The Ballad of Annie Croft

Narrative poetry (in English) has long fallen out of fashion. English narrative poetry arranged in rhyming quatrains = outdated + are you fuggin’ kiddin’ me?! (Exclaim post-modernist poetic arbiters of taste — such traditionalist poetry openly mocked as hopelessly outmoded, tired, played out. FYI: Writers of such formalist “drivel” are regarded by the apparatchiks of the avant-garde as vulgarians of the worst sort: unimaginative hacks who perpetrate tired moon-june-spoon rhyme schemes upon a jaded, seen-and-heard-it-all-before reading public. This is arrogant dismissive nonsense, of course: early 20th century faddish criticism that still holds unaccountable sway in many quarters (especially the academic) of the Realm Poetic. Such prejudice against formalist verse is as risible and wrong-headed as it is laughable. Summoned to give testimony for the defense: Robert Service, George Sterling, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Yeats, Frank Coffman, Robert Frost, et. al. Hmm . . . lotta “Roberts” in that list. Change first name?)

To be sure there is still power, potency and picturesqueness a-plenty to be found in the rhyming (and occasional near-rhyming —”missed” rhymes inject semantic tension and suspense into a work) narrative poem. Especially the ballad. The form has not yet—even now, in the early part of the 21st century—been exhausted. In fact, I would argue that formalist narrative poetry is having a bit of a moment here in 2021. Furthermore, I assert that the poetic form of rhyming narrative verse will never be entirely exhausted. How could it be, given the fecundity of literary imagination and the richness of our language?

Exhibit A (or should that be Y?) rejected by divers editors “with regrets” as being “too long for publication” (in truth, it’s asking a lot for an editor to devote 10-12 pages of a poetry magazine to one writer–especially an obscure unknown):


The Ballad of Annie Croft

A Tale of New England: circa 1660

Part I.


Annie Croft had brown eyes soft

as sable fur, her hair

red as sun-kissed roses—carriage

& deportment exceeding fair.


Her charms caught the attention

of the village magistrate;

William Moore was married

but desired to fornicate


with the woman who had acted 

as mid-wife to troubled births —

Tom & John: William’s sons

bawled, & kicked, & nursed


at the breasts of rigid Constance Moore:

helpmete of grim, hawk-eyed mien;

ten years frigid, the magistrate’s wife

praised God, & hearth, & kin


“for the bounteous beauty of new life

predestined for Hell or Heaven;

scourging rod & dour prayer

shalt ensure their souls will leaven


the afterlife with willing thralls

obedient to God—

though here they’ll hunt, & fish, & farm,

& praise our loving Lord.”


Alas, but this was not to be;

sickness swept the village.

Tom & John died three-month’s-old;

warpath Indians pillaged


& burned surrounding settlements;

shallow wells ran dry.

Barley, corn, & oat crops failed

fully half the pilgrims died.


’Twas in this monstrous starving time 

Anne’s ministering hands

eased divers aches & ailments;

she served both God & man.


Her potions, salves, & ointments

brought relief to those in need;

ancien’ practice/hallowed tradition:

medicine of roots, & barks, & leaves.


’Midst Indian war & famine, 

sickness & internal strife,

the magistrate’s bold lustful eyes

turned from his somber wife


to smiling, sun-kissed Annie

who shrank from his loathsome touch.

William schemed to catch Anne alone;

his hands itched to feel her up.


A man of means & property

respected by the Church

Wil manifested Falstaffian vices:

greed, lust, & drunken mirth.


Anne spurned the magistrate’s advances;

William sulked & called her bitch.

He grabbed her bosom; she slapped his face—

Wil lodged the charge of “witch”.


Constance Moore took up the cry;

unhinged by woe & grief

she echoed William’s charge of witch

declared, “A vile, sneaking thief


crawls odious as an ambidexter

amongst God’s very own.

This wretched girl culled souls for Satan;

let Satan call her home!”


The magistrate issued a warrant 

for the arrest of Annie Croft.

She was jailed: stripped naked, poked & prodded

devil’s marks were sought


& duly found by venal men

who understood in times of strife

a scapegoat—preferably peasant class—

must sacrifice their life


that godly folk be reassured.

Noose, burning brand, & bludgeon

were educative instruments

in the inculcation of religion


& unquestioning blind obedience

to clench-jawed grim authority.

Majoritarian Calvinist polis:

control, consensus, conformity.


Anne Croft was given the water test;

William Moore was seen to gloat

as “witch-woman” Annie forbear to drown

but perversely deigned to float.


A trial was held: rank mockery

of fairness, truth, & justice;

hysterical children testified

that evil Annie corrupted


their innocent minds with devilry.

They capered, gibbered, danced

naked beneath an argent moon:

“Ann hexed us with a glance.”


