Writing 201: Trust

Day 3 is here — and so are questions of trust, acrostics, and internal rhymes.

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Your prompt: trust

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Today’s word is trust: write a poem in which you address, reflect on, or tell a story about the feeling of trusting or being trusted by another (person, animal, object, potted plant…). Or about distrusting them (or not being trusted yourself).

Today’s form: acrostic

Acrostics at a glance:

  • An acrostic is any poem in which the first (or last) letters of each line combine to spell out a word or a phrase, or follow the order of the alphabet.

Today’s (totally optional) form, the acrostic (ahc-RUS-tic), highlights the fact that poetry, at heart, is wordplay — it’s language playing tricks on your readers. Acrostics have been around for millennia: they’re a creative way to give order and convey multiple meanings at once while staying fairly subtle.

There have been two prevalent ways to create acrostics. In one, you follow the sequence of the alphabet, beginning each verse in your poem with a different one from A to Z (or to whatever letter you choose to reach — you’re not obliged to cover the entire ABC). This type of acrostic emphasizes the idea of seriality, of accumulation, or of a preset order.

The other type of acrostic is one in which the first (or last) letter of each verse together spell out a message: a short sentence, a word, a name (for example, medieval poets loved writing love poems with acrostics spelling out their beloved’s name). Here’s a famous, self-referential modern acrostic, by the ever-troubled Edgar Allan Poe:

An Acrostic

Elizabeth it is in vain you say
Love not” — thou sayest it in so sweet a way:
In vain those words from thee or L. E. L.
Zantippe’s talents had enforced so well:
Ah! if that language from thy heart arise,
Breathe it less gently forth — and veil thine eyes.
Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried
To cure his love — was cured of all beside —
His folly — pride — and passion — for he died.

If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can try creating acrostics using both the first and last letters of every verse — this is called (shocking!) a double acrostic.

Some interesting ways to use acrostics include writing a poem that asks a question to which the answer is the spelled-out word; one in which the “hidden” message contradicts or otherwise complicates the content of the poem. I’m sure you can find many more uses for this form.

Today’s device: internal rhyme

We don’t talk a lot about rhyme in this course — it’s a such a huge topic in its own right. It also tends to elicit strong reactions from poets who shun it in favor of free verse, as well as from those who are passionate about the minutiae of true, slant, feminine, masculine, or eye rhymes (among others).

Internal rhyme, though — the poetic device on offer for your exploration today — should appeal to all poets. It adds a level of sonic complexity and playfulness without calling too much attention to itself the way end rhymes (i.e. rhymes appearing at the end of verses) do.

Internal rhymes can occur within a single line of verse (and in definitely more than 50 ways):

You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don’t need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free

They definitely won’t sabotage your underlying message:

I can’t stand it I know you planned it
I’m gonna set it straight, this Watergate

If you’re ever short on internal rhyme inspiration, just listen to any old-school hip hop artist: virtuosic internal rhyming was a cornerstone of the genre.

But they can also make more subtle appearances across different lines, creating echoes and connections that stay with your reader, even if subconsciously:

Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues

In your poem today, try creating some internal rhymes: you could start with a pair of words that have an interesting connection, and sneak them into your lines. Or you could decide, first, what kind of pattern you’re going for — same-line rhymes? Rhymes that cross from one line of verse to the next? — and go from there.

Image by Christian Scheja (CC BY 2.0)

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