Friday, May 5, 2017

Thought Provokers

Some Little-Known Short Forms

This time I hope to provoke your thoughts, not by introducing you to controversial ideas, but by presenting some new forms for your consideration. Recent inventions, in fact! 


My old friend Geoff Prince has for some time been sharing, via facebook posts, a pithy verse form of his own devising: four lines, a pivot line on its own, and then another four which take the poem further, usually in a somewhat different direction. They rhyme, but not always in the same way. To me they often have the flavour of epigrams or aphorisms. I find them intriguing.

When I asked if he had given them a name, he said:

'i settled on "gnomes" to describe them. if you read frost's the secret sits you will gather some of their origin. also blake proverbs of heaven & hell.'

Here is the Frost:

We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows. 

And here are some of Geoff's 'gnomes':

who just go
with the drift
of things


are exposed
not to the flow
but to the rift
in things


only when
you have known
the mystery
will you banish ignorance


to struggle to put
this in words
means you've
just missed the dance


the psychedelicate
from the fringes
of the city


compassion to
from the frail
eye of pity


The disease of tomorrow
has touched me today;
the rain has fallen –
too little to pay.


too little
and too late to stay;
how the ill of tomorrow
has touched me today …


it seems only
when my heart
is softer than silence
i can hear it


when my brain
will not give me rest
i must fear it


be cajoled
into submission


at our definition


I haven't tried any myself yet – perhaps daunted by Geoff's obvious mastery of his own invention – but they are tempting, aren't they?

Thinner Tanka

Magaly Guerrero, who is known to many of you here, through her participation and her own blog, has been playing with the Japanese form, tanka, for quite some time. Very recently she came up with a variation she calls 'thinner tanka'. 

Unlike some of us who don't worry any more about syllable count for haiku and tanka, but just do patterns of long and short lines, Magaly is one of the many to adhere to the traditional 5-7-5-7-7 syllable count (per line) for tanka. Her thinner tanka have fewer syllables – making, indeed, for a lovely leanness. She has narrowed them down to 3-5-3-5-5.

Like the original tanka form, it's versatile! Being Magaly, who excels in the unexpected, she hasn't yet (as far as I know) written any simple, stand-alone thinner tanka, instead combining them into longer forms. 

The first I've chosen to share with you is a poem of which the first two verses are thinner tanka, the last two are Kelly lunes. (The lune is another interesting short form, details here.) 

The Sun Wants to Die

the night heard
my side of our bed
my spring turns wintry
when your heart is gone

in nightmares
my lips say nothing
of our love,
my blood refuses
to ink you and me

the sun wants to die
without you
my self grows hollow

“I’m almost undone,”
you whisper.
And I breathe again.


The next is a triple thinner tanka, each verse forming one:

We Aren’t Dead

I saw crows
pecking at soulless
body piles…
dead people afire,

Body piles,
you said? What of teeth
and ravens?
My quill’s in dire need
of something to bleed.

Look deeper,
dear sirs, see us twitch—
we aren’t dead.
True humans will kick
‘til all tongues are freed.


And the last is a haibun variation where the verse is a tanka instead of a haiku (sometimes known as tanka prose) – in this case a thinner tanka.

Must Love Freaks

She says that I was born with luck sitting on my hand and charm dancing on the tip of my tongue. “People love you,” she tells me, “they want that… something shining out of you.”

I smile at her, all magic and creepy teeth, wondering if she ever kisses her mirror.

You must love
freakishly wild things
to love me,
caress chaos’ soul
and moan for balance.


And now let's go back a little way and remind ourselves of (or perhaps discover for the first time) a form invented by a young Filipino poet, Kelvin S. Mangundayao, whom we got to know blogging as Kelvin S.M. He seems to be having a quiet spell offline at present, as he has done before – at any rate, did not answer my email about this post, and his blog appears to be in hiatus. However, he has already made information about the tilus form publicly available, and has previously given me permission to use his work here, so here is his description, with some of his own examples:

'Tilus [tee-loo-hz] - is a form created by yours truly and falls under the category of micro poetry. The form is divided into two parts: the first part is composed of two lines following a 6-3 syllable count; the second part, a one-syllable word to close and/or complete the subject layered in the first part. The whole piece must, only, contain 10 in overall syllable count. The main focus of Tilus is on the world of nature, and how it can open a new door to a wider understanding of life and beyond. The form aims to be epic in emotions expressed more importantly than to be epic in words.'

(The name is a reverse spelling of his mother's maiden name, which is also his own middle name.)

 Life---let me fall in you
 clean as a



 Old crow wears red; night has
 settled on



 River blue: I quaff clouds
 on river



(When I asked Kelvin for the plural of the word, he seemed a bit taken aback but suggested the English-language plural form, 'tiluses'. I find myself – without any authorisation – tending to use the singular form as also the plural.)


I can get long-winded in free verse, so I love to try short forms now and again to re-learn how to condense – and just because they're fun.

Another good one, which the people at dVerse Poets Pub came up with, is the quadrille. Many of you will already be aware of it from that source, but I think it is not yet generally known. The only rule is that it must be exactly 44 words (excluding title). 

I asked Bjorn Rudberg of the dVerse team (whom we know well here too) if it was one person's invention or a collaborative effort. He replied:

'Actually it was collectively invented... it went back to the fun of doing something right between the 33 words of Trifecta (now gone) and the 55... so 44 felt natural. The original idea of doing a short prompt was Grace's... '

It's an extremely versatile form because of having only that one rule. You can arrange the words however you like as to lines and verses. You can create metre and/or rhyme – or not.

The regular dVerse quadrille prompts always feature a specific word that must be included, a different one every time, but that's just to keep things interesting – it's not an integral part of the form.

