“Some have suggested that nearly all of the best poetry is didactic.” - Wikipedia
The long-run goal of the TotoPoetry project is to post at least one didactic poem for each word in the dictionary, and, when possible, across 26 forms per word, where each form is sorted alphabetically from “A to Z”. For example, for a given headword in the dictionary, at least one acrostic poem, one butterfly poem, one cinquain poem, one diamante poem, one ekphratic poem, etc, finishing with one “zedd” poem. A page of poems will be deemed complete, at least in its first draft, when we have at least one qualifying poetic form for each letter of the alphabet. As algorithms improve over time, some will be replaced with more telling verse or forms.
All the poetic forms posted in the TotoPoetry dictionary were chosen for their previous didactic influence or potential influence in the English language. Some forms (e.g., Yoda and Zedd) are original to this dictionary, serving the purpose of having a poetic form starting with certain letters (e.g. Y and Z). Currently, there are several hundred thousand poems posted, and more are being written and/or posted every day. Please note that the pen names are chosen based on the headword or entry word. For example, a poem about horses, may use the name “Philip” as an author given name (e.g., Philip signifies “lover of horses” from Greek). Often the first name is a synonym name of the headword, and the last name is its antonym (directly or indirectly, via connections within a generated lexicographic graph).
Acrostic poems date back thousands of years. The simple ones presented here (one word per line in most cases) are created to clearly indicate the location of the acrostic used (as opposed to null ciphers). They are commonly used in elementary English education to introduce students to poetry. A few of the most common forms are:
Acrostic – Suffix
The last letter of each word or line spells the headword.
Acrostic – Prefix
The first letter of each word or line spells the headword.
Acrostic - Diagonal
The headword of the poem is spelled using the diagonal (the first letter of the first line, the second letter of the second line, etc.)
Here is an example for the word “loner”:
Butterfly poems are shaped as butterflies and can treat any subject. The butterfly cinquains, posted on this site, have a nine-line form. Here is an example posted for the entry “singing” (using the phrasal form of 1-2-3-4-1-4-3-2-1 words per line):
their death song
is not especially melodious.
power in the suffrage.
words as eloquent
Said to have been invented by the American poet Adelaide Crapsey in 1915, cinquain poems consist of five lines. Didactic cinquains are related to the Crapsey cinquain and widely taught in elementary schools and have been featured in PBS Kids and popularized by Junie B. Jones. A number of versions exist; forms used here include:
Cinquain – Traditional
Line 1 is the title, line 2 is 2 adjectives, line 3 is 3 “ing” verbs, line 4 is a short phrase describing line 1, and line 5 is one describing line 1.
Cinquain – Phrasal
There is increasing word count, with line one being the headword, line 2 having 2 words, line 3 having 3 words, line 4 having 4 words, and line five having 1 word. Each line relates or explains the title line.
Cinguain - Expressional
Like a traditional cinquain, but used found fragments to form phrases across lines that related to line 1, the dictionary headword or title line.
Cinquain - Syllabic
Line 1 is the dictionary headword or title, line 2 has 4 syllables, line 3 has 6 syllables, line 4 has 8 syllables, and line 5 has 2 syllables.
