Statement of Philosophy

A site for exploration and discussion about verse, poetics, the aesthetic, and creative writing in general.

Because there is a profound difference between writing something to be read and writing something worth reading; and in that difference might beauty be found.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Drinking to do

Yes, this is the first thing I've added here in nearly three months. Yes, it's a silly little thing. Get over it.


playing with composition and a note on ornament


So last week I was cleaning up a pile of loose notes, print ups, unlabeled manilla folders, doodle pages and the like, one of those piles that tends to grow on the back corner of your desk, or on top of your dictionary, or, as this one, on the shelf beside the notebooks, and I found in a beat up, mini, spiral notepad that I used to carry in my hip pocket (now I just carry folded paper) this little, quickly written ditty. (I copy it exactly as I found it. If there was prompt or purpose behind the note, I've forgotten it.)

Get off your asses
There is beer in the glasses
That are waiting for us just down the street.
There's drinking to do when we get out of this stew
And I'd rather not drink in defeat.

Since I seem temporarily incapable of writing something in depth for this blog, I thought it might be an interesting plaything.


Looking at the first stanza, the base rhythm should be familiar – not that it's from any particular work but it's commonly enough heard. It's essentially paired dactyls

` - - ` - -
` - - ` - -
` - - ` - - `

Only the last syllable on the first and second line is moved to the beginning of the next lines:

` - - ` -
- ` - - ` -
- ` - - ` - - `

The second stanza has some extra syllables – actually, enough extra syllables that it creates an extra foot. It is also not a repetition of the first stanza but a variation thereon: the first stanza has feminine rhymes: asses/glasses. The second stanza has masculine: do/stew. However, there is a kind of a slant feminine sound to the lines that echoes the first stanza.

. . . to DO when
. . . this STEW and

How do we write the lines? If we follow the first stanza and go for the same rhythm, we get this.

there's DRINKing to DO when
we get OUT of this STEW and
i'd RAther not DRINK in deFEAT

Only, this shows that there is a flaw in the writing, created out of the combination of that extra syllable in the front of the fifth line and in that the syntactical phrase begins at the end of the fourth line. The natural reading is

there's DRINKing to DO when WE get OUT of this STEW

That extra syllable – which is really an extra foot – is a problem that has to be fixed before considering how to write the lines. But how to fix it? There are no contractions to work as written, but there may be with different wording.

there's DRINKing to DO when
we're THROUGH with this STEW and

Fun rhyme but it doesn't mean the same thing at all. Same with

we're DONE with this STEW

Again, the wrong meaning. Really the phrase needs to be "out of." There is the simple fix of keeping the contracted "we're" but dropping "get."

there's DRINKing to DO when
we're OUT of this STEW and

Which fits and works . . . . but is boring: between the "d" of "do" and the "t" of "out" there's not a hard sound to be found. That "get" is very much missing.

What about eliding that annoying "when"?

there's DRINKing to DO we
get OUT of this STEW and

It's odd, but it works – but the oddity of it will have to be justified by the verse as a whole. To the negative it destroys that faux feminine rhyme, which pretty much kills writing it in the same manner as the first two lines. But with the rhythm already well established, do we really need to write the line as two lines?

There's drinking to do we get out of this stew

That's working for me. Plus, having the "and" slip down to the final line is not a catastrophe.

and i'd RAther not DRINK in deFEAT

Because the first two syllables are small words ("and I'd") and neither wants to pull the accent from "rather"; as such, the double lead-in is not out of bounds.

But it has to pass a certain test. Looking at the scansion,

- - ` - - ` - - `

you can see that there is the threat that the line might be read not as two dactyls but as three anapests.[FN] Reading the line out loud, however, demonstrates readily that that shift does not happen: the natural rhythm stays dactylic.


[FN] As example for such a shift, notice how the the extra and shifting syllable turned the dactylic

get OUT of this STEW and [I'd]

into the iambic

when WE get OUT of this STEW.

This gives us as a final two (not three) lines:

There's drinking to do we get out of this stew
And I'd rather not drink in defeat.

Which works just fine. Though, that colloquial elision still needs to be justified to be stronger.

So, back to the first three lines. There is the extra syllable in line 2, but that's easily fixed with the contraction.

Get of your asses
There's beer in the glasses

Which leaves us with that mess of a third line.

That are waiting for us just down the street.

We'll keep

JUST down the STREET

and try to fix the rest.

The easy solution is "awaiting"

aWAITing us JUST down the STREET

But simply put I don't like it. It sounds too passive. However, the subject of the phrase could just as well be "beer", not "glasses." Indeed, it should be beer, because no one thinks ahead to empty glasses, no matter how cooled they are. As such, it should be "that is" not "that are."

that's WAITing for us JUST down the STREET

There's still an extra syllable. Why not elide it too? We'll also change "that" to "what" for the sound. Punctuating to taste, and this gives us, as a whole, this.

Get off your asses,
There's beer in the glasses
What's waiting us just down the street.
There's drinking to do we get out of this stew
And I'd rather not drink in defeat.

That's a nice enough little piece of light verse. It does have a semantic issue in that "getting out of a stew" rather implies victory of some sort, which would clash with the last line. Though, it need not imply victory; one can also merely get of the a stew with minimal damages.

But there's one more thing I'd like to try. How about another colloquialism – if it can even be called that; perhaps these quirks are better called idiom? That is, adding an -s to "off."

Get offs your asses

It's ornamental; but, ornament is an important part of any artistic endeavor. And like all good ornament it is not divorced from context of the work – after all, composition is everything.


Get offs your asses,
There's beer in the glasses
What's waiting us just down the street.
There's drinking to do we get out of this stew
And I'd rather not drink in defeat.


It adds to the susurrus of sibilants already present throughout the first four lines. But it also adds a soft, forward echo of "what's". Plus, it adds to the general, idiomatic flavor. Also, notice how the /fs/ combination slows down the annunciation of that first line? I like that too.

Not, it's not the king's English; it's not even ordinarily spoken English; but so what? It's interesting – which is what verse should be. Yeah, it's something of a judgment call, and I'm not saying the result is great verse by any means, but it is interesting. Which is one job – labor, pre-requisite to labor – that so many contemporary verse writers (free and formal) don't seem to recognize (or don't seem competent at): there's no reason to write verse if you're not making the verse – the material aspect of the text, the words, the reading of the words – interesting. Indeed, that is a rather usable definition of the difference between verse and basic, communicative prose: verse is prose made interesting in itself. (Note that meter and rhyme do not in themselves necessarily make verse interesting, just as arbitrary line breaks do not necessarily make prose interesting . . . . or even verse.) As long as it's justified by the whole of the verse – here, idiom that only lasts a single line would have come off as a cheap gimmick to permit a line of verse – then go for it. Make it interesting. There's nothing more pointless than uninteresting verse, no matter what the subject is. I'd rather read clumsy interesting verse than clean uninteresting verse any day. At least the former shows possibility.