Hexasyllabically

One excellent place for a big word is a double-dactyl. This is a poetry form which was invented in the late sixties by Anthony Hecht and John Hollander. It falls into the same category as limericks in being a short, specifically structured verse form which is usually humorous in nature.

The defining characteristics of a double-dactyl are as follows: eight lines; lines one, two and three are double dactyls (two “feet” of “long-short-short”) then line four is a choriamb (long-short-short-long). Repeat for the second half of the poem. The poem should be one sentence, and the sixth line one six-syllable word. There are two rhyming words, one at the end of each choriamb, and each rhyming word only one syllable. The first line is often nonsense syllables like “higgeldy-piggledy” and the second a name.

Here’s a lovely definition of double-dactyl in – what else – a double-dactyl!

Higgledy-piggledy
Dactyls in dimeter
Verse form with choriambs
(Masculine rhyme):
One sentence (two stanzas)
Hexasyllabically
Challenges poets who
Don’t have the time.

I’ve written a couple of double-dactyls, but because the original definition was given to me by someone who got it wrong, I’ve been writing mine with a six-syllable word in the seventh line, so I’m not going to quote them here. But it’s worth having another go at it, and I think I will.

There are quite a few legitimate hexasyllabics around – parliamentarian comes to mind, or cryptozoologist. You can always make one up, too. I made up “mythobiologist”, someone who studies mythical beasts.

The wonderful thing about a disciplined form like a double-dactyl, or a limerick, is that within that rather rigid pattern you have a good deal of room to play. Like limericks, double-dactyls seem to be written most often with a twist or a joke, a point or a punch, rather than just an observation.

Haul out those big words and see what you can do!

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This entry was posted in Doing the Work, Going on About Words and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Hexasyllabically

  1. I have a polydactyl Tuxedo cat, does that count? lol I’ve never been much good at writing poetry, but this form is rather intriguing. 🙂

  2. Elizabeth!
    I fell in love with this form ages ago, but thought there were more rules:
    1. It has to be political in theme
    2. It has to begin, always, with the same first line, “higgledy-piggledy”

    So, I wrote one. Sorry to intrude politics, here, but I thought that was one of the rules. 😐

    Higgledy piggledy
    Billy and Hillary
    Tried to make medicine
    Up on “The Hill”
    Didn’t get by with it
    Propagandistically
    Always watch out for
    A Bill/Hill Pill Bill!

    Also I guess I did not know it had to be one sentence. Oooh. The plot thickens! 🙂
    There used to be a Double-Dactyl poetry writing contest on line, but I think they gave up due to having to award prizes to bad poems or something. Also they were bending the rules a lot!

    Thanks SO MUCH for this post. It was a joy, for me. 🙂

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