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.


  1. First, I really really love this poem and have now shared it with Kirk who loves it, too. But also, this idea of knowing and understanding tools humbles me. I sometimes resist knowing more about categories that don't come naturally to me (house painting, technology, finance...) and I feel like, DUH, if I was willing to learn a little more maybe I would feel more comfortable in those arenas. So thank you....

  2. I love the precise language! It highlights for me how the precision required in poetic word choice is similar to that required in construction. Very cool!

  3. LOVE the precision of your well crafted poem too. This one is perfection and reminds me of my dad, who was a carpenter by trade, loved and took good care of all his tools, and bandied many of the terms you used in your poem around. Your final two lines are pretty sublime: "strung to mid-air" slays me.

  4. Oooh. "Am I padding out my pages?" Fred's is a question for the ages.

  5. This took my breath away. SO good!

  6. Oh my! What a rich post! Such challenge lies in Hodgson's words:"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." I love the parallels of building and writing that you've drawn. They speak to me especially now as we are refurbishing the interior of a 100+ house. We have been learning all sorts of things about those who built it as we remove layers of living to reveal their craftsmanship.

  7. Oh, the ending, and I'm leaping to connections of more from your beautiful lines, "a poem, a cathedral, both framed out of what/is redoubted, joisted, strung to mid-air." Your intro is wonderful, too. What new learning comes if we begin to question!

  8. What precision and love for precision is found here. I love your comments on Hodgson. What a character. But, your poem incorporates the form with a great metaphor. I also am fascinated with cheek-cut. I might have to give this form a try....but whoa...the challenge you present with this mentor text.

  9. I know I will ALWAYS be wowed when I read your poems. You did not disappoint! (WOW)

  10. Wow! I think you can rest assured you are not padding pages but have put your tools and knowledge to good use. Thank you for sharing some of what you learned.

  11. I am gobsmacked by this poem and the fascinating introduction.
    During my many years as a teacher, I kept a square in my desk. Although I used it often, I see that I was still ignorant of its possibilities.


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