Thursday 9 June 2011

Doubly Dactylic Dashes

While still pondering the vexed question of dashes, I stumbled on these lines, by Wendy Cope:

Emily Dickinson
Liked to use dashes
Instead of full stops.

Nowadays, faced with such
Critics and editors
Send for the cops.

This is an example of the Double Dactyl, a curious verse from that makes heavy use of the dum-di-de dactyl. The metrical structure speaks for itself, but there are further rules to complicate matters: the first line must be meaningless, the second line the subject's name, and at least one line of the second stanza must consist of a single double-dactylic word. The most surprising thing about the Double Dactyl is that it was co-invented (with Paul Pascal) by that otherwise eminently serious (and very fine) American poet Anthony Hecht. In 2008, Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post honoured Hecht and his invention with - what else? - a Double Dactyl:

Higgledy Piggledy
Anthony Hecht, who could
Write about death in words
Epic yet warm,
Went to his own with some
Logic; his legacy's
This stupid form.

I was thinking of setting a Double Dactyl Competition - but really that would be too silly (and too hard), wouldn't it? If anyone wants to have a go, though - feel free...


  1. Bumpity-bumpity
    Nigeness's commenters
    Are put on notice
    Re a caesura.

    But stop it: here, yes, here -
    is now on hold for
    versing bravura.

  2. Double Dactyl E-Coli Theory

    Benedict Cumberbatch
    brought a cucumber back
    from his vacation
    in Las Palmas de Gran.

    Engelbert Humperdink
    mugged him and nicked the thing,
    Took it to Krautland
    That’s how it began.

  3. You guys! very clever.

    My ex- husband (Prof. of Eng. Lit) wanted to name our first child (which never happened) THIS which he said was a something-something (poetic form)...with a "catalectic foot." I felt sorry for the proposed little tike.

    Sir Thomas Aquinas Brooks Frothingham Beecher

    It does have a nice swing to it.

    I remember that name all these years later, just like I do the name of the murderer I sent to the gallows after two months of jury duty that same year. I was 21.

    Dorman Fred Talbot, Jr.

    1. Dorman Fred Talbot Jr. was my uncle. Surprising to find you where on the jury. I'm doing some research on him.

    2. Ms. Talbot,

      I grew up on Beachcomber in the '60s. Your aunt Chris babysat me and my sister. I remember when the incident with your uncle occurred. I have been researching as well. I imagine you have read the appellate and habeas decisions easily found through google.

  4. If (Double Double Dactyl?)

    “Work hard and Dabble hard,
    Ne’er mind about Appleyard,”
    That’s my advice
    for infants and brats.

    “Steer clear of the avant-garde,
    But always read Hooting Yard,
    Nigeness and Malty,
    And sport a cravat.

    “On Sundays read Mahlerman
    Thursdays read Mister Slang
    Pop over to Susan’s
    to purchase your spats.

    “Pay attention to Recusant
    And you’ll be a man, my son,
    A little eccentric
    But there’s nowt wrong with that.”

  5. Lovely stuff (tho none of it alas would pass muster as truly double dactylic - think of a dactyl as what it is, a finger, with one long joint followed by two short ones...)
    That name indeed has a swing to it - as does the murderer's (who swung)...

  6. Of course they would, you just have to read it properly (ie. very rapidly and in a silly voice with distorted pronunciation).

    "Benedict Cuuuumba-btch
    Brought a cu cuuum-ber-bk" etc.

  7. Benedict Cumberbatch is a wonderful double-dactyl name...

  8. Ah, I see. I've just looked it up on Wikipedia and there are some nice ones quoted. I suppose mine could be swapped around a bit to make it fit the scheme, but best leave it there.

  9. OK - this one features Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes (a 2nd series is on the way I believe)...

    Benedict Cumberbatch,
    Playing the Sherlock,
    Deduced right away.

    'Watson - the Bradshaw! Now
    Pack your revolver and
    We'll be away.'

  10. It's good Nige, but I would like to point out that my Benedict Cumberbatch one above rhymes AABC DDEC, where the AA and DD are (almost) proper full dactylic rhymes, whereas all the examples cited, including Cope's (which is the best) only rhyme the last lines: ABCD EFGD.

    Just sayin...

  11. Brit, I think you'll find if you consult the manual that rhyming only the last lines is correct, indeed specified. I didn't make the rules - but where wld we be if we didn't have rules? France, that's where we'd be (copyright Al Murray)

  12. That's only because previously nobody had conceived of such ambitious, not to mention tortuous, rhyme manufacture.

    I've busted through to a new dimension, like Neo in The Matrix.
    Perhaps a good analogy would be the symphony, pre-Mozart, or perhaps the high jump, pre-Fosbury.

    (Btw, I never think it counts if the 'rhyme' is merely the same word again...'away...away' indeed. That's like those limericks that end with "That silly old man of Nepal.")

  13. For rule-lovers, I've now officially described the 'Double Dactyl Plus' format here.

  14. Right, Nige. This one is a Double Dactyl Plus Plus, combining both the orginal Hecht/Pascal rules and my additional rules:

    Boxing Commentator Salad Poem

    ‘Rumpeta rumpeta,’
    said Harry Carpenter,
    Making his way to
    The greengrocer’s stall.

    But then he was struck by a
    And now he can’t eat
    any green things at all.

    (Meaningless opening line: check.
    Subject's name in second line: check.
    Single word double-dactyl in second stanza: check.

    AABC DDBC rhyme scheme: check.
    Mention of cucumber: check.)

    I expect you knew, somewhere in the back of your mind, that you'd come to regret this post, didn't you?

  15. Regrets? I've had a few - but then again not too dactylic...
    I think you'll find that rhyme scheme is actually AABC DDEC - though a generous eye wld allow it to be AABC AADC.

  16. Quite right, that was a typo, not an overstretch...

  17. I figured Popeye deserves one of his own, so here 'tis:
    Yuckety, yuckety
    Popeye the sailor man
    puffing and pondering
    the Meaning of Man

    finally answered
    "It's quite elermentary:
    I yam whut I yam!"

  18. I too am looking for information on Talbot, I believe he may be my biological father.

  19. I am the great niece of michael bartholomew from birth. As he was adopted out as a baby. My great grandmother found him finally after years of looking and he died right after.

  20. I am the great niece of michael bartholomew from birth. As he was adopted out as a baby. My great grandmother found him finally after years of looking and he died right after.

  21. looks like someone needs to get their spam filters cleaned. ;)

  22. Those are old stuff – I have comment moderation now and am intercepting spam, which continues to arrive daily.