, , , , ,

Lune is French for the word moon, and is also used in classic English literature in poetic references to the moon.

Tonight, the moon is in the phase known as waning gibbous, slowly darkening but still about 72% visible, just before Friday’s last quarter moon.

In a few more days, before the total darkness of the new moon, it will be a waning crescent, a curved sliver of fading light.

The crescent moon and the gibbous moon – these are the forms that lend themselves pictorially to what has been called the American haiku, the modern poetic structure also known as the lune.

The lune is also known as the American haiku

The lune is also known as the American haiku

Robert Kelly is a renowned American poet with over fifty books of poetry and prose to his name.

Among these works, “Kill the Messenger Who Brings Bad News” won the Los Angeles Times First Annual Book Award in 1980, and “In Time” won the American Book Award in 1991. He received an Award for Distinction from the National Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Kelly was among those who experimented heavily with the standard Japanese haiku form, the 5-7-5 syllabic structure that focussed on naturalistic themes.

Excerpt from Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune"

Excerpt from Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”

He felt that writers in English had difficulty adhering to the core esthetic of Japanese haiku partly because the syllabic requirement led to the writer using too many words. In addition, traditional haiku has strict requirements on theme and technique.

Condensing the haiku to a 5-3-5 syllabic form, Kelly discovered that this new structure naturally led to simplicity in the English language.

Kelly’s work underlined the form’s simplicity by omitting capitalization and end punctuation, but the 5-3-5 syllabic structure is the only requirement. There are no requirements on having a nature theme, the poem may rhyme or not, may use similes or metaphors or any other poetic device.

Since the syllabic form mirrored a crescent moon – and because there are 13 lunar months in a year, the same number of total syllables in the form – he called the form a lune.

Phases of the moon

Phases of the moon

Following his first book of poems in 1961, “Armed Descent”, Kelly published the 40-page “Knee Lunes” and the 24-page “Pars Artis: A Sortie of Lunes” in 1962, both of which focussed on the new form.

Finally, in 1964, he published “Lunes/Sightings” – with Jerome Rothenberg, his partner in the Deep Image poetic movement – with Hawk’s Well Press in New York.

As Kelly stated in an interview with The Modern Review, he considered this new book one of his most important, a volume which became known for “floating a new form I ‘invented’.”

As an example, here is one of his lunes from “Knee Lunes”:

thin sliver of the
crescent moon
high up the real world

Knee x-ray

Knee x-ray

There is another form of the lune, which in some ways is simpler, and thus more widely-taught in the primary and secondary schools.

This alternative version of the form was created by American poet and essayist Jack Collom, who is credited with over twenty-three books on poetry and education, and whose poetry has been collected in numerous magazines and anthologies, ranging from “Best Poems of 1963” to “The Best American Poetry 2004”.

In Collom’s variation of the lune, words are counted instead of syllables, and the structure is a count of 3-5-3 words.

This version was apparently created by accident. Collom had purchased a copy of “Knee Lunes” in the 1970s, when he was working with schoolchildren, and in the classroom he misremembered Kelly’s structure.

The new form stuck because words were easier for the children to count than syllables – thus making it easier and more enjoyable for them to create poetry. The form has been taught this way for over 35 years.

English classroom

English classroom

In the mid-70s, Collom contacted Kelly to ask his permission to continue using the term lune with the 3-5-3 word form in the classroom, and Kelly agreed.

However, to distinguish the two variations, the 5-3-5 syllabic form has been called the Kelly lune; and the 3-5-3 word form has been called the Collom lune.

In “Moving Windows: Evaluating the Poetry Children Write”, Collom gives some examples of 3-5-3 word lunes by primary schoolchildren, including

When the sun’s
rays hit the shades, it
lights up lines.

As he noted, “Lunes are like crackerjacks… I told a junior high class this and a girl came back the next day with 120.”

"Woman with a Crescent Moon" (1888) Paul-Albert Besnard

“Woman with a Crescent Moon” (1888) Paul-Albert Besnard

I don’t expect anyone to come up with 120 lunes in one night…

But tonight, in celebration of the last quarter moon, I invite you to contribute a single or a string of lunes, in whatever variation you feel like embracing –
– a 5-3-5 syllabic Kelly lune, or
– a 3-5-3 word Collom lune

Please don’t forget to visit the poems of your fellow writers and leave them a note or two in passing.

… And tip the hat to Robert Kelly and Jack Collom, for this uniquely enjoyable modern form.


Samuel Peralta – on Twitter as @Semaphore – is the author of five titles in The Semaphore CollectionSonata Vampirica, Sonnets from the Labrador, How More Beautiful You Are, Tango Desolado and War and Ablution – all #1 on the Amazon Kindle List of Hot New Releases in Poetry on their debut.

Copyright (c) Samuel Peralta. All rights reserved.

Images public domain / via WikiMedia Commons or as attributed.