Friday, June 3, 2011

Showing Up: Trying A Triolet

Our younger son came home for the summer from his first year of college and started a new job the next day. He had to report at 7 a.m., not easy for someone who learned in his first semester to schedule his second semester classes later in the day so he could sleep in. As I saw him out the door on his first day on the job, a line came into my head: Showing up is half the battle.

Of course, that saying applies to writing or any other kind of work, too. I was thinking about showing up at the page when I wrote this poem. I had been meaning to try the triolet form with its repeating lines, and the message seemed a good opportunity. So I thought about the form and the language during a long car ride. I forgot my rhyming dictionary, so my sister Judy tossed out rhyme after rhyme as she drove.

When looming tasks accumulate,
showing up is half the battle.
Tempted to procrastinate
when looming tasks accumulate?
Whatever you anticipate,
hoist yourself back in the saddle.
When looming tasks accumulate,
showing up is half the battle.

I worked on it again this morning when the old poem I thought I would post today turned out to be not nearly as well written as I’d remembered. (Ha! Surprise!)

I’m still not satisfied with this one. “Looming tasks” is vague. The tone is uneven, with some lines sounding more formal and others—especially line six—more casual. (I also thought of “Jump in your canoe and paddle,” but that seemed even worse! Plus I liked the connotation of climbing back on the horse, which seemed to fit better with the battle theme.) The unstressed syllables at the end of line six and the beginning of line seven throw the rhythm off.

But I learned from the attempt. First, the repeating lines have to carry a lot of weight, so they’d better be worth repeating. Second, “accumulate” is a long word to use in rhyming lines. If I were to start this poem over, I’d look for shorter rhyming words for lines one, three, and five.

I may keep revising this poem. I may also chalk it up to practice and attempt another form that’s new to me. Give it a try and see what you discover!

Writing Workout: Write a Triolet

From The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics by Lewis Turco: The triolet “is built on two refrains: line one reappears complete as line four and again as line seven; line two reappears as line eight, completing the poem. The triolet rhymes ABaAabAB. [Note: Capital letters indicate repeated lines.] Lines may be of any length.”

Kathleene West gives this advice on writing a triolet in An Exaltation of Forms: Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art, edited by Annie Finch and Kathrine Varnes: “I find it’s best to be as specific and as nongeneric as possible, avoiding abstractions at all costs. . . . It’s also a good idea to avoid a complete reliance on end-stopped lines.”

More information about writing a triolet is available on

Today's Poetry Friday Roundup is at the Writer's Armchair

JoAnn Early Macken


Tabatha said...

I enjoyed both your rhymes and your theme!

I have to write a sestina this week. These sorts of forms are tough for me, but worthy experiments.

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for sharing this, JoAnn. This form is new to me. And I especially appreciate knowing your thoughts about possible revisions to your poem.

The Pen and Ink Blog said...

I was seriously tempted to try a triolet. Ok how's this?

"Try a triolet", she said.
The words dance on my screen.
Half formed rhymes dance through my head.
"Try a triolet", she said.
I think of going back to bed.
Oh God, I need caffeine.
"Try a triolet", she said.
The words dance on my screen.

JoAnn Early Macken said...

Good luck with your sestina, Tabatha! Carmela, I have a couple books of poetry forms, & the possibilities are endless! The Pen and Ink Blog, I love your triolet--what fun!