Friday, May 7, 2010

How to Write a Zeno Poem

Howdy!  Happy Poetry Friday!  Today's poem and your Poetry Writing Workout are below.

But hold on...there’s A LOT going on this week, including National Picture Book Writing Week, Mother’s Day, and Teacher Appreciation Week!

And I’ll bet there’s a mother reading this who's also a teacher and is writing a picture book a day for a week.  So, Triple Threat, if you’re out there, we want to hear from you (but not until you’ve written today’s picture book!)

I can relate to those who are writing a picture book a day for a week.  I took the National Poetry Month Challenge this year, writing a poem a day (many are birthday poems) for the month of April.   I'm not sure if I'd call that a challenge...or insanity.

But is was life-changing.  If you want to know why, you can read all my poems (or if the mere idea of reading all thirty poems exhausts you as much as it does me, just read the last poem, the one posted closest to the top.)

~ writing a Zeno poem

I learned about Zeno poems from Greg Pincus’ fabulous blog, GottaBook.  Greg learned about it from The Miss Rumphius Effect,
who interviewed J.Patrick Lewis, the inventor of Zeno poems.  According to Pat, a Zeno is a 10-line verse form with a repeating syllable count of 8,4,2,1,4,2,1,4,2,1. The rhyme scheme is abcdefdghd.

Here's how I wrote a Zeno:

A)    Pick a topic.  I wanted to write about teachers and why I appreciated them.

B)    Spill memories about this topic on paper. I wrote about Mr. Campman, my 10th grade biology teacher; about my father—how no question was a bad question, how he was always engaged and focused when taking about science with me; about my mother—how she helped me learn a violin piece and coached me for the Shakespeare competition; about my poetry teacher, Myra Cohn Livingston—how we rose to meet her very high expectations; about Professor Willis, who on a dare, taught all of Western Civilization in one quarter—the best college class I ever took.

C)    Choose one of the memories.

D)   Decide on the one-syllable word on which you’d like your poem to end.

E)    List at least three one-syllable words which rhyme with the word you chose above and which could somehow be related to your subject.  Find the rhymes by using your noodle, opening up a handy rhyming dictionary or using this one online.

F)   Review the structure of a Zeno. It helped me to write out the pattern this way (the numbers indicate how many syllables, “A” indicates the same rhyme):
1 A
1 A

7)    Get down in your mud puddle of form, ideas and wordsand play!  I changed my rhyming word several times.  In fact, I'll show you three versions of the same poem.  You can tell me at the end which one you liked the best.

All three are titled,

by April Halprin Wayland


For walking into class on fire.
You sing, you don’t
What you relish
that will
me. Your spark lights
me. You

TWO (note: you have to pretend that fire, higher and spire are all one syllable)

Your passion transforms me. You dash
into class on
Your bright spark makes
me aim
You’re a teacher:
you in-


This guy Willis?  Man-oh-man!
He grabs you, he
Every lecture?
a great
Man-oh-man! That
guy can

Which version did you like best?

poems and drawing © 2010 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

...and Happy Mother’s Day to ALL of us...and to my mother in particular.


Carmela Martino said...

What a wonderful story about how you connect with William Stafford’s son. And I love your last poem for the month of April--"Every Morning," especially the line: "hard things first." I believe we have a reader who is doing a poem-a-day for a YEAR challenge. I hope she posts a comment.
Meanwhile, I'm having a hard time choosing a favorite from your 3 Zeno poems. I like all of them, but think I'll pick the first--One.
Happy Mother's Day to you, too.

Esther Hershenhorn said...

A Triple Holiday Celebration indeed!
Thanks, April, for teaching me how to write a Zeno Poem - and - for your sharing your memory of Dr. Willis.
I love learning new forms I can share with my Young Writers.
I think I'll write a Zeno Poem about my next Wednesday's blog subject - Children's Book Week!

Lisa Gail Green said...

Wow! I really love this. I'm definitely going to try it as soon as I get a chance. I loved your poems, but my personal favorite was #1. :)

Author Amok said...

I loved the images in #2 and the voice in #3.

Diane Browning said...

April, I love your Zeno poems -- #2 is my most favorite (sister likes #3 best)!

Your poem about Ruth Bornstein made me think of a dear artist friend who used to make everyone booklets and cutouts and all manner of wondrous things. She died five years ago and everyone who knew her misses her still. I love all your poems. They do what the best poems do – often break your heart, and put it back together again...

Toby Speed said...

I liked #1 the best. It's understated and lyrical.

Thanks for sharing this new (for me) form!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Thanks for your comments, all!

Carmela--I'm writing a poem every day still, and hope to forever. It's really been amazing...would love to hear from others who practice this discipline...

Esther and Lisa, I do hope you try this form. It packs a punch for the creator as much (or more) as for the reader!

It's interesting that Carmela, Lisa and Toby like #1 the best. They are in order that I wrote them. I was just going to post the first one but after I got back from the Dodger game, before posting, I read the poem and felt I could do better. My personal favorite is the 3rd one...I like the 'tude of the dude who's speaking!

Laura said...

How interesting! I've never heard of a Zeno poem before.

I liked #3, too.

Laura Evans
all things poetry

April Halprin Wayland said...

I know you'll want to try your hand at writing a Zeno, Laura...

Laura said...

Yep, you're right, April.

Laura Evans

Mary Lee said...

Thanks for the peek into your process! Seems like the key is getting those one-syllable rhyming words nailed down!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Mary Lee ~ Yes...the neat thing about teaching what I do (as you probably know--as all teachers know) is realizing what my process is.

Love that rhyming dictionary!