to describe themselves.

Terza Rima
The terza rima form is a surprise
Because you think the second line will rhyme
But no, it won’t – you must believe your eyes.

The next line will be just about the time
Your brain decides it knows what’s going on
But it will think the next two lines a crime.

Because the rhyming scheme will be all gone:
Stop-couplet will complete the final con.

The Quatrain
An age ago, some ancient poet thought
His thoughts too broad to fit a two-fold frame.
His friends all scoffed and said the poet ought
To simply squeeze his thoughts and make them tame.

Refusing this, he thought of what to do:
He found that if he made his rhymes to cross
Then he could use four lines instead of two
And write all of his thoughts without a loss.

The Rubai
Persian poetry has got a twist
Once you start to read, you can’t desist.
Four lines – three rhymes give you a surprise
It’s like drinking milk that gets you pissed.

Probably you want to know its name:
Rubai – gave to Omar Khayyam fame
Though people tend to skip the Ruba’iyat
Almost all of them do know the name.

Rhyme Royal
Rhyme Royal isn’t quite the royal rhyme
You’d think it is, considering the name.
It seems a silly legend, over time,
From Geoffrey Chaucer stole a little fame,
Since Henry number four is not to blame
For this: a scheme of a b a bb
That’s ended with a couplet of cc.

Ottava Rima
Would anyone who’s in their right mind choose
The older form – Rhyme Royal – at the cost
Of missing out the full three couplets’ use
Ottava Rima gives, which Royal’s lost?
Perhaps some think one line’s not much to lose
But it’s not just a line – a couplet’s tossed.
The competition fades out near the end,
Since both forms say the last two lines must blend.

Spenserian Stanza
Of course, the guy who wrote The Fairy Queen,
Has many other points on which to boast
But one (though minor, true) that’s to be seen:
Of all poems, it is his that scares me most.
And now, it seems, I’ll also blame his ghost
For this, a complex form which he devised
Which was, no doubt, in his time quite the toast.
Like Russian dolls, its inset form disguised.
Then sudden, hexametrically, it ends.  Surprised?

Exercise #12 (pages 200-201)

This exercise was to finish the ballad, the first two verses of which were provided.

Now gather round and let me tell
The tale of Danny Wise:
And how his sweet wife Annabelle
Did suck out both his eyes.

And if I tell the story true
And if I tell it clear
There’s not a mortal one of you
Won’t shriek in mortal fear.

Now Annabell and Danny had
Been married just a year
Life was good and nothing bad
Had made them shed a tear.

Until she large with child got
And had a terrible thirst,
And everything to drink she bought
Just only made it worse.

Her throat had never been so dry
A cure she could not seek
Then dripped a tear from Danny’s eye
As he kissed her on the cheek.

Each day, she drank them more and more –
Danny’s sweet, hot tears
The which he freely gave her for
His unborn child, so dear.

And when she gave to him a son,
Dan with joy was filled
And thought his cup was over-run,
Which ne’er before had spilled.

Alas, but it was not to be,
The tiny child died
And soon, poor Danny couldn’t see –
So much he wept and cried.

Annabelle, though broke with grief
Could not contain her thirst
And of his eyes became a thief –
She drank them ’til they burst.

Exercise #13 (page 208)

This exercise was to write a short dramatic monologue, a la Browning, about a stoned man trying to get out of a drug possession charge.

Yo dude, it’s like, these aren’t my pants, I swear
I don’t know how that bag of weed got there.
I heard this bang and thought that I’d been shot
And fell down flat; I guess my jeans got caught
Around my knees (but that’s beside the point).
Alright, this afternoon I smoked a joint.
And that, my honesty, should be enough
To prove I’ve never seen this other stuff.

Exercise #14 (page 229)

This exercise was to write a villanelle, six three-line stanzas where the first line of the first stanza is used as a refrain to end the second and fourth stanzas and the last line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the third, fifth and sixth.  In other words: verse 1: A1bA2, verse 2: abA1, verse 3: abA2, verse 4: abA1, verse 5: abA2, verse 6: abA1A2

Will my fragile heart be bold,
Take Love’s hand with joy, not fear,
Or growing older, grow more cold?

I’ll see the public all is polled.
I’ll find and ask the wisest seer
Will my fragile heart be bold?

Perhaps I’ll case my heart in gold
Which waterproofs against each tear,
But growing older, grows more cold.

Perhaps, forewarned, my heart is told
By me, in desperate act of mere
Will: my fragile heart, be bold.

Perhaps I’ll slip from Love’s large fold
With a heart that’s free and clear,
But growing older, grows more cold.

The answer can’t be bought and sold;
The question always looming near:
Will my fragile heart be bold,
Or growing older, grow more cold?