When I was asked to write my first article for OneStopPoetry, I contacted a poet I’ve known for a long time. His name is Hector Gutierrez and he is one of the noblest men I’ve ever known. He and I became acquainted in a writer’s workshop in the Dallas Ft.Worth area. After a period of time, the poets splintered from the main group because we wanted to be able to have copies to read as well as hear one another’s poems. This was not the format used for the fiction/non-fiction writers. Sometimes we were asked to read a particular poem to the larger group but usually we worked as a small unit.
While we were engaged in these exercises, Hector “invented” a form unlike any other I know. It’s called Framed Couplets and I thought it might be a good form to consider for this week’s exercise.
Hector explained it thus: “I have tried many experimental approaches to structure and rhyme. I have a few poems that I wrote in what I call the framed couplet, for lack of a better name. I began with a rhymed couplet in iambic pentameter, but I decided to rhyme the initial syllables as well as the ending syllables. To add emphasis to the initial rhyme, I decided that the initial syllable must be accented. So I ended up with nine syllables per line instead of ten. One can think of this as a four foot line of trochees ending in an added accented syllable, but I prefer to think of it as iambic pentameter missing the initial unaccented beat.
Part of the fun has been to try to “hide” the structure or the rhyme scheme, so that the poems read as though they’re free verse while still allowing me to work in the particular mode that works best for me. For one poem, I took a favorite line of verse from another poet and used it as a template for a new set of words. For example, “The Red Wheelbarrow“ by W. C. Williams“ starts with “So much depends / upon / the red wheel / barrow.” My line became “His mush descends / upon / the red tongued / sparrow.”
Hector’s poem “Minor Strain” is written in Framed Couplets:
MINOR STRAIN by Hector Gutierrez
Sinless child, your face turns back toward ten,
innocence bruised, strained by careless men.
Clothes that push you up toward twenty-one –
loathsome need in you; for them, brief fun.
Tension pushes, pulls, to fill a void
men’s abuse created; what’s destroyed
time can never . . . child, you must not tease.
I’m your friend, or would be. Stop! Don’t. Please.
Some of you may have read my offering today, but I will include it as it was my first attempt at this form. I did this to honor him (although it is not about the two of us. Hector is married to his childhood sweetheart who is worthy of his ardor and lifetime love.) I wrote it as fourteen lines, not thinking it would be a proper sonnet, but Hector admires sonnets over all other forms.
LAST TIME AROUND by Gay Reiser Cannon
You and I beneath a willow tree
true to youth’s impassioned goals. Now three
decades summon that lost world again –
decadence and lust spent with my friend.
Dreams of such rich trust and such deep fears,
schemes we boldly etched through dusty years.
You and I once rode a carousel
through our passing rites. Hearing the bell –
its demand to, “Reach the ring of gold!”
split the shafts of time and light. They told
lies of love and hope and future’s bright
skies, before our lives could delve the night.
You and I must seize this fleeting chance
to resume the music and the dance.
I believe working on this form is challenging but rewarding. The poem can be of any length, but the goal is to adhere to the form without having the form itself intrude on the work. So give it a try. It can be as short or as long as you choose to make it and you are free to format it any way you wish. I’m looking forward to seeing what you write. And I want to thank you for participating. This week it’s particularly gratifying for me.