Make your own Chain verse : Poetry through the Ages

A page from the "Poetry through the Ages" exhibit...



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Choose your subject.

Despite its medieval origins and obscurity, chain verse works well with modern subjects, such as nature and relationships, as well as for comparative statements about two or more observations.

Go with the flow.

The key to writing chain verse is to maintain a constant flow with as few interruptions as possible. The best way to approach your subject is to write it out and allow the lines to break naturally. Once you’ve generated all the material for a rough poem of eight to 20 lines, roll up your sleeves and tackle the big challenge: creating identical words or syllables to close one line and start another; or, if you choose the other chain verse form, create repeating lines between the end of one stanza and beginning of the next.

Structure is key.

A note about your choice of words: You’ll be working primarily with homonyms and homographs – words that sound and/or are spelled identically, but have different meanings (e.g. well/well, whale/wail). While this form works well with linear or circular narratives and subject matter, you can also create strange, seemingly random connections through similar language sounds. Either way, the repetition will ensure smooth line-to-line transitions of syllables and words when you choose not to repeat a word, but rather choose its homonym, homograph, or final syllable.

In the example below, note how one line flows into the other, and the end-line word choices create opportunities for a smooth start to the next line:

Mothering
Robert Yehling (1959–)

Wisp of fog descends upon the meadow.

Doe guides new fawns through sweeping grasses,
sisters on shaky legs capturing scents,
scents their bodies recall with fright, delight,
light of morning sun not ten minutes old.
Bold, the new dawn touches tender bodies
descending into the thicket of tendrils,

Drill down, little fawn mouths,

mouths seeking shoots and dandelions,
lions of green kingdoms, meadows, just-born
morn, a new dawn. The doe walks on.

The one instance of enjambment (movement from one line to the next without stopping) in the first stanza (between "bodies" and "descending") embeds the music into the movement of the line. Try replicating such a maneuver, and you will encourage your reader to hear the alliteration without being caught up in the sing-song. As you form your poem, open up your rhyming dictionary. This useful tool will inspire ideas for working with the alliterative nature of chain verse.

 

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