Thursday, April 16, 2015

Renée M. LaTulippe: What Dodo Birds Can Teach Us about Meter

Dodo head by Cornelius Saftleven, public domain
Source: Wikimedia

Confession: sometimes when I read my first drafts, I feel like a big ol' dodohead.

If that's true for you, too, you might feel better after reading today's post by TLD Contributor Renée LaTulippe.

Take it from Robyn Campbell:

I want to sing verse like Renée
she treats you to a lyrical buffet
her poetry's a golden chain
in relation mine gives tummy pain.

© 2015 Robyn Campbell. All rights reserved.

                                                                                                                       * Surprise, Renée! *

Yes, there IS a clerihew for every occasion!
Believe it or not, our Ditty of the Month Club wrap-up is NEXT FRIDAY. Let's see if we can knock Kwame Alexander's socks off.  You can find details on how to participate HERE. Our featured clerihews this week were by LeeAnn Blankenship, Tabatha Yeatts, Rosi Hollinbeck, and yours truly.

Now, about those dodo birds.... 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

What Dodo Birds Can Teach Us about Meter

One of the questions I’m often asked by students is whether monosyllabic words can be either stressed or unstressed in a line of verse.

That one is easy to answer: yes. 

All words have ONE primary stressed syllable. Look at these words:

PAN-cakes           re-VIEW           hi-BIS-cus         CON-tra-ry

If that is so, and it is, then it stands to reason that monosyllabic words consist of one stressed syllable. But when put into a line of metered verse, the placement will decide whether the word is stressed or unstressed within the context of the line.

Let’s take the word baked and see how the stress changes when used in different positions in the same meter.

  • she BAKED a THOU-sand COOK-ies
  • she CAN’T bake ALL those COOK-ies

  • THOU-sands of COOK-ies baked OUT in the SUN
  • THOU-sands of COOK-ies have BAKED in the SUN  

You could continue this exercise for other meters, too.

The same is true for multisyllabic words: it all depends on position. Take the word never. All by itself, it is a trochaic word: NEV-er.

But in this dactylic line, it would work as two unstressed syllables:

BOB nev-er SAT on a TACK in his LIFE

Stressed syllables are just like real estate: location, location, location. The important thing is that you don't mess with the stress. That is, you don’t force a stress where it shouldn’t go, as in this iambic line:

will BOB sit ON a TACK? nev-ER!

We just can’t make people say nev-ER, and that’s that.

I’ve also had students think that if a word is naturally trochaic (or iambic, dactylic, anapestic), then it can only be used in that meter – so the word never could only be used in trochaic meter. As we see from the dactylic line above, this is not so. Location, location, location.

I’ll leave you with a few more examples of how a word or phrase can work in any meter if you get the placement just right. Please welcome my lovely assistant, the elusive dodo bird.

Here it is in dactyl form:

Frederick William Frohawk, 1905. Public domain. Source: Wikimedia

And here iambic:

Edwards' Dodo, Roelant Savery, 1626. Public domain. Source: Wikimedia

And here anapestic:

Frederick William Frohawk, 1907. Public domain. Source: Wikimedia

And here trochaic:

Hugh Edwin Strickland, 1848. Public domain. Source: Wikimedia

Give it a try!

Write a line of verse in each of the four major meters using one of the following words (or one of your own). Feel free to share your lines in the comments.

chocolate           sneeze               carousel               resent               bench

© 2015 Renée M. LaTulippe. All rights reserved.

Read more of Renée's posts on Today's Little Ditty:

An editor and writer, Renée LaTulippe has co-authored nine early readers and a collection of poetry titled Lizard Lou: a collection of rhymes old and new (Moonbeam Children’s Book Award) and has poems in several editions of The Poetry Friday Anthology. She developed and teaches the online course The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry and blogs on children’s poetry at

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is being hosted by the fabulously talented Robyn Hood Black. (I wonder if she's ever had a dodohead moment?) You can find her at Life on the Deckle Edge.

Looking for creative ways to celebrate National Poetry Month? Jama Rattigan is your go-to for NPM festivites at Alphabet Soup.