Devil’s marks, failed water test,

unexpected deaths & sickness;

the testimony of dancing children—

“I trust we’ve proved the wicked


intent & malicious mind-set 

of a peasant girl so bold

as to forge a pact with the Prince of Lies.

The devil take her soul!”


So saying, the magistrate hammered hard

’pon the table with his fist;

closing argument thus concluded, 

he added, “Think on this—


Divine Providence hath gifted us

a New Canaan: virgin lands;

though witches, warlocks, heretics

pervert our blessings—all are damned


who ally with liar Lucifer.

In New England let us begin

to lead lives of shining righteousness

& root out the enemy within.


Will ye stand with Christ our Lord?

Will ye stand with God?

Or will ye suffer a witch to live

in defiance of the Law?”


Jittery men & tittering women:

a jury of Anne Croft’s peers

threw reason & good sense to the wind,

took counsel of their fears


& returned a shameful verdict: 

“Guilty as charged,” they said.

“Thou shalt be hanged from good stout rope

’till thou art surely dead.”


A fortnight later Annie Croft

mounted the gallows afore a crowd

 of stern-eyed men, women, & children—

shaved head upright, unbowed.


Anne’s countenance was ashen

as the noose slipped about her neck;

& though she trembled, no tears flowed

when she drew a final breath


& dropped hands-bound & shoeless

through the banging scaffold door;

she fell, jerked to a violent stop—

kicked—and knew no more.


The crowd: a dark-clothed murder of crows

turned as wrenching wail

scythed knife-like through that awful scene:

I—sister Abigail


to poor dead, convulsing Annie

vented oaths & shrill, hot screams

of horror, fury, shock, & rage

at act so vile, cruel, obscene.


I aimed a shaking finger

dead-straight at the magistrate:

“Ye days are numbered, swill-belly Wil!

Ye stand before the Gate


of Judgement with thy viper wife.

Repent! Afore it’s too late.”

& shouldering through that gape-mouthed crowd

returned home to seethe with hate.


Part II.


One month later, in the misted dark

of a cold November morn’

a band of grim-faced men & I

stood ready to greet the dawn


around the cut-log, thatched-roofed home

of the murderous magistrate

& hawk-eyed, forked-tongued Constance Moore.

We’d come to congregate


& exact a fiery vengeance

for the death of Annie Croft;

our blood had boiled to see fair Annie

dance at the end of a rope.


At a silent signal the torch was passed:

fire moved hand-to-hand;

we ignited the resin’d clapboard sides

of Wil’s home with burning brands.


The pitch-smeared tinderbox house inferno’d—

hellfire flames leapt high;

crimson tongues of fire crackled;

smoke boiled into the sky.


Minutes later piercing screams

sounded from within:

the magistrate & his false-witness Mrs.

burning for their sins.


The roaring fire flared & spit;

Constance cried & called

out to Heaven for mercy denied.

Wil burst out the door


wreathed head-to-toe in guttering flame—

he hit the ground & rolled.

I knocked him flat, raised keen-edged blade

to end his life & send his soul


down to the sulfurous, burning Pit.

The magistrate’s vulgar life

voided there in blood & fire

at the bitter end of my knife.


Wil’s face was charred & smoking —

flesh cracked & purplish-black;

burnt hands fumbled at blistered throat.

I crowed: “Woe & alack!


ye lusting, lying, swill-belly dog!

A sweet soul sent aloft

was mine own precious loving sister:

mid-wife Annie Croft.


Ye works condemn thee! Murderer!

Foul Magistrate, farewell!”

& planting steel in smoldering skull

I sent his soul to Hell.


Part III.


No other “witches” were ever hung

in that old New England town;

the arsonists who’d burned the Moores

were hunted, though never found.


Decades passed & life went on;

guilty consciences tread soft;

& the subject was ever swiftly changed

when arose the name of Annie Croft.


— Carl E. Reed


Afterword: “Annie Croft” is a composite character who lives and dies three decades before the outbreak of witch hysteria in Salem, Massachusetts. Let us a take a moment to remember the actual people who perished in the madness of 1692 (WIKI):

Died in prison:

  • Ann Foster (née Alcock) – died in custody in December 1692
  • Sarah Osborne – died in prison May 29, 1692, at age 49


41 thoughts on “The Ballad of Annie Croft

  1. mimispeike says:


    I’m all for this. I write narrative verse myself. Aside from Maisie and Sly, and one other major piece that is long lost, everything I’ve written has been narrative verse.

    I generally run my lines together, structure them as prose. The rhyme emerges in the process of reading.

    In my version of Cinderella, my fairy-godmother stand-in is, yes, another mouse.

    Celestine, dubious about fitting in with high society at the ball, begs the mouse to accompany her, hidden in her hair-dress, above her ear, and to whisper phrases to her if she should stumble at smart conversation.