The following is a traditional cinquain for the entry word “blasting”:
cancelling, annulling, invalidating
an explosion, detonation, outbreak or outburst
Diamond poems are a form developed in 1969 by Iris Tiedt in “A New Poetry Form: The Diamante,” and traditionally start with a noun on the first line and its antonym on line 7, the last line. Lines 2 and 6 consist of 2 adjectives each (the latter two being related to the antonym of line 1). Similarly, the third and fifth lines are made up of “ing” verbs or words ending in “ing”. The fourth line starts with 2 nouns (related to line 1), and end with 2 nouns (relating to the antonym of line 1, or being related to line 7). The poem is shaped like a diamond, and is used in education to teach vocabulary, etc. This form has been modified to start the poem using words with any position of speech (not just nouns). Here is the entry for “writer”
applying, originating, declaring
author, poet ..... bookworm, compositor
wholesaling, uttering, blanketing
Ekphrastic poetry involves writing a poem in response to a visual cue, such as a painting, photograph, or other image. The poetic form can vary, and the subject matter is not predetermined. In this site, Haiku or some other terse poetic form is written for a given thumbnail, which is displayed to the left of the poem (a common practice in this form of poetry). Here is an example for “smiling”:
Also known as “Fib” poems, this form was discussed by John Frederick Nims in 1974, in his introduction to poetry, Western Wind. The form was brought to wider attention by Gregory K. Pincus on 1 April 2006. The only restriction on a Fibonacci poem is that the syllable count per line follow the Fibonacci sequence (i.e., line 1 = 1 syllable, line 2= 1 syllable, line 3 = 2 syllables, line 4 = 3 syllables). There is no limit to the number of lines (though 5 or 6 lines are common). The poems posted on this site mostly use one word per line, so poems generally end on the fifth (5 syllables) or sixth line (8 syllables). Here is an entry “equilateral”:
Gnomic poems date back to the Greeks (known as gnomes, from the Greek word for "an opinion"). Didactic in their nature as an aid to memory, they consist of “sententious maxims put into verse.” Henry Peacham, the Elizabethan critic, defined a gnome as
"a saying pertaining to the manners and common practices of men, which declareth, with an apt brevity, what in this our life ought to be done, or not done". A recent Wikipedia entry states that gnomic poems belong to “the broad family of wisdom literature, which expresses general truths about the world. Topics range over the Divine and Secular, to hierarchical social relationships.” The ones posted here are designed so that one line follows a rhythm that might be easy to memorize to someone so inclined to define a word in verse, or as a series of couplets, should the person find multiple lines more memorable. Here is an example for the word “brave”:
Being terrific, tremendous
Being trustworthy, reliable or dependable.
Being praiseworthy, commendable or creditable.
Being friendly, affable or amiable.
Japanese in origin, the English version of Haiku often consists of 3 lines having 5, 7, and 5 syllables each, respectively. Various versions of this form exist (e.g. some stressing opposing forces, nature, etc.). The poems created here are largely didactic (e.g. they explain the title concept, which is not mentioned in the poem itself). This is a popular form taught in basic English poetry education. Here is the entry for “music”:
Happy, tuneful, and pleasant.
Can you pacify?
A form for the letter “I” is currently in the works.
A form for the letter “J” is currently in the works.
The Kural is one form of Tamil poetry and consits of 2 lines. The first line has 4 words and the second line has 3. For this site, the grammatic form for the first line is a series of 4 single nouns. The second line starts with a possessive noun, followed by an adjective, followed by a plural noun. The poem gives insight into the meaning of the headword (or title of the page). Here is the peom for the entry on “pretty”:
Deed, feat, act, trick
Beauty's attractive devices
Limericks were popularizsed by Edward Lear in the 19th century, but also have origins in the 18th-century Maigue Poets of Ireland. A limerick gernally constists of five-lines and has the rhyming scheme A-A-B-B-A. Like English sonnets, they generally follow a specific meter (e.g. anapestic or amphibrachic meter). Lines 1, 2, and 5 generally have the same syllable counts (e.g. 8 or 9 syllables each) and lines 3 and 4 also have the same syllable count (e.g. 5 or 6 each). Modern versions deviate, somewhat, from these rules on occasion.
Limericks by Edward Lear were mostly nonsense verse, while many traditional limericks are humorous and/or obscene. The first line traditionally introduces a person and a place, with the place appearing at the end of the first line and establishing the rhyme for the second and fifth lines. In early limericks, the last line often repeated the first line. On this site, the second line further identifies the person as someone seeking a synonym for the last word of line 2 (which rhymes with the place where the person come from). Following the obscene sub-genre of limerick, the third line indicates the first thing that comes to the uncensored writer’s mind (e.g. a euphamism or slang term for a sexual term or expression), which is quickly replaced with a more linquistically appropriate solution, which is line 4. Here is a limerick for the entry “stainer”:
There was a young guy from Bainer,
He needed a word for stainer.
Have one off the wrist?
No, it's colorist!
That literate lad from Bainer.