I've enjoyed playing with quadrilles, but recently realised that mine have made rather slight poems so far (I mean their content rather than their length). Perhaps that is simply because I find it a playful form. Others obviously find it so too, yet have done amazing things with it. Because it's so open, rather than hunting up examples for you or sharing mine, I invite you to try your own – if you haven't already.

In fact I invite you to try any of these new forms that appeal to you. Or even invent your own! And I hope I have given you things to think about in terms of poetic composition.

Material shared here is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, usually their authors.


  1. Sorry for the delay, kids. I just noticed this hadnt posted as expected, so we are a teensy bit late. Smiles. I am thrilled to see Magaly here. Will go read, then come back and comment further.

  2. Wow, Rosemary, what a feast this is! Stupendous. Intriguing forms executed with such skill by three fine poets. I really love Geoff's poems - each one so full of wisdom, they could be featured on motivational posters. LOVELY to see Magaly, who is one of the shiny people and I was so happy to read of Kelvin, a very talented young man who I am sure will return to writing when the muse flows....he is too talented to not continue writing. Thank you for the effort you put into this........such an interesting feature every week!

  3. Many thanks, Sherry, for taking care of the posting! I had gone to bed thinking this was all set to go. (Just one more way in which it's so good to be part of this dedicated team!)

  4. Happy Cinco de Mayo

  5. You've selected three interesting and fun forms. I must confess though, that I rarely conform to forms. I think it's due to my insecurity about writing poetry or perhaps a rebellion against rules. But all these sound like they're doable, even for me. So I will raise my courage and spend some time experimenting with these. Thanks Rosemary.

  6. Thank you both, Rosemary and Sherry, for sharing this. I'm quite taken by Kelvin's Tilus (and I agree with you, Rosemary, the singular form feels like the plural, too--"Tilules" sounds like a bit much).

    Oh, and one of these days, I will actually let you know why I started writing Thinner Tanka. It has little to do with adhering to form, and more with the size of tea bags. ;-)

    Thanks again.

    1. Perhaps you'll have to write a poem about that! Meanwhile I picture you scribbling VERY tiny on a tea bag.

    2. A friend of my mom's just published a book of amazing art on teabags--used and opened ones.

    3. @Rosemary, I'm laughing imagining you picturing me scribbling tiny letters, lol!

      @Susan, how fantastic!

  7. This was truly thought provoking! Apart from the dverse quadrille i've never conformed to any structure. I think I'm definitely gonna try my hand at gnomes. I found thinner tankas to be genius and tilus is so simple and beautiful. Thank you for this lovely compilation! :)

  8. I read this yesterday
    then sat still


  9. Thank you for this article... I have always loved the short form... as a matter of fact I started out writing my poetry on twitter. The Tilus I do remember and it came out as a prompt on dVerse to create your own form (including a name) and some of them later became prompts again.

    The Quadrille is coming up every second Monday (and we are due the upcoming Monday). I have to give a lot of credit to De (WhimzyGismo) for coming up with the words of the prompt which are often fun and playful...

    I might try my hands at the Gnome form some day.

    1. Ah yes, now that you remind me, I recall that the 'create your own form' prompt at dVerse was when I first became acquainted with Kelvin's tilus – as well as some other very interesting forms, not all of them short. :)

  10. Thank you for sharing such fun forms, including the Quadrille!

  11. Wowieeee!❤️ This is an absolutely delicious post, Rosemary! I am so glad to see familiar names and faces here, love Magaly's 'Thinner Tanka' which I am dying to try out sometime soon. I must say Kelvin has been rather missed in the blogosphere.. hopefully he ll come back soon! His form is rather intriguing too!❤️ Ah.. the Quadrille is a favourite amongst many at the pub.. I prefer it as Mondays are busiest among all the days of the week. Interesting to know that it was a collectively invented!❤️ Looking forward to trying out these forms!

  12. The 44 word constraint of the quadrille was an eye-opener for me. I am used to seeing constraints with meter and rhyme patterns. I even considered syllable count constraints before, but I had not considered word count constraints prior to seeing the dVerse prompts.

  13. LOVE it! The Quadrille has become a new favorite for me, just as I was deeply enamored of the Trifecta. I'm so excited to play with this other forms! <3 Thank you, Rosemary!

    1. I'm always breathless with delight, De, at what you do with the quadrille form. You're one I had in mind when I spoke of people doing amazing things with it (and yes, playful too).

  14. I'm so glad this post has piqued people's interest. I think all these forms deserve to be more widely known and used.

  15. I really enjoyed this post - especially learning about 'gnomes' - though, Geoff Prince sets a very high bench mark (so insightful and intriguing). Years ago I was introduced to the 'puente' form at Poetry Jam and have had a lot of fun playing around with that, from time to time. That is the lovely thing about these kind of poetry forums and posts of interest to fellow poets. They inspire us to spread-our-wings in ways we probably never would have found our way to, left to our solitary devices.

    Thank you for another splendid share, Rosemary!

    1. Ah, I didn't know about the puente, but have just found it on Shadow Poetry. Another interesting possibility!

  16. thank you for this trio of forms - always looking for a fresh free expressions ways. Both the quadrille and the flash 55 are good disciplines for the overly verbose!

  17. thank you, Rosemary, for an interesting read! forms can be fun to do.
    i must try the tilus, it's right up my alley. :)

  18. Very much enjoyed this, Rosemary. Thanks for presenting. The Tilus and Quadrille I'm familiar with through dVerse (Kelvin had shared it with us at dVerse years ago) but am looking forward to trying the first one.

  19. Luv the creativity displayed by these poets, would definitely have to try the 'Tilus [tee-loo-hz]
    Well done

    much love...

  20. I love always love to learn new things. Thanks so much for sharing.


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