    “The imp bestowed herself secure within the fastness of a spray of cabbage roses, paired with other stunning florals, an array of pale pink petals topped with onyx beetles, ruby ladybugs, and opalescent moths, and cunning silver snails, resplendent slugs, and for the crowning touch, a solid gold and diamond hummingbird plundered a single glorious enamel orchid.

    This absurd, opulent Eden, anchored in thick hanks of hair, twisted and coiled, looked nothing less than long-lost paradise regained, restored unspoiled.”


    Telling a story in rhyme is the best game in the world.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Nothing’s changed:

    “. . . devil’s marks were sought
    & duly found by venal men
    who understood in times of strife
    a scapegoat—preferably peasant class—
    must sacrifice their life . . .”

    Just like modern times.

    That’s the value of great poetry. It is timeless because it forces us to acknowledge how people remain people regardless of the times or culture or technology.

    Thanks for this, Carl.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. mimispeike says:

    Telling a story in rhyme is the best game in the world.

    And if you have a really good rhyming dictionary, you learn a lot of neat new words.

    The web has rhyme-finder sites of course, but I have a super dictionary published in 1934 with many an archaic word that I don’t see on the web.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Perry Palin says:

    Very cool verse and story, Carl.

    I don’t write poetry but sometimes I read poetry. Reading poetry thoughtfully can add to the sense of flow, of cadence, of pacing, and the sounds of our prose.

    I have had writing classmates tell me that my writing is “lyrical” and they meant it in a good way.

    A journal once printed a piece of my flash fiction as a poem.

    Mimi writes narrative verse and comments “I generally run my lines together, structure them as prose. The rhyme emerges in the process of reading.” Yes. That’s it exactly. And the rhythm, and the harsh sounds and the clean smooth sounds each in their places.

    The instructor in my writing class has a thing about adverbs, and she used one of my sentences as a bad example. I have a love-hate relationship with adverbs myself. The sentence:

    “Outside, I backed my old car carefully onto the road, shifted gears, and drifted slowly away.”

    Scratch “slowly” she said. “Adverbs are always bad, always unnecessary.” I explained that I fought with the word, but coming out of a critical, emotional scene presented in short sentences and harsh sounds, I needed “slowly” as a another quiet beat in this sentence. That’s the kind of thing I get from reading poetry, and the class agreed with me.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. The night after reading this post, I could not sleep for hours.  The concept (including the historical note and links, as well as the poem itself) is so compelling.  Some of the stanzas are so damn good.

    And yet.  The editors who balked at the length did have a point.  They may also have had concerns that they chose not to mention.  Fools rush in where editors fear to tread, so I will try to write a few more comments (one for each concern that occurs to me) in the near future.  Maybe my thoughts will be less antisoporific while awaiting revision after being typed into the computer.

    Meanwhile, I recommend 2 ballads:
            *Invictus* by William Henley
            *I Often Contradict Myself* by Kenn Nesbitt

    While separated by about a century and radically different in mood, these poems have similar forms.  Part of their appeal is that their forms do not feel like burdens, even tho the poets abide by all the rules.  (Yes, Henley’s lines S1/L2 and S3/L4 are a tad awkward in our time.)  Both ballads have strong clear rhythms and line breaks that align with major grammatical divisions.  They could be chanted or even sung.  That matters.

    Liked by 3 people

    • So glad you commented, Mellow! Very gratified to learn my words stirred you to further thought and reflection. As to the poem’s length: I can well understand why divers editors rejected it because of its length—that wasn’t a complaint; merely an explanation for why I posted it publicly here. (At least it’s “out there” now!)

      As to the ringing, noble sentiments expressed in INVICTUS by William Henley, I fear my cringe-inducing second verse (if I should ever attempt such a thing—which I won’t) would sound more like:

      In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I winced, & moaned, & cried aloud;
      Under the bludgeonings of chance
      I rabbit-hopped, wailed: “Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!”

      The two lines I like best from Kenn Nesbitt’s delightful doggerel are:

      “I love to be around myself.
      I wish I’d go away.”

      Heh! Now THAT’S a sentiment I can readily identify with.


      Liked by 3 people

  6. **** LENGTH ****

    Printing out the poem took 12 pages.  There are about 53 stanzas.  Of course the poem needs more than the 4 that suffice for Henley or Nesbitt as cited in my previous comment, but over 50 is a lot.

    I noticed some places where I’d like to see a stanza disappear or see a series of stanzas replaced by 1 or 2.  Picking such low-hanging fruit would be start toward getting down to a tolerable length.

    Stanza [A man of means …] likens WM to Falstaff.  Readers have already been shown that he is a lecher and will soon be shown that he the worst kind of lecher, murderous when spurned.  This stanza just tells readers he is also a pompous glutton.  Who cares?

