Meter and Flow

iambic pentameter drawn

Sometimes I’m too quick to make a judgement.

Up until recently, I have been quite biased and worming my way out of ignorance when it comes to the function of rhyming in poetry. If I had to put a finger on it, I think it might have something to do with ease and lack of complexity. Writing poetry that rhymes somehow seems easy and quaint, a crime story that neatly wraps up in an hour segment like CSI.

Where is the drama of the undeterred line? Where too, the building anticipation of how and where the poem is going to end up? Part of this long-held bias is I have an uncanny knack for guessing end words in songs. It’s not hard: think of something that fits the context and rhymes. Done. I’m working my way out of this particular ignorance and nose-snubbing for one main reason-

Beck and I have begun tackling songwriting as a couple.

When we first started dating, part of his wooing ritual included a guitar and songs written for me. He didn’t know it was part of the wooing exactly, (okay maybe he knew), but music is one of my favorite languages- one my dad began teaching me in my earliest days. I joke that even before my gift of gab, I sang. I look to music as a balm and catalyst. Some wounds exist that only music can massage.

As our wedding date neared, Beck and I met for band practice. He played this incredibly melodic music full of minor keys and driving rhythms. A pallor veiled his face, a moodiness entered his eyes and I found him as beguiling and bewitching as ever. One evening, he casually asked me if I could help him write lyrics. I vehemently responded, “No way- I’m a poet, not a songwriter…”

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

On any given day away from our working selves, Beck sits in the living room strumming out new riffs in old-to-us now songs. Other times, I am baking or cooking as he sits and plays in the kitchen. One such occasion, I hummed a playful line of words mirroring each other in a nonsensical way. And it stuck.

I have begun rethinking the art of meter, of rhyming and flow. A good off-rhyme in a poem clinches my interest; a good story in a song cocks my head. This challenge makes me rethink the error of my thoughts- poetry is music and music is poetry set to song, but there is more to it than that. My original work tends to be lyrical, but the thought of setting it to music leaves me stumped.

Over a month ago, I enrolled myself in a new b-course using “Rhyme & Reason” as textbook. To help with listening and rhythm, I’m supplementing with Gerard Manley Hopkins. He is the king of consonance and makes me want to rhyme my lines, to delve deeper into the way sound and word position influence the ear.

And friends, it is slow going.

I’m diving into scansion – listening to English as if for the first time, trying to weasel my pronunciations into iambic pentameter and coming up short. I’m plying my writing group, Tayve, Dee, Steven and Terry for tips on writing in rhyme and form. But here’s where all of this gutting of self and opinion is so very right: I am awakening the wonder – becoming ever more smitten *and sometimes admittedly frustrated* with language.

I am measuring and weighing my words in meter and flow.



SOUP RECIPES- CassouletFresh back from the honeymoon, I would love to say we filled the kitchen with cinnamon and butter and sugar emanating from a hot oven. Our lives were as they had been a la honeymoon equal parts tense and excited at the possibilities ahead. No, I’m not referring to the early days of marriage but instead whether or not our San Francisco Giants would win the National League pennant. We meandered into neighborhood pubs and pizza joints yukking it up with other fans. On a particular rainy Saturday evening, we shared a booth facing a flat screen TV, watching pitchers get swapped out and batters foul. Over tapas and organic beer, we cheered and cowered, the digestive juices roiling in a perpetual state of uncertainty. But it was made less bitter and more sweet with slivers of flatbread festooned with shaved jamon Serrano and black mission figs with manchego cheese. That night, victory tasted sweet.

So our first “official” dinner looks something like this. I enter the apartment with its cheery smells of caramelized onions and a big smile spread wide across Nathan’s face. He’s begun chopping celery and carrots for a cassoulet I’ve been jonesing to make except it’s not the cassoulet and so no big surprise, it takes on a life of its own. We chop on different counters yet somehow at one point, all of his knives are on my cutting board as I’m paring the garlic. Hmm. The stew that resulted from our kitchen antics cut the chill of this October San Francisco evening. Think of it as South meets North or France meets a bit of Spain. Thus, this tasty concoction is a bit of a hot mess, but a tasty one nonetheless.




YIELD: 4-6 servings

  • 3 celery ribs, halved & then cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 leeks, halved & then cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 4 carrots, halved & then cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 T fines herbes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a good grinding of black pepper
  • 1 8 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 2 8 oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 2 pieces smoked bacon, split down the middle & then cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 4 dried Black Mission figs, quartered
  • toasted bread crumbs of Country Levain* (see below)

Pour oil, veggies and spices in a heavy stockpot over medium high heat for 12 minutes. Stir occasionally. Heat up the bacon on the stovetop while the veggies are cooking also for about 10-12 minutes. Add the bacon and a little bit of the bacon grease to your veggies along with the diced tomatoes, white beans and chicken stock. Also add the figs. Let simmer covered for 30 minutes. While the stew is simmering, cut up two hefty slices of Country Levain bread into large chunks. Place the bread in a food processor and pulse until the bread is decimated into crumbs. Toss the breadcrumbs in a large pan over medium-low heat and make sure to turn them or stir them frequently until they are toasted. (You could also put them in the oven, but we did it on the stovetop). Et voila. You have made yourself a bowl of a hot mess- garnish it with the breadcrumbs before serving. Enjoy with a cabernet sauvignon. If you’re Nathan, you might also be inclined to sneak in some shaved white cheese like a manchego. Nathan can never get enough of his cheese, but I digress.