Like a butterfly cinquain, the mirror cinquain joins two cinquains (see above) in a chain, alternating across themes. The interest in this form is that it can lead to an unexpected contrast, that nonetheless follows a logic from graph theory. Here is a mirror cinquain for the entry word “smart”:
calculating, suffering, rattling
being clever, astute, cunning, bright or intelligent
witty, astute, perspicacious or discerning
groaning, regretting, writhing
A nonet poem has nine lines. The first line has nine syllables, the second has eight, so on until the last line has one syllable. Rhyming is optional. Each line defines the title word. Here is an example for “meaningful”:
large, grand, high or goodly
pile one upon another
The octosyllable or octosyllabic poetry consists one or more lines of verse with eight syllables each. The didactic poems posted here are given as a simple rhyming couplet that define or describe the word in question. Here is an example for the word “powerful”.
Really wealthy and haughty.
But also healthy and naughty.
Pi is a form of poetry where the letter counts of the words follow the number Pi = 3.1415926 ... etc. This is a recent experimental form of poetry that may appeal to the mathematically inspired. In this case, we use a dash "-" for the digit 0. The poems posted have three rhyming couplets that explain how the poet is trying to teach the meaning of the word in question by using a computer program, while introducing synonyms of the word in question. Each poem ends in questioning the wisdom of using computers to write such poems. Here is an example for “tremendous”:
Can I pass a verse,
committed so pupils might see
Terse exalting allusions, hastily informing, and oh how bestowed free?
Mighty or higher look all too manifest. But is ghastly?
Frightful, great? - or terrific, enormous? Darn! I neglected ghostly!
I reason monstrous and sometimes appalling, but frankly ought I
- state meanings so - summaries crafted with equations spry?
A quinzaine poem has three lines, with the first making a statement, followed by two lines that ask questions relating to that statement. The first line has 7 syllables, the next line has 5, and the final line has three syllables (for a total of 15 syllables, hence the name borrowed from the French word quinze, which signifies 15). Here is an example for the entry word “Gods”:
Gods are many deities.
Can you believe it?
Are they good?
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The rondelet is a French form consisting of two rhymes contained in a seven line stanza.
line 1 -
4 syllables - A (the same as line 3 and 7)
line 2 - 8 syllables - b
line 3 - 4 syllables - A
line 4 - 8 syllables - a
line 5 - 8 syllables - b
line 6 - 8 syllables - b
line 7 - 4 syllables – A
The poems posted in this site mean to mix various definitions and meanings of the headword. For example, the entry for word “true” is:
entirely an uncertain thing.
that which justly belongs to one.
Technology is on-going,
if you will pardon my saying.
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English sonnets generally have 14 lines, written in iambic pentameter (10 syllables each with the pattern no stress/stress/no stress/stress, etc.), with a turn or surprise around line 9. They often have a rhyming pattern ABAB CDCD EFEF GG or similar. A large number of traditional and experimental variations exist for this form that is heavily used by William Shakespeare. Virtually all Anglo-Saxon students are exposed to this form of English poetry. The title or key subject may be suggested in the first lines. A sonnet written in “meta” form is self-aware poetry about poetry and /or writing poetry.
The first sonnets posted to this site were inspired by Shakespeare’s Sonnet 76, what some term “the writers sonnet”:
Why is my verse so barren of
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth and where they did proceed?
O, know, sweet love, I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument;
So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent:
For as the sun is daily new and old,
So is my love still telling what is told.
Sometimes referred to as “the writer’s sonnet” or a sonnet dedicated to “writer’s block,” Shakespeare seems to complain that his poetry is limited, and allows no new forms or techniques. As a traditionalist, he rejects writing with innovation for the sake of innovation. Failing to keep up with modern poetry and writing techniques, he observes that other poets experiment with novel and interesting subjects using alternative styles of writing (in addition to speculation that “weed”, signifies marijuana which stimulates creativity). Some feel that Shakespeare addresses in this sonnet the threat posed by other poets, as part of his “rival poet” sequence. Others classify it a member of the Fair Youth sequence, in which the poet expresses his love towards a young man.
Relying on a similar theme, the sonnets posted here are
about the angst of a computer-encased poet being unable to write clever
sonnets about the word that the person typed into the search box. In doing
so, the poet repetitively uses “ever the same” lines and structures, but
simply reorganizes them to fit the immediate confession. Ironically, the
poem admits that it cannot write sonnets, while the exercise ends with a
sonnet that uses the word, and uses its synonyms in many areas about the
poem, thus writing a sonnet centered on demonstrating usage of the word in
question – fulfilling its didactic purpose. Here is the sonnet for “writer”
Am I a master writer using brains?