    Stanza [that godly folk be reassured …] and the next one are true and well said, but they could come across as writersplaining what the narrative implies.  Shed a tear and take them out.

    Part II ends with 8 stanzas about the results of setting fire to WM’s house.  The piling on makes it too much like a fire and brimstone sermon that dwells on the torments of Hell with gleeful prurience.  Please do not devote more space to WM’s comeuppance than to AC’s execution, which gets 3 brilliant stanzas.

    If there is still space to give Abigail the satisfaction of stabbing WM, it should be with “my blade” (not the verbose and anachronistic “business end of my knife”).

    Coming soon: RHYME

    Liked by 3 people

  7. All comments are welcome, Mellow (and will be carefully considered, believe me) but please understand that I am not interested in workshopping this poem in public. That would be madness! (Imagine: Divers people comment; I incorporate everyone’s edits in near real-time and the piece becomes . . . a protean, ever-shifting collective work that could not possibly please all, as different people will have differing opinions as to what should be excised/revised.) I deeply appreciate your engagement with the poem (truly!) and again feel the necessity of stating that any and all comments/criticism are welcome, but I know my process: I need to step away for a bit, work on other things, and then consider criticisms of this poem with a fresh and objective eye. (No poem is ever truly finished; merely abandoned.) I want to be respectful of your time and wouldn’t wish you to pour hours into a line-by-line edit expecting that you will see your criticisms incorporated immediately. Having said that, I well know that I own the flaws of this work as well as its strengths. Having worked on it for over a year, I am satisfied with its current form and chose to publish it here. Not for purposes of workshopping (that is another process which is best done privately) but of generating general comments and feedback. I trust this makes sense and doesn’t read as terribly defensive.

    PS. Legal considerations also come into play here: Since I am publishing my work in multiple venues, if I incorporate changes suggested by person X into poem Y that person would be entitled to a partial writing credit on the workshopped poem when/if it appears again elsewhere. No thanks; ain’t opening up that can of worms! I have enough problems/frustrations/wrenching, despairing moments trying to get my sonorous scritch-scribbles noticed by others w/o having to factor in the question of multiple authorship when talking to publishers.

    PPS. Good catch re: the phrase “business end of . . .” Since the earliest recorded use of the phrase in that sense goes back only so far as 1840, I have reworked that portion of the text.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I heartily agree with stepping away from things and returning later.  And with not trying to respond immediately to anything that does not really need an immediate response.

      As it happens, I have 2 fairly short comments nearly ready to submit and would not save any significant amount of time by stopping now.  The comments speak to the general concerns of this post’s manifesto, not just line-by-line stuff in the poem itself.  So I will post them soon (after some urgent chores) and leave them available here if U ever decide to have another go at the poem.

      I remain hopeful that someday a revision will be more widely published.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Narrative poetry may have gone out of fashion but not good stories told well, whatever the form. And this could be put to music to great effect – I imagine something like The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Mellow responded privately and I chose to move his comments here, so amusingly, inarguably cogent and clear did they prove to be! Know and understand in advance: He won the argument. (Also: We’re here to entertain the drive-bys, aren’t we? So . . . are you not entertained, silent peoples?)

    MELLOW: “Legal considerations can indeed be messy, so I will abide by the PS added to your [July 14, 2021 at 2:56 pm] and avoid posting the rest of my comments to Writers’ Co-op. Where I come from in STEM, people who revise a paper in light of comments from others just thank the commenters in a paper’s “Acknowledgements” section and let it go at that. No lawyers and no payments. I prefer it that way.”

    CARL: “LOL! Couldn’t agree more—if this were a privately workshopped and not a publicly posted poem.”

    **** RHYME ****

    MELLOW: The Henley and Nesbitt poems have the usual ballad rhyme scheme ABCB and adhere to it. When there are good reasons elsewhere, rules should be bent or broken. But weariness and wishful thinking can mislead a writer into doing what comes across to readers as casual disregard of commitments the writer made. The post’s opening manifesto puts forward the interesting idea that “occasional near-rhyming” may inject tension and suspense. The only possible examples of beneficial injection that I can see here are brazen failures to rhyme at all, as in [God] vs [Law] and [touch] vs [up].

    The ballad’s [village] vs [pillaged] is close enough and easily forgiven, if noticed at all. The ballad’s [hands] vs [man] is annoying and would be better with [hand] rather than [hands]. Don’t get me started on the likes of [need] vs [leaves] or [Croft] vs [rope].

    CARL: Again, LOL! Well-argued and amusingly expressed. S. T. Joshi arches a quizzical brow when I near-rhyme, “abandon-rhyme” causes him to sigh in exasperation—as you did here. His sentiments and inarguable judgment (conveyed as rough paraphrase): “This isn’t even in the ballpark of rhyme. Maybe . . . just possibly . . . there’s some attenuated, dying echo of assonance between the end-line words ______ and ______ in the parking lot situated nine blocks over.”

