Exceptionally Brief Poetic Forms
(by Robert Kelly & Jack Collom)
- A tercet of - 5 | 3 | 5 - syllables (the Robert Kelly lune)
- A tercet of - 3 | 5 | 3 - words (the Jack Collom lune)
The Kelly lune was invented for the benefit of English-language haiku, to achieve some measure of the brevity that gives Japanese haiku such power. Kelly named the form “lune" by virtue of its thirteen syllables (corresponding to the thirteen lunar months) and its crescent-like shape. A lune by Robert Kelly:
thin sliver of the
high up the real world
The Collom lune was invented for the benefit of English-speaking children, to give them a more intuitive short-form to compose; Collom named the form “lune" with Kelly's blessing, and it can be seen as the gibbous to Kelly's crescent. A lune by Angela Prange (2nd grade):
Here I am
in the dark purple tulips
riding a horse
The area of right triangle AOB is equal to the area of lune AB. The lune is bounded by segments E and F, where E is a segment of a circle whose midpoint is D—also the hypotenuse of right triangle AOB—and where F is a segment of the primary circle whose midpoint is O.
If the circle is the foremost mythological figure known to humankind, then the lune is evidence of the circle's work. More on this in ten thousand years.
There are no thematic guidelines or restrictions when composing lunes. The momentary—be it sound or event or both—is the governing impulse. Jack Collom gives us a great idea of what a lune can accomplish in his classic text, Poetry Everywhere: “The shorter third line in lunes helps snap off surprises. The first line [ ] has set the stage, the second contains multisyllabic rhythms [ ], and the third flips it down to a poignant picture." (122)
(by Alan Mudd)
9 is 3 times 3 and the final digit of the single progress between one and zero. 9 is never quite enough. Forty-five on the clock, 9 requests a quarter.
Empty Moon is a 9 word poem based on the lune, its being eleven words & quite captivating, its reason whim—9 may be less than full. Shudders. Slats at half attent. Something like stopping short a sound or sooner. It goes Sun | Earth | Moon.
Sun, loosely, is the effulgent center of the universe. Earth, loosely, is the ground one walks on. Moon, loosely, is often visited, only occasionally landed upon.
A diagram of a total solar eclipse, which (partially and totally) hides the sun from view
The order is entirely rearrangeable, the different sequences are identified as northern & southern eclipses, lunar and solar, as well as empty (sun earth moon). An empty moon by Vlad Shprenkt (age 17):
Little red ladybug
Big green rug
Suffocating fuzzy ruffle
The above example is in Moon Earth Sun form. (Moon Earth Sun is also empty.)
(by Joseph Braun & Marielle Grenade-Willis)
A couplet or tercet of eleven syllables. The Braun leaf is an eleven syllable couplet. The Grenade-Willis leaf is an eleven syllable tercet.
It is useful to consider the leaf as possessing a centripetal syllable, as in 5-1-5 (i.e., ten with one in the middle). Between fives, the middled six in a sequence of eleven is the stem, a pivot where something shoots and holds or tumbles. Note: It is not necessary for the stem to be overtly apparent, only for the poet to know that the stem is an integral and intuitive part of the whole.
When walking through the forest—field, alley, aisle, etc.—count syllables by tapping your fingers against your thigh. (This method has proven hypnotically effective and enjoyable.)
There are many other valuable ways of counting to eleven. Do so how you feel comfortable doing so. In composing leaves, the key is to note the pivot, where the first line turns and the turn is towards a shape. Below is the anatomy of a symbolic leaf:
A — Margin (definite boundary)
B — Vein (transport vessel)
C — Petiole (connective stalk)
D — Blade (entire body-shape)
E — Midrib (strong central vein)
A leaf is best composed in silence. Be as quiet as a tree when working with this form. Here is arealleaf by Tootles Methuselah (age 912):
autumn etches orange
into the hillside
And here is a compound leaf (selected from a longer poem) by Marielle Grenade-Willis:
is difficult when
every sound coming
from your mouth
A three word poem. As a linguistic geometry the triplet may be seen as a triangle in two ways: 1) each word is a leg, or 2) each word is an angle. Distinguishing between the functions in a given triplet can be damn near impossible. Hint: leave it up to the reader. Below is the anatomy of a triangle (a symbolic triplet):
A, B, C — Vertices (angular points)
a, b, c — Sides (distances between vertices)
α, β, γ — Angles (degrees of separation)
A triplet is as structurally sound as any triangle ever was or will be. One of the principle insights one gains when producing triplets is a functional knowledge of how (and under which circumstances) words form especially reliable structural bonds. Whereas the triangle is an architect's muse and an engineer's best friend, the triplet is a poet's muse and a novelist's best friend. Here is a very famous triplet by Aldous Huxley:
Brave New World
It is not necessary to capitalize a triplet (in fact, unless your triplet becomes the title of a book we would advise against it). Here are a few triplets by Joseph Braun:
cold wet stars
slender yellow thread
big red boom
As you can see, the triplet often enjoins adjectives to a special noun. Triplets with a single noun are like right-angle triangles; the noun is easily associated with the right angle and/or the hypotenuse (the longest leg). Here we begin to see the importance of a triplet—and its corresponding triangle—to the construction of a lune—and its corresponding curvature. The Robert Kelly lune is a triplet bounded by five words on each side; the Jack Collom lune is five words bounded by a triplet on each side.
If Joyce's Finnegans Wake is a complete and perfect circle—as many scholars (and certainly Joyce himself) would have it—then it can be said to expand upon the same triadic principles as initiate the meaning of a lune.
In other words, a triplet is a very communicative little poem.
An eleven word poem in the following format:
one two three
one two three four
The Elfchen is a German-language form (the title means either “little elf" or “little eleven"). Like Collom's lune—and this is no vapid coincidence—the Elfchen is used to introduce children to poetry. Click here for a perfectly practical demonstration of the form's versatility.
There is something of a wave-function to the Elfchen, something intuitive about the way it expands and suddenly closes (or breaks open). The feeling of something snapped off and flipped down (as Collom says of the lune) lends itself effortlessly to the elvish motif: elusive, magical, capricious, quintessential.