Over the weekend I thought I’d challenge myself and try something different. So, I dusted off some books on poetry theory from my bookshelf. I searched for poetic forms that I’m not familiar with or haven’t ever tried. After perusing the pages, my eyes landed on the double dactyl.
The double dactyl is a light-hearted little poem comprising of two stanzas of four verses each (called quatrains). The form was originally created by Anthony Hecht and Paul Pascal in the 1950s. Sharing some similarities with the limerick, the double dactyl became popular for its ability to convey humour though its unique rhythmical structure.
My own poems usually take on a more contemplative or ruminative tone, so the double dactyl form was a fun challenge. And a challenge it certainly was! I quickly filled a few pages with notes, scribbles and verses — all while being mindful of keeping to the structure of the true double dactyl style.
In poetry theory, a dactyl is comprised of one stressed syllable, followed by two unstressed sounds. Think of the word “wonderful” for instance. The “won” part is the stressed syllable, while the “der-ful” part contains the two unstressed syllables.
Therefore, the first line of a double dactyl should have two dactyls (hence double dactyl), like “wonderful, wonderful.” Another convention of the style is that the last line of each stanza is normally shorter, with only four syllables. Also, the last line of the second stanza should rhyme with the last line of the first stanza.
So, this is what I came up with after some more scribbles:
Take me to Havana
With my old pet llama
We will have lots of fun
At the beach and in the sun
Sipping coconut cocktails
As always, I thought I’d have a bit of fun with the form and break some rules. Here’s an example of what transpired:
The yam tram
I‘ll have poached eggs and clam
Followed by some toast with
Peanut butter and jam
Then I’ll get on the tram
With my little dog, Sam
To the markets for yam
And then we’ll go back home
See — you can certainly have fun with the double dactyl form. Even though poetry, like all art, doesn’t always have to follow the rules or conventions, sometimes following them can spark creativity. Following conventions can impose restrictions that force the writer to think divergently and ‘out of the box’ as the saying goes. In the world of music, for example, many modern songs are composed with only four chords. You can just see (or hear) the wide range of songs that are out there using various combinations of just those four cords. It’s phenomenal. Thus, creativity through constraints.
Now that I’ve had a go at writing short poems using the double-dactyl style, I challenge you to do the same. Go ahead, be creative, and if you feel like sharing, post a link to one of your double dactyl poems in the comments.
Have fun! 😊