This is an idea that can be a real challenge but is also a great way to work on maximizing the potential of ideas and minimal language. This week’s challenge is for you to write a 10-line poem (a decastich) using a prescribed format. In poetry, a line is a unit of language into which a poem is divided. Typically, a line ends where the poet wants the reader to pause. Line breaks can add to the rhythm of a poem. These breaks may occur at the end of a sentence (end-stopped), but lines may also be broken in many ways without terminal punctuation. Sometimes, lines are broken at a halfway point, but this isn’t always the case.
When lines are broken at a mid-clause point, this is called enjambment. Enjambment can be used to maintain a rhythm that is stronger than continued end-stopping. Through enjambment, a poet is able to effectively draw the reader along from one line to the next and to establish a fast rhythm or pace for a poem. The function of enjambment in poetry is to allow an idea to continue beyond the limitations of a single line; this frequently reinforces certain ideas within the lines themselves. Enjambment can also be a device employed to create surprise for the reader by setting up one idea in the first line and then changing that idea in the next line. These are ideas you may want to keep in mind when writing your ten-line poem.
For starters, the “rules” are specific, so try to follow them closely for your first draft—you may, of course, make whatever changes you wish when you begin the editing process.
1. Don’t use any terminal punctuation, but begin each line with a capital letter.
2. Throw out all prose impulses (no narrative poems)
3. Resist all formal tendencies (no metrical patterns or rhyme schemes).
4. Don’t plan any part of your poem—just write from line to line.
5. As you write, see what relationships develop; discover what’s going on in the poem.
6. When you finish, look through the poem for a word or phrase that you can use as a title.
7. Let the poem “sit” for a day or two and then look at it again. That will be the time to make changes, tweak, refine, and “color outside the margins.”
8. Make changes in capitalization and punctuation (add periods, question marks, commas etc).
9. Work on alliteration and other sound qualities in your poem.
10. Decide on line breaks.
Line 1: Open the poem with an action.
Line 2: Write a specific image related (even if only superficially) to the last word in line 1.
Line 3: Ask an unconnected question and put it in italics.
Line 4: Write an image related to the question in line 3.
Line 5: Answer the question in line 3 and include a color.
Line 6: Write an image related to the answer in line 5.
Line 7: Add a detail in which you modify a noun with an unusual or unlikely adjective.
Line 8: Add an image that echoes or relates to the action in line 1.
Line 9: Free line—add whatever you wish.
Line 10: Close with something seemingly unrelated, strange, or surreal.
Line 1: She lifts the potted plant from its place on the windowsill.
Line 2: Dusk slips in through parted curtains—
Line 3: a lingering dream—and what came after?
Line 4: The evening sky deepens into something darker,
Line 5: a shade of blue she’s never seen before.
Line 6: Ghosts appear in spaces between the stars
Line 7: (the clattering choices were hers to make).
Line 8: Gently, her fingertip traces the edge of a tiny bloom.
Line 9: Choices, yes, and flowers among the regrets ...
Line 10: she removes the china doll from her dresser drawer.