Exercise One: Master a formI decided I'd take the challenge. My first version is here, and it was written in 13 minutes, 55 seconds. It has not been edited, and remember it's supposed to be terrible. :)
In medieval and Renaissance Ireland, historical sources indicate that the surviving bardic schools would wrap a student in a blanket after giving the student a theme and a form. The theme would be a figure from Ireland’s myth or history; the form would be one of the traditional formats of Irish poetry. We can deduce three elements from this — subject matter (theme), limitation of distractions (blanket), and structure (form).
For this exercise, we’re going to use the Sonnet as our form. There are others — ballades, odes (one of my favorites), sestinas, haiku, and more. Sonnets are good for this, though because they’re longer than haiku and they’re governed by three core rules:
1. They have fourteen lines;
2. The last words of each line rhyme, in a specific pattern: ABABCDCDEFEFGG
3. Each line has ten syllables and a gentle rhythm called ‘Iambic Pentameter’.
You are going to write a sonnet in fifteen minutes. It will be terrible — and you may find that dismaying. But that’s the point. You’re in the school of the bards — not a teacher. Do the exercise. Turn away from all distractions, set a timer for fifteen minutes, and begin.
FIRST, on a clean sheet of lined paper, write out fifteen rhymes, each word at THE END of one line — Line one rhymes with line three, line two rhymes with line four, line five rhymes with line seven, line six rhymes with line eight, line nine rhymes with line eleven, line ten rhymes iwth line twelve, and lines thirteen and fourteen rhyme with each other.
SECOND, count how many syllables are in each end word. Subract that number from ten. Count on the fingers of both hands that many syllables, speaking words aloud until you find a sentence or phrase of language that fits that number of syllables. Write that down.
THIRD, write down the first phrase that fits for each line. You’re learning a form of poetry, and learning to master it. Don’t worry if the poem doesn’t make sense. Your goal should be to write the complete poem in fifteen minutes or less, even if it’s terrible.
FOURTH, even after the time has elapsed, read the poem aloud. Circle with a red (or differently-colored pen) whatever parts of the poem sound unnatural or weird to you. Don’t bother fixing them. In all, you should spend no more than 20 minutes doing the exercise up to this point.
FIFTH, do this exercise daily for seven days. At the end of seven days, you’ll have seven poems that you wrote ‘backwards’… on the eighth day, try writing a sonnet ‘frontwards’, that is, line-by-line from first line to last line, with the rhyme scheme and ten syllables per line, in fifteen minutes or less. More than 80% of those who write seven sonnets ‘backwards’ are able to write a sonnet front-ways within the week.
The chicken's pain causes squawks and an egg.
The crowing cock causes sunrise and light.
In the garden you did not plead or beg,
Neither would you let your disciples fight
Neither would you flee or hide, scared rabbit
But to the slaughter went the sacred Lamb.
And on this day the reclusive abbot
Gives lie to the atheist screaming "Scam!"
All good Christians gather at rosy dawn
To welcome the harbinger of bless'd spring
Green and brightly colored eggs on the lawn
The children chase and seek throughout the ring
For we do not mourn the one sacrificed
But celebrate the risen Jesus Christ