Friday, May 3, 2019

Poetry Friday: Squaring up the Dizain

The May challenge (chosen by me) is a French Dizain:

One 10-line stanza
10 syllables per line
Uses the following rhyme scheme: ababbccdcd

Bonus points for using the word “square” somehow (since the form IS a square)

For once, my mind went somewhere literal to begin my poem. I immediately thought of a builders square (or steel square) and quickly Googled it to see what that tool actually DOES.  I thought it was for drawing right angles. 

 Ha!  It's so, so much more.  A craftsmen wrote a whole book about it, and then condensed that book down to a booklet, which is now available as part of Google's Project Gutenberg.  And boy, is he opinionated about how to use it:

"I will not attempt in this small treatise, to give an historical account of the origin, growth and development of the square, as the subject has been treated of at length in my larger works, as I do not care to pad out these pages with matter that is not of a severely practical nature." ----ABC of the Steel Square and its Uses by Fred T. Hodgson

Severely practical...okay then.'s the thing...he then can't resist this bit: 

"It is no sin not to know much, though it is a great one not to know all we can, and put it all to good use."

And he goes on to chastise those too lazy to learn what to do with their tools. Not only practical, but MORAL severity.   It's enough to chill a poet facing a new form....

Am I using my tools well? 
Have I learned all I can? 
What if I'm only "padding out pages"?? 

Thankfully, I also discovered that beneath Mr. Hodgson's gruff exterior is a heart for making things of beauty and use.  And, I'm happy to say, his trade...a builder's trade... is filled with poetic language. 

That steel square?  The two arms are called the blade and the tongue.  

Building a roof?  The rafters might need to be "cheek-cut." 

Plus carpenters use all sorts of solid, juicy words like "run and rise" and "pitch" and "joist." 

I can get behind that. 

A Builder's Creed

Stair math: rise and run (or how high? how long?)
Roof math: pitch and width (or how steep? how spanned?)
Each step, each rafter, sawn true, and laid strong
by tools wiped of sweat, kept square and at hand.
So, too a poem is constructed and planned;
words measured by tongue, syllables cheek-cut
into blade-sharp lines which open and shut,
rhyme-fit like a bloodied paw to a snare;
a poem, a cathedral, both framed out of what
is redoubted, joisted, strung to mid-air.

                                 ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Participating poetry sisters can be found here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by the incomparable Jama Rattigan at Alphabet Soup.