  1. What fun! I love the examples of dodo birds. Too late in the day my brain to write one.

  2. Hahaha. Dodo birds are just the coolest! Great post. LOVE your examples. Thanks for featuring my clerihew, Michelle. :-) I will challenge myself to write these today, Renee. xoxo

  3. I love the pictures of the dodo birds, Renee (& Michelle), saw an extinct & stuffed dodo at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, made me cry a little at our loss. And love your reminder of those stresses, Renee. Thanks to both of you, Renee and Michelle.

  4. Love your examples, and your explanation of metre and how it can be used. I haven't had a go at your exercise - will try go get back to it.

  5. Robyn! My very own clerihew! I am honored! Haha. Thank you so much, my dear. I will treasure it. :)

    Thanks for having me, Michelle!

  6. A poem by Robyn *and* a lesson by Renee! It must be our lucky day! (That was not meant to be a poem, by the way.)

    I'm still thinking about writing a clerihew... :)

    Happy weekend, Michelle!

  7. Renee is such a great teacher! And how true is that poem??! My platypus brain *might* be able to get this meter thing one day... thank you, poet-friends! xo

  8. great examples, Renee. Thanks for hosting, Michelle. I'll try the exercise this weekend--who can pass up an exercise with "chocolate"? :) This post is a keeper!

  9. Fun! The trick for me is hearing it!

  10. Fun examples w/the dodo. Yo make this very clear Renee.

  11. Thanks for refreshing my brain Renee, love your examples. Thank you Robyn for
    amusing my brain. LOL.

  12. Challenge accepted!

    Chocolate, chocolate, please give me more!
    Sweet chocolate would never make my little tummy sore.
    It's a yummy, scrump-tacular chocolate day!
    Let's all get some chocolate, and share it with Renee!

    (I'll tell you one thing...a poem sounds pretty messed up when you change the meter of each line!)

    1. Matt, haha! That made me kind of dizzy. Thanks for taking the challenge so sweetly!

    2. You're welcome! I know chocolate holds a special place in your heart. ;)

  13. Thank you for a wonderful post, Renee! This was one of my biggest questions as I've dabble in writing rhyme...whether I must use a word in its natural metrical state or if location makes a difference in how it fits in the meter of the piece. Thank you so much for the clarification :)

    1. Now you know! Dodo and I are so pleased you found his teaching helpful. :)

  14. What a great teacher Renee is. Love her charming assistant, too!

  15. We cannot have Dodos without some Alice in Wonderland, can we?

    "... the Dodo suddenly called out 'The race is over!' and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, 'But who has won?'

    This question the Dodo could not answer without a great deal of thought, and it sat for a long time with one finger pressed upon its forehead (the position in which you usually see Shakespeare, in the pictures of him), while the rest waited in silence. At last the Dodo said, 'everybody has won, and all must have prizes.'

    1. Aw, thank you, Cathy. I was trying to figure out how to shoehorn Alice in here. Now I want to rewrite the post! :D

    2. Yes, thank you, Cathy, for the splash of Alice! I'm considering making "Everybody has won, and all must have prizes" the TLD motto!

  16. This is so clear and informative, Renee. And great job on the clerihew, Robyn! Thanks!

  17. That Renee--her explanations and examples are so clear that no one reading them feels like a dodo bird.

  18. This explanation of poetic feet has me cracking up. I don't think I've ever heard an anapest described in terms of Dodo poop. Awesome, Renee!

    1. And now I'm wondering what dodo poop actually looks like...none of the artists drew any. >:

  19. Yay, Robyn and Renée!!! I love the clerihew, Robyn. And I'd love to carry Renée around in my pocket!
    Michelle, I LOVE your blog :-)

  20. Good advice from the Queen of meter!

  21. Wonderful post with wonderful examples. Thanks!

  22. Clever and fun, dear Renée of the iambic name. (And, Michelle, I think everyone has a dodohead moment now and then!) ;0)

  23. I hate days when the dodo poops on my head! on my head.

  24. Pure amazement Michelle and Renee! I have poetry dodohead moments often, but now I have place to reference to remedy my dodoness. Thank you! =)

  25. I haven't ever had this much fun reading about dodos! Thanks for this lovely lesson, and its entertaining presentation.

  26. Clearly, I still have MUCH to learn about meter! (feeling a little like a dodo bird on this topic!!)

  27. Really enjoyed the dodo examples -- thank you for making it easy to see!

  28. "Don't mess with the stress." Excellent. The primary challenge for me, since moving to Mississippi, is how many one syllable words have . . . more syllables here. :-)