    Let me attempt an aesthetic defense and explanation, even if you don’t buy it for a moment. Please understand: I am not game-playing here, but communicating my iconoclastic thoughts on the matter.

    I accept your judgment and criticism, in the main. You are correct in almost everything you state. But there are two points with which I wish to quibble:

    1.) Re: “. The ballad’s [hands] vs [man] is annoying and would be better with [hand] rather than [hands].”

    Annoying it may be, but I don’t agree that changing the stanza as you suggest would make it better. Consider (as written): ‘Twas in this monstrous starving time / Anne’s ministering hands / eased divers aches & ailments / she served both God & man.”

    Deathless poetic phrasing this isn’t—the best that can be said for it is that it is workmanlike and direct—but if we write “Anne’s ministering hand . . .” a whiff-and-a-miss whistles past my ear—where is that missing “S’? Or has the poor girl lost a five-fingered limb-ender? And if I were to rework the entire stanza and write “the ministering hand of Anne”, well . . . that might be grammatically correct but it sounds laugh-out-loud funny to my ear: trumped-up, uninspired moon-june-spoon rhyme-schemed, purple and faintly ludicrous. Such a stilted phrase strives too hard to be “poetic”. I much prefer the direct, non-metaphor here: Anne’s literal hands, performing tender ministrations; hence—”Anne’s ministering hands”.

    2.) As to this issue of near-rhymes and “missed rhymes”—I readily admit that I cannot win this argument. The fault may very well fall entirely on this “wearied” and “wishful thinking” sometime poet, as you aver. Heh! All I can do (doubting myself; doubting myself) is to state the following:

    a.) When I write a Shakespearean sonnet or other traditionalist short verse(s), I follow the form with strict self-imposed discipline: no cheating. The discipline required to be effective in short forms precludes muddying the aesthetic waters with “exceptions”. (See: my poems published in Spectral Realms.)

    b.) But in a longer narrative rhyming poem (of whatever form) that runs to, say, two pages or more, I weary and grow annoyed of constant, clanging “stain-brain-rain, car-bar-star, cat-brat-splat” end line rhymes. (In my work and the work of others.) You can see most of these coming a mile away. Too neat; too perfect; too tired. Such work is the technically correct but soul-deadened versifying of the paid jingleman (jingle-person?), not the inspired poet—or so I (vainly, plaintively, futilely) assert. When I say that near-rhymes and missed rhymes inject semantic tension into a poem, I mean exactly that—but am at a loss to further explain or quantify it. Too many and the rigor of the poetic form collapses; none at all and we’re back to maddening “Jane-pain-Dane, fart-dart-cart, stick-up—hiccup—lick up” jingleism. (I just coined a word there. Didn’t say it was a good one.) It’s like spice in a cooked dish: too much and the thing becomes wretchedly distasteful (aesthetic failure/structural collapse); too little and the eater becomes bored by blandness and ate-it-all-before ennui.

    Anyway—thanks for the great conversation! Thoroughly enjoyed it; so glad you are here. Where else on the internet could this discussion have occurred? (Thanks, Curtis and GD!)

    In conclusion let me re-state: You are correct in most everything you aver; my position/aesthetic sensibility/argument is decidedly iconoclastic, near indefensible and “wrong”, by all conventional standards of poetic rigor/form. No special-pleading here! (Except for all the special pleading.) Guilty as charged. What can you do but vigorously apply a pollo mallet to the forehead (spell-check suggests I meant to write “Apollo mallet”–now who’s being poetic?) and hope I come to my senses?


    Liked by 4 people



    **** RHYTHM ****

    Perhaps exaggerating to make it zingy, the orchestra conductor Thomas Beecham dissed musicologists as people who can read music but not hear
    it. Something like that could be said of people who are obsessive about counting syllables and labelling stress patterns with jargon. But anybody can recognize the lilt of a limerick or the forward momentum of a ballad. Readers only need to count syllables or consider which ones are stressed when they get curious about what’s under the hood to propel the poem. Whether or not they find the lit professor’s jargon helpful, writers do need to consider rhythm. Especially poets.

    The Henley and Nesbitt poems have similar rhythm schemes and adhere to them, with stanzas that have syllable counts of 8-8-8-8 (Henley) or the
    canonical 8-6-8-6 (Nesbitt). Likewise for stress patterns.

    The post’s opening manifesto mentions rhyme but not rhythm. This omission may be related to the multiplicity of rhythms in the ballad’s lines. The rhythmic wanderings do not come across as occasional bending or breaking of rules for what the writer thought were good reasons. Some stanzas have strong rhythms; some just don’t.

