Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sheepdog Verse, Keep It Terse

Duffy, Mike, and Sophie in the Forest

Dear George,
My poetry writing was mostly confined to my sophomore year in college when I’d switched to being a lit major and thought that poems might be a good way to interest girls.  It didn’t really pan out.  Instead I became a psych major and got interested in interpreting dreams.  Now that I have more time on my hands, I decided I should give poetry writing another try.  As a first step, I’ve done some research on the types of poetry one can choose from.  There seem to be seven major categories of poems.  These are: limericks, sonnets, haiku, love poems, death poems, epic poems, and Old English Sheepdog poems.  Sheepdog poems are a recent addition, but it looks like they’re becoming the rage in Anglo-American literary circles.  It’s probably because the nobility of the species transcends more mundane topics like love, war, or death.  Since we own two Old English Sheepdogs, Mike and Duffy, writing poems about sheepdogs seems a natural for me.  However, it’s challenging -- you practically have to become a dog whisperer.  So I’ve been working on refining my dog empathy skills at the same time that I’ve been searching for words that rhyme with sheepdog (e.g., treefrog, prologue, peat bog, leapfrog, yule log, seadog, beanstalk).

Most contemporary poetry is written in free verse, i.e., without rhymes or any fixed rhythm or length of lines.  In grade school I was always taught that poems rhyme.  Thus, I decided I better start out by writing sheepdog poems that rhyme. There are, of course, different forms of rhymed poems. Some of the most important are: rhyming couplets, tercets, quatrains, limericks, sonnets, and villanelles.  Here are some sheepdog examples of these forms.       

(1) The Rhyming Couplet
A rhyming couplet is the simplest, shortest form of poetry.  As the name suggests, it’s a pair of back to back lines that rhyme.  Such line pairs can be very short poems (cf. Ogden Nash) or, more typically, subunits of a stanza or of a longer poem.  Here are a few sheepdog rhyming couplets.  

Being a sheepdog is such a big hoot
The kiddies all pet you and think that you’re cute

Duffy and Mike form a two-dog pack
If Mike misbehaves, Duffy gives him a whack

Our dogs never fraternize with real-life sheep
If they ever do, they’ll giggle in their sleep

The sheepdogs and I took a stroll down the block
We ate Graeter’s ice cream and heard some punk rock.

If I were a sheepdog I’d certainly wish
To live free like a squirrel or maybe a fish.

(2) Tercets
A tercet (or a triplet) is three lines of poetry.  It can stand alone as a short poem or be a sub-unit (e.g., a stanza) in a larger poem.  Usually it’s the first and third lines that rhyme in a tercet.  Tercets are a favorite form for sheepdog poems.

Duffy gives Katja a big sloppy kiss
I think it’s disgusting
But she thinks it’s bliss

Each year the dogs have creakier hips
They can still get from there to here
But with far fewer flops and flips.

(3) Quatrains
Quatrains are four lines of verse.  Usually the four lines have the same meter or rhythm so that they flow together.  They can follow various "rhyme schemes" (see below).  Here are examples of some of the most common rhyme schemes:

AABB (lines 1 & 2 rhyme; lines 3 & 4 rhyme)

When the dogs and I camp out in the woods
I bring along most of their worldly goods
Two balls, ten chewies, our big spacious tent
They think it’s dog heaven to which they’ve been sent.

ABAB (lines 1 & 3 rhyme; lines 2 & 4 rhyme)

Sheepdogs are much bigger than lizards
And more handsome than pot-bellied pigs
They’re not quite as brainy as wizards
But they’re better at chewing on twigs

ABBA (lines 1 & 4 rhyme; lines 2 & 3 rhyme)

Duffy acts like he’s Big Mr. Tough
Trying to frighten other pups in the park
He gives them his loudest and scariest bark
But those dogs know his toughness is bluff

ABCB (lines 2 & 4 rhyme)

Duffy was always the Alpha dog
And Mikey was usually submissive
But now Duffy’s calmer than Melba toast
And Mike’s become Mr. Aggrissive

(4) Limerick
Limericks are five line poems that have a distinctive rhythm.  The rhyme scheme is AABBA.  The first, second, and fifth lines are longer than the third fourth.  Limericks are usually humorous and are often racy.  Sheepdog limericks aren't usually racy though (but rather are quite serious).  Here's are a couple of examples.

There once was a sheepdog named Duffy
Whose hair was incredibly fluffy.
When he walks in the rain
It creates so much pain
Cause Duffy turns fluffy to scruffy. 

We own an old doggie named Mike
To lie on his back he does like
He does it all day
Till his itch goes away
And then he leaps up like a tike. 

(5) Sonnet
A sonnet is made up of fourteen lines.  Traditional English sonnets use four quatrains and a windup couplet in the following pattern: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.  While Elizabethan sonnets are usually about love, sheepdog sonnets are mostly about sheepdogs.


When Mike and Duff were very young dogs
They loved to chew on our stuff
They ate twelve pairs of Katja’s clogs
And that was barely enough

They ate my glasses; they ate my keys
Ball point pens would drive them wild
I begged them to stop with endless pleas
But the dogs just nodded and smiled

Now that Duffy and Mike are more mature
They’re content to just nap on the floor
It’s not that clogs have lost their allure
It’s that chewing’s become such a bore

So that’s the end of my story for now
The dogs could say more if they only knew how

(6) Villanelle
The Villanelle was invented by French poets and didn't appear in English poetry until the 1800s.  Villanelles are made up of 19 lines which are divided into 6 stanzas.  The first 5 stanzas have 3 lines apiece and have an ABA rhyme scheme with the first and third lines rhyming.  The sixth stanza has 4 lines, and it ends in a rhymed couplet consisting of lines 1 and 3 from the first stanza.  Only two rhymes run through the entire villanelle (see the example below).  The villanelle was a favorite of Sylvia Plath and Dylan Thomas.  Writing villanelles is pretty hard (sheepdog villanelles are the hardest). 

                           The Sheepdogs’ Day

The sheepdogs’ day is a joyful affair
They’re busy from morning to night
Mike and Duffy are such an astonishing pair

At eight o’clock they feel the sun’s glare
They leap from the bed in a beam of light
The sheepdogs’ day is a joyful affair

At nine o’clock they crouch by my chair
A bowl full of food is a welcome sight
Mike and Duffy are such an astonishing pair

At one o’clock we go out in the air
A two-mile jaunt is our daily rite
The sheepdogs’ day is a joyful affair

At six o’clock the dogs get a scare
If supper’s late they’re extremely uptight
Mike and Duffy are such an astonishing pair

At nine o’clock it’s time for a prayer
Another day finished, another day right
The sheepdogs’ day is a joyful affair
Mike and Duffy are such an astonishing pair

So far it looks like couplets are my most promising medium, and villanelles are beyond me.  However, I’m going to keep working at it.  I hope that this info about forms of poetry inspires some creative writing among readers.  If you send me one or more poems about your pet, I’d be glad to publish them here.

G-mail Comments
-Donna D (5-22): david, this is fantastic!  since i don't have the internet at home anymore except on my phone, i try to check it everyday at work.  I just loved reading this!  did you actually come up with the content of these poems?  donna

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