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READ LIKE A WRITER, a teaching blog

POETIC FEET

by Christine Kohler

 

Children's book editors often say they do not want writers to submit rhyming picture books. Yet, we all read and love rhyming picture books. What editors really mean is that they receive in the slush pile so few rhyming stories that are done well that they don't want to wade through them while reading submissions.

 

As a former writing instructor and an author for 37 years, most unpublished poems writers want critiqued as picture books are written in iamb. This is the most common rhythm in English verse.

As one who is published in poetry in two languages, I suggest you experiment with different feet and meters.

 

Here's a guide to different feet:  

 

Iamb – a foot consisting of an unaccented syllable and an accented. (Ex. forsake; New York)

 

Trochee – a foot consisting of an accented and an unaccented syllable. (Ex. happy; London)

 

Anapest – a metrical foot consisting of three syllables, with two unaccented syllables followed by an un accented one. (Ex. Tennessee; "The Cloud" by Byron Shelly, "Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb…")

 

Dactyl – a foot consisting of one accented syllable followed by two unaccented. (Ex. mannikin; Leningrad)

 

Spondee – a foot composed of two accented syllables. (Ex. football; all joy)

 

Pyrrhic -- a foot composed of two unstressed short syllables. (Ex. go to; the boy)

 

Teachers and poets who do school visits, I used to write these feet on the white-board, then have students come up and print their names and mark syllable breaks, stressed and unstressed syllables. This exercise was always a big hit. I like to think the lesson stayed with the teens longer because it was connected with their own names.    

 

In poetry, when you divide the lines into different feet by breaking up syllables and determining the accents, this is called "scanning" or "scansion."  Scansion tells you the rhythm of a line. From high school to graduate school I scanned poetry manually. However, if anyone knows of a scansion program, please share the link in comments, and how you liked using it compared to doing so manually. 

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