by John P. Pratt
My mother, Kathryn Kay has written several books of poetry, which are all published in full on her own web pages. It has come to my attention that several of poems are of such value that they should be easily accessible by a general search by the major search engines. For that purpose, some of them are being published here in these page. Click here for an index of those included in these pages.
Unlike my mother, Kathryn Kay, I have only written a very few poems. Those few I have produced have nearly always included acrostics. At an early age my mother taught me that acrostics are poems with hidden messages spelled out according a fixed pattern of the form: take the ith letter of the jth word of the kth line, where i, j, and k are either a fixed number, or start at one and increase by one. The most common are to use 1) the first letter of the first word of every line, 2) the first letter of the first word of the first line, first letter of the second word of the second line, etc., or 3) the first letter of the first word of the first line, the second letter of the second word of the second line, and so on. Another variation is simply to take the ith letter of every line. These fascinated me and I tried my hand at a few. One Mother's Day I tried to thank her by writing a poem with the most acrostics all at once that I could. I put five into a poem called "Mother." Most people can find four of them but the fifth is very hard. Can you find them all? (Hint: They all spell "Mother".)
Later, when I was ready to declare my love to my future wife Ruth, I wrote a better poem which had only two acrostics. The one with five sounded so cryptic that it wasn't a very good poem, so I backed off from the complexity. The poem for Ruth was a sonnet, modified slightly in form to accommodate the acrostic better. I called it, "For My Sweetheart Ruth".
Later in life I learned about an ancient Hebrew poetry form called Chiasmus, which is found throughout the Old Testament. The form is not limited to poetry, but could also be used in prose. The form is that one states his story, thesis or poem in a way that builds to a crescendo, and then restates it all again in the reverse order. The name comes from the X-shaped Greek letter Chi, which reminds one of the form.
A few years ago, I noticed that the sonnet is particularly well suited to the chiasmus form, so I invented what I call the "chiastic sonnet." Sonnets always have 14 lines of iambic pentameter (meaning five sets of two syllables with the stress on the second). The usual sonnet has a rhyme scheme "abba abba cdcdcd" or "abba abba cdecde." That means that first line ends in a sound denoted by "a" and the second by "b" and then the third with that same "b" sound and the fourth with the "a" sound, so that the first and fourth lines rhyme, as do the second and third. The first two stanzas are nearly always the "abba" form, but there are many variations on the six-line stanza.
Note that the "abba" part is already a chiastic rhyme scheme because it forms an X shape. All that needs to be added is building the theme to a crescendo at the "b" areas, modifying the "cdcdcd" part to be "cdeedc" (making it chiastic) and then putting the six-line stanza in the middle, which also improves the chiastic form. Thus, the proposed rhyme scheme for the chiastic sonnet is "abba cdeedc abba."
So far I have tried my hand at three different forms of chiastic sonnets. The first one was written to my wife Ruth. It is one long chiasm of seven ideas, climaxing at the seventh, and then repeated in the reverse order. My second is written to my daughter Mary and has scriptures referenced throughout it rather than including an acrostic. It contains three chiastic stanzas, each building to a crescendo in the middle. My most recent attempt was written to my mother, whose maiden name was Kathryn Worsley, on her ninetieth birthday. It contains only two stanzas, which emphasizes both the chiastic form and the acrostic. Hopefully, you will try your hand at writing some too.