    The lack of a rhythm scheme makes the many weird line breaks all the more annoying and distracting. Poets do sometimes misalign line breaks with grammatical divisions for reasons that may include sticking to a rhythm scheme. (I’m likely to regret it later when I do this.) The occasional weird line break to accommodate a rhythm or make a point may be a good move, but I see nothing like that here.

    There are even places where a sentence begins in the last line of a stanza and ends in the first line of the next stanza. Tho I like the
    old sight gag showing some guy with one foot on a dock and the other on a departing boat, I’d rather not be reminded of it here.

    One thing that might help in working on rhythm is the choice between “Annie” and “Anne” as the protagonist’s name. Both names are good.
    (“Annie” encourages sympathy but is anachronistic.) Each line mentioning her could use whichever name sings better; the whole ballad could use
    the names in roughly equal numbers.

    Time for me shut up.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Again, great comments, Mellow!

    Herewith my replies:

    1. I am not overly enamored with nor transfixed by the desire/obsession/practice of imposing doltishly mechanical metronomic rhythm onto the form of a long narrative poem. That is not the way we speak, talk or think. Speech is music; the written word music transcribed. In short poems tick-tock-tick-tock-tick is bearable–even admirable–but in long form maddening. Artificial. Too smooth, shorn of character, plasticized. Rather, I prefer gear changes and tonal shifts in a long-form narrative poem–in fact, a series of them. Something more akin to prose than poetry, perhaps–within the poem proper. Show me collections of rhythms, varying forms and tonalities–I cry–to keep my brain from locking into soporific rigidity and boredom. (Or is this the ADD speaking?)

    2. “Annie” and “Anne”–like the alternating use of “William” or “Wil” throughout the poem–are used for just such rhythmical purposes of syllabication and stanza-appropriate stress patterns.

    3. I enjoy “mucking up” the enjambment when desirous of emphasizing the semantic and rhythmic datums of particular “problematic” passages over presenting an artificially hyper-polished, stutter-step collection of pureed metrical feet as idolatrous sacrifice to the god of sound over meaning. (I try never to write a dull–or comprehensible–line.) Let’s not fall asleep! Having said that, the rhetorical rhythm (or rhythms) you confess you fail to find in the poem must be there in some wise–howsoever protean, trickster-like, shifting–to sustain the reading (silently or aloud). Agreed! BTW: I once had a close reader of my work confess, “I can’t follow the rhythm here; you’ll never successfully recite this aloud.” When I completed the spoken-word album INFLECTIONS IN HORROR: VOL. I. (shameless plug: you can listen to it for free, though this particular poverty-stricken scritch-scribbler tirelessly begs for alms . . .) the friend in question listened to it in its entirety in the living room of my producer, then turned to me and said, “Well. I must confess that came off better than I expected.” When I broke out the typescript containing the “problematic passages” he’d red-penciled as being “unrecitable” due to “a failure and/or varying of rhythm” he confessed: “I didn’t hear it that way in my head.” To this day I can’t decide if that meant the failure was mine–poems are meant to be read, as well as recited aloud–or his. Or both. Or neither.

    Am I a stubborn, primitivist, iconoclastic scritch-scribbler condemned to commit to paper words only he can recite? At times I have the uneasy feeling–quite possibly. But what a pity that would be!

    One is also haunted and ever-mindful of Harold Bloom’s pithy summation of Oscar Wilde’s observation: “All bad poetry is sincere.”

    PS. And now we’re down to two readers. Heh!

    Liked by 4 people

  12. mimispeike says:

    There is much here to digest, and I am too exhausted from the heat, and from stress (doctor’s appointments, a minor out-patient operation on my spine scheduled for August 5), to really dig into it. But:

    “Too neat; too perfect; too tired.”

    I fight the easy and the obvious all the time. And I am adamantly against near-rhymes. My narrative poems tend to be of many installments, using up words at a breakneck pace. I do once in a while (rarely) concede defeat and go for a near-rhyme, but when I do, I apologize for it in a footnote.

    In Celestine, and in my series of poems telling the story of Sly’s bad-boy childhood, I lean heavily on archaic words, quite legitimately, considering the time frames, and, especially in the case of Celestine, I run sentences together. You discover the rhyme (in the exact spot, on the exact beat, where it belongs) almost accidentally.

    My mania for perfect rhymes wears me out, and so I have dropped my various pieces for months (and years) at a time, to return to them refreshed.

    My method is: when I go back in, I look for the weakest area and work on that.

    I don’t care that I’m still wrestling with Celestine forty years on. My current priorities are 1. Maisie / 2. Sly / 3. Probably ‘On Gaudy Night’ / 4. Celestine.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. mimispeike says:

    I do treat my poems as prose, with flowing speech/description broken by short, punchy ejaculation, etc.