Bad luck, I cannot rhyme your strange entry
Especially for now, your topic strains
My passion here you see is cranking glee.
I pass my life to make more time to write
My thanks to you to play with me today
In finding just the verse for your delight
Of course I am obnoxious I must say.
But how I’d love to write some verse for you
I’ll pledge some verse humanity can’t bare
So type a new concept for me to chew
Oh man, that’s a tough phrase, so odd, so rare.
This form of verse is hard to write with grace,
I look to Bill for rules or I’ll lose face!
Dating back to the 9th century in Japan, Tanaka poems have five lines and are similar to haiku but have more syllables and often emphasize simile, metaphor and/or personification. In English examples, the first line has 5 syllables, the second has 7 syllables, the third has 5 syllables, the fourth has 7 syllables, and the last line also has 7 syllables. No lines should rhyme or form couplets. In the didactic form posted in this site, the poem emphasizes word usage and/or definition. Here is an entry for the word “best”:
to act towards the person,
place in position.
To pick, select or elect.
A model or paragon.
Unitoum poems are highlighted in “The complete idiot's guide to writing poetry” by Nikki Moustaki. Unitoum poems were invented to be used as lyrics in songs (chants, etc.) by the modern poet Ron Drummond, as a variant on the pantoum. Each line of a unitoum consists of one word each. They are written to maximize “singability” (e.g. as in a rap song, or Gregorian chant, etc.), so meter and pacing become important. The pattern, having 16 single word lines, weaves 8 words across 4 quatrains in a pulsing manner. The edge poems posted in this dictionary relate to the title word and its antonyms, and have been created to have a rhythmic pattern, based on stresses and syllable counts. Here is the poem for the word “poem”:
Verse is “a single line in a metrical composition” which can, in some cases, be a stand-alone poem. On this site, the edge poems are sinlge lines that consider the entry word, and then emphasize rhyme, half-rhyme, puns, false rhymes, and/or words that look like they should rhyme, but do not. Here is the verse for “loops”
Poetry has a verse with loops, oddly enough it ends in groups.
Waka (also called Yamato uta) is a broad genre of Japanese poetry. There are many sub-genres of waka. In this case, we post an alternative for of the Tanaka form that shares in having the following syllable counts, per line: 5-7-5-7-7. The Waka poems posted emphasize simile to define the word highlight on the page. Here is an example for the entry word “large”:
Just like the Bumpers,
they're delicately ample.
Not measly severe!
With the wind abaft the beam,
A boor, churl or backwoodsman.
Revived in the 19th century, xenia epigrams are epigrams originally found in Latin literature. They can represent the a sort of “thank you note” for a gift received. In this site, the author thanks the word for its existence (as compared to other words that the author was considering in his/her poetry). Each xenia eprigram ends with an apology that this form of thanks is not sufficient in quality, and will be improived upon in the future. Here is an example for the entry word “bad”
To bad I offer this thanks,
Created as an original poetic form to cover the letter “Y”, Yoda poems begin with a title word and asks a Master poet to predict the future. The poet’s answer to the word is a poem in couplets using an inverted speech pattern, similar to that used by Yoda. The didactic purpose of the poems is to illustrate the conjugation of the verb “to be” under different tenses (past, present, future, etc.) and a variety of relevant synonyms and antonyms. Here is the poem for the entry word “boring”
Boring: Master, am I changing?
Annoying, before time you were!
Created as an original form covering the letter “Z”, Zedd poems form the letter “Z” and are named after the wizard Zedd (from the fictional The Sword of Truth series) who seeks or states wisdom or truth. The first line states some truth about the title word, followed by single-word couplets, ending in a statement of what the title word in not (generally rhyming with the first line). The first and last lines should have approximately the same length as seen on the page, and the number of diagonal couplets will vary based on the length of the first and last line to form a clear “Zed” or “Z” pattern. Here is a sample entry for the entry word “special”:
Seemly unusual, singular, uncommon, prodigious or extraordinary.
Rarely habitual, wonted, conventional, accustomed or customary.
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As time goes on, improvements to the edge poems or variations of the forms mentioned above, will be posted, in addition to experiments involving both traditional and modern poetic forms (e.g. elliptical poetry, free verse, jazz poetry, found poetry, visual poetry, Medieval poetry, etc., among the hundreds of forms one can choose from).