    As Carl says: Show me collections of rhythms, varying forms and tonalities–I cry–to keep my brain from locking into soporific rigidity and boredom.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. CLARIFICATION (to the critics now howling for my head): I don’t treat my poems as prose. If I want to write prose, I write prose! Good grief. What I endeavored to communicate was the aesthetic necessity in long-form narrative poems of injecting the semantic tension of near rhymes (in a ratio of near-rhyme to bang-on-clanging-rhyme, say, of 10%-to-90%) and varying the incantatory rhythms of a long-form work in order to avoid creating a technically “perfect” but plastic, “too-smooth” collection of “bleh–whatever; shit-through-a-goose” verse.

    This is NOT an argument for abandoning all poetic rigor and adherence to form–that would be anarchy, or free verse (though even so-called “free verse” uses rhythmic tricks, enjambment and punctuation to regulate the flow of words and images) but rather an explanation and defense of the Japanese concept of “wabi-sabi” as applied to metrical verse; by which I mean to say: an appreciation of the deepened character and emotional resonances that accrue to the technically imperfect, hence more realistic, beautiful and meaningful object–be it a cracked china cup or a rhythm-shifting ballad.

    There is a fraught dynamic tension here between incorporating the occasional near-rhyme into a poem (in those instances where semantics must take precedence over mere sound) and the poet’s skill in adhering, in the main, to the rigor of the form.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. mimispeike says:

    Everybody gets to do it their way. I have set myself the personal challenge/silly game/endless fascination of perfect rhymes (though I do cheat on structure).

    And of avoiding da-de-da-de-da-de-da-da, that in a lengthy poem is trying.

    By the shores of Gitchee gumie . . .

    Liked by 4 people

  16. I hear ya, Mimi! Look at Poe: brilliant. Rivetting, hypnotic, seemingly effortless reams of perfect-rhyme poetry generated, decade-after-decade. Even though he was mocked in his time (and immediately after death) as a mere “jingleman” by certain envious, axe-grinding critics, his work will forever stand in triumph and rebuke to their missed-the-mark opinions. (Even a poem as repetitive and—I would argue—subversively comic as THE BELLS rises above mere repetitive jingle-ism by the paradoxical tactic of whole-heartedly embracing and amplifying the absurdity of chanting “the bells, bells, bells, bells—/Bells, bells, bells —”—such monosyllabic repetition mimicking the mental breakdown undergone by the obsessive, neurotic mind transfixed by terror, dread and rising apprehension. When Poe did it, he did it for a reason—and to shattering effect.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Carl and Mimi have identified a big concern about any extended narrative that adheres to a single poetic form.  Being a sucker for alliteration, I will run with Mimi’s hint that *The Song of Hiawatha* is an example and call it the Gitchee Gumee Goblin.  That’s a little shorter than “doltishly mechanical metronomic rhythm” in Carl’s apt description of the GGG.

    How to avoid turning off many readers by a zillion instances of the very same form w/o turning off many readers by unmotivated form breaks?  I’m wary of trying to draw and then walk a narrow line (between the GGG and sounding sloppy) thruout a long narrative.  Thresholds for goblin pain and for form break pain vary widely and are context-dependent.

    Here is another possibility.  Structure the narrative as a series of poems in various forms, with prose interludes between them.  Each poem has a form appropriate to what it describes.  Most of the poems could be in versions of “the” ballad form.  An incident providing comic relief could have a limerick instead.  An incident that leaves a character in a quandary could have prose about the incident itself followed by a haiku expressing the quandary.  And so on.  Any form breaks in poems could have motivations other than hunches that the GGG might be stirring.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. Astute observation, Mellow! For those of us who appreciate free as well as formalist verse (as I suspect you do), there are no “final” aesthetic answers/pronouncements to anything poetic. There is simply: this works; this doesn’t; here’s how this could be improved. (And believe-you-me, when a critic/editor of S T. Joshi’s stature and acumen says something like, “This doesn’t work–fix it”–it gets fixed, heh!)

    Liked by 3 people

  19. mimispeike says:

    “Thresholds for goblin pain and for form break pain vary widely and are context-dependent.”

    I am especially sensitive to the danger. My verse ‘Celestine and Her Sisters’, over forty years, has grown to nearly nine thousand words.

    Damn right I’m aware of the problem, and have done my utmost to alleviate it with sly humor, with changes of pace, with screwball twists to the well-known plot, and with surprising characterization.

    I hope a reader will hang on to see what my crew of gloriously incompetent goofballs screws up next.

    Will it ever be published? That would require too much art, and I have my hands full with Maisie and Sly. But I will create a Celestine-dedicated website (joining my one for Maisie, two for Book one of Sly and an additional one for each of several sequels, one for ‘On Gaudy Night’, and eventually one for a series of Miss Spider stories that have been floating around in my head for a decade.

    Miss Spider, a stylish little lady, goes on various hot dates – out to dine and dance, etc. – gets her hot date to follow her home, mates, and eats him, as happens in the spider dating world.

    Not sure if this is legal or not: I would like to create my short verse, colorful cartoon illustrations to mimic the hugely popular Miss Spider series already in existence. Few small heavy cardboard-slab pages with rounded corners, Bright color gradations. Decorative type. I think my gruesome ending after all the merry mischief would be hilarious. But will I be sued for it?

    Yeah, like I’m ever going to get to that one. It’s fun to think about anyway.

    Liked by 3 people

  20. mimispeike says:

    I envision something like this:

    Miss, Spider, Miss Spider, come dancing with me.

    With pleasure, kind sir. I will join you, gladly.

    I hear Miss Peggy Flea is at Ciro’s, downtown.
    Have you possibly, ma’am, a fine froth of a gown
    for to twirl high and low with your eight dainty feet
    as we two bob and weave to a hypnotic beat.

    The final interchange:

    It’s my nature. I’m sorry. It isn’t my fault.

    Lord have mercy, moaned he.

    Muttered she, where’s that salt?

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Time for everyone else to weigh in, folks! The “regulars” as well as any newbies who might be lurking . . . Trust me; we don’t bite! We’re a friendly, welcoming bunch here at the Co-Op. Do you have a particularly arresting and/or favored bit of poetry you’d care to share? (Your own or others?) Wish to make a comment or have a strong opinion re: anything poetry-related? Maybe you’d like to riff off something mentioned here, be it ever so tangentially. All are welcomed and encouraged to speak up and contribute to the dialogue! Please don’t hesitate to interact with the collection of life-long-student personages who gather here at the Writers Co-Op. (Unless, of course, you’ve decided that a high proportion of our regular contributors are, uh . . . so “differently enabled” as to make communication problematic.) :::clears throat; shifts in the chair; looks expectantly at the open doorway:::

    Liked by 3 people

    • Perry Palin says:

      I submitted “Poetry” by William Wantling in an earlier discussion, so here I weigh in with “After the Quarrel” by Barbara Gibson.

      After the Quarrel

      After the quarrel
      I melted
      against his back, took
      his hand hard in mine,
      and then oh baby we loved

      Liked by 3 people

  22. mimispeike says:

    I found the few lines I’d written for Miss Spider. I apparently never made notes on plot. But it’s coming back to me.

    Miss S. confides to her date that her sexual fetish is to be a dominatrix. It’s long been his fantasy, to be abused by a big, beautiful female. How can he resist?

    He agrees to be shackled to her bedposts. She retires to change out of her gown, reappears in a flirty negligee. Under that is a garter belt and mesh stockings.

    This time frame is the fifties. I have not had a chance to tackle that marvelous fifties look yet. Remember Bettie Page, famous for her pin-up peek-a-boo underwear photos? She is my inspiration for Miss Spider’s wardrobe.

    Another story that MUST have a paper doll!

    Liked by 2 people

  23. OKAY Carl, here’s my weigh in….


    ANSU, Brown eyed sprite of morn
    Sparkles charm without a clue,
    Of life’s innocence is born
    Young girl’s eyes of Springtime Dew.

    ANSU, burst of woman-cide
    Full of flowered love and pain;
    Petaled blossom opened wide,
    Mother of her Summer’s Reign.

    ANSU, willow in the breeze,
    Grace unbroken gracefully bends,
    Touching lives with noble ease,
    Proud beauty in the Autumn Winds.

    ANSU, matron of her reasons
    As within her wisdom grows;
    Sees the visions of her seasons
    In the cold blue Winter Snows.

    Liked by 4 people

  24. I just asked my new neighbor, a song writer, what it’s like to write a song.
    Here’s what he texted me.

    Let it be known, with guitar in hand and the voice in my head Start saying; Strum a chord, fingers in position and let it ring!

    Never know where I’m going I’m not sure where; Love lost or just beginning it is Motion turns into emotion

    Unlike a planned travel, You see it is the imagination takes me for a ride… sometimes that’s how I write a song!

    If I write the poem first… Then my limited ability music composition wise, causes me to break up and rearrange the words and then I feel the moment is lost… What is a simple construct… But it has worked for me over the years.

    I have many songs, Some have a very personal meaning… But I believe other people can relate. Makes me proud.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. I started my comments on this post by citing good poems in strict forms, so citing good poems in free verse would be a balanced way to respond to Carl’s call for sharing poems in his comment [July 16, 2021 at 5:23 pm].

    While most of the free verse I have seen is just bad prose sprinkled with obligatory line breaks, I saw 2 exceptions recently in WP blogs:


    Will refrain from citing any of my own poems.  The ones left out might retaliate.

    Liked by